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Cover letters & Ivy League applications

Joel --

I appreciate your advice about cover-letters; as someone who prefers to break out of the box a little, it's good to know that employers aren't always looking for cookie-cutter cover letters.

But I would think that your advice for us, actually is hurting your effort to find a perfect candidate.  Now that you've revealed what you like, you'll get tons of idiosyncratic, personalized cover-letters, and EVERYONE who applies will have a special desire to work at Fog Creek, being fascinated by CityDesk, etc., etc., etc.

In other words, a lot of these people will be faking it.

This is similar to the phenomenon of Ivy League applications.  The admissions offices make it known that they like people who are public-service minded, who do volunteer work and loads of extracurriculars, who write quirky, creative application essays, so now people rush out for volunteer work, extracurriculars, and write funky applications, because that's what the schools want.

In other words, by making clear what you're looking for, you no longer get people who are authentically that way, but they are just giving you what they think you want.

programmer
Monday, June 16, 2003

"In other words, by making clear what you're looking for, you no longer get people who are authentically that way, but they are just giving you what they think you want."

Hmmm...you might be onto something here.  Maybe what Joel wants is "yes, men" (or women).  He merely uses this as a guise to cover his conflicted,  if not autocratic personality. 

Then again, maybe not.

Mike Gamerland
Monday, June 16, 2003

But many people are still lazy.  Joel will only be inundated with personalized cover letters if everybody takes his advice, and many people won't.  In fact, I bet that many don't read Joel On Software, and won't even know of this advice's existence.

Even if Joel does get inundated with personalized resumes, I'm sure that that's hardly the only criterion that Joel uses to decide which resume to call back on.

Brent P. Newhall
Monday, June 16, 2003

Hey!

If I want to hire somebody, and I say (in my blog) that I need a person who volunteers for public service (for example), and then I get 2 applicants, one who sent a standard cover-letter, and one who said in his cover letter that he volunteers for public service, I still strongly prefer the latter.

Why?

Maybe he lied, but at least he has put some effort in his application for the job. This is VERY important, because it indicates desire to work for my company.

People who really want to work for my company and put some effort into this are more likely to be better workers that people who are more indiferent!

John K.
Monday, June 16, 2003

I really, really think this is a logical fallacy.

Shouldn't my attitude as a highly skilled codeweaver be "Why should I even need a cover letter? I want to work some place that will take the time to learn about me as a prospective employee they're about to spend six figures on"?

By the way, don't delude yourselves, folks - targeted cover letters don't mean that Joe wants to work for your company. They mean Joe SAYS he wants to work for your company. Joe has most likely also said he wants to work for Microsoft, IBM, and Frank's Hot Dog Coding Stand in Hoboken.

Philo

Philo
Monday, June 16, 2003

[I really, really think this is a logical fallacy. ]

I agree, but don't. :)

The existence of a custom cover letter doesn't in and of itself mean anything. But it is an indication of someone who might be counted on to use his/her brain.

Lately, I've come to the conclusion that hiring someone is not about credentials. Your prospective employees can be broken down into two categories: ones that like to use their brains and those that don't. The one's that do will very likely be useful to you regardless of their skills (these people will learn). The ones that don't will very likely NOT be useful.

Interviewing and resumes are all about hunting for those indications that the person is one of those who isn't afraid to think. IMHO, anyway.

DingBat
Monday, June 16, 2003

What can I say, all the great people write personal, intelligent, and literate cover letters.

Joel Spolsky
Monday, June 16, 2003

---"What can I say, all the great people write personal, intelligent, and literate cover letters."---

Or could it be that if they don't you never get round to finding out if they are any good or not?

Stephen Jones
Monday, June 16, 2003

Another thing to think of is that if the applicant can't be persuaded to customize his job application for the prospective employee, how is he going to be persuaded to customize his programming appliation for the prospective customer?

Stephen Jones
Monday, June 16, 2003

"Can't be persuaded" implies some kind of feedback mechanism. You mean to say that the "personalized cover letters better" folks are sending rejection letters?

And, of course, !shoe.foot - If those who are reading resumes can't be convinced that judging applicants based on whether they do or don't personalize their cover letters makes no business sense, then how can I assume they would be good managers?

Philo

Philo
Monday, June 16, 2003


Philo,

I think the point is that there are many good people out there. Even if I limit my search to those who customized their cover letter, there are still probably more good people than I am allowed to hire.

In other words, if I arbitrarily dismiss anyone without a customized cover letter, what do I care? I've eliminated people who perhaps can't be bothered to work to fit their application to me and I still have a larger pool (at least under current conditions) than I can deal with. It's all good.

Sure it's not "fair", but then interviewing for hire is all about filtering and rejection anyway. :)

DingBat
Monday, June 16, 2003

>In fact, I bet that many don't read J
>Joel On Software, and won't even
>know of this advice's existence.

If fact, joel is pretty much limiting his applicants to people that both READ JoS and READ IT CAREFULLY and CONSISTENTLY.

Also, a few people might sneak in who have heard about FogCreek and read FogCreek.com very carefully - or who've used CityDesk and liked it, etc.

Overall, that's a pretty good group.

He's also giving dang sharp advice, which I appreciate.

Matt H.
Monday, June 16, 2003

The good people don't have to apply to many companies before they find a job. Therefore they have plenty of time to write cover letters to the few they actually want to work for.

xyz
Monday, June 16, 2003

a tangential point that DingBat's post reminds me of, is that not every company needs AllStars(r).

Therefore, sometimes 'Good Enough' really is all that you need.

    
Monday, June 16, 2003

>Therefore, sometimes 'Good Enough'
>really is all that you need.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

You hire 'B' people, and -ever- promote them into a management position, and they will feel insecure and hire 'C' people.  And, to quote Joel:

"Then you are just screwed"

regards,

Matt H.
Tuesday, June 17, 2003

My employer had a recent RIF, so in a couple of weeks I will be in need of a new job.  Now, and even before this event, I have spent time surfing the web for potential employers.  I even found the JOS site while trying to do searches for good employers.

There are just a few companies that stand out as possibly good places to work for.  After having done some research on these places, writing a company specific cover letter is just what I would do when applying.

The problem with some of these places is that they have an on-line application system set up, which doesn't seem to allow for a cover letter at all.

I haven't quite figured out the best approach to this problem.  There is usually a place to enter a text resume.  That could be a place to sneak in some company specific wording.

mackinac
Tuesday, June 17, 2003

> The problem with some of these places is that they have an on-line application system set up, which doesn't seem to allow for a cover letter at all.

Customise your resume for the job. For example a resume often has an "Objective" section at the top, which you can customize. You might also customize other parts, for example if you have business and team-lead and design and coding and customer-support experience then it might be prudent to emphasis the aspects of your experience which are relevent to the job you're applying to.

I'd guess it's a good idea to customize your resume whether or not you have or customize a cover letter.

Christopher Wells
Tuesday, June 17, 2003

CW, something like that is probably the right idea.  I'll just have to try and see what happens.

One idea I have is to have an experience summary paragraph at the top which, in addition to the usual list of languages, OSes, etc, will say something like "Experience working in a Peopleware compliant environment".  Well, not exactly like that, but something to indicate that they might be getting someone who will fit in to their work environment.

Gotta get busy and get those resumes out.

mackinac
Tuesday, June 17, 2003

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