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Joel falls into the "why I want to work here" trap

"A personalized cover letter that shows that you understand what the company does goes a long way to proving that you care enough to deserve a chance"

But I *don't* care.
Joel, you're lucky because your entire business is available on the internet. But explain to me why I would rather work for
http://www.emeraldcapitalgroup.com/
than
http://www.hpti.com/
?

There are a thousand sites like that on the web. IMHO, trying to decide from that whether or not you want to work there is like trying to decide by looking at the building whether or not you want to work there. ("oooo.... glass and steel...")

Now obviously the wise applicant will try to glean some manner of information from the website and write a customized cover letter selling themselves ("Hey, you're looking for two-handed coders? *I* have two hands!"). But to think that applicants *really* know whether or not they want to work there from the website is folly.

Good tech applicants care about:
1) Will the company be around more than six months?
2) Do I get my own workstation?
3) Is it a *good* workstation?
4) How are projects run? Is there process in place or is it a constant firedrill?
5) (if it's a heavy traffic area) Can I work flex time? No, really - can I work flex time? Or am I going to get called into the boss' office after the fifth time I come in at 10:30? (Never mind that I generally work until 9)
6) How's the pay?
7) Can I advance?
8) Can I flex my brain, or am I going to be a maintenance coder for the first 3-4 years?
etc, etc, etc.

I'd be interested to see a column on how you learn this stuff about a company from the outside, short of having a friend who works there. In addition, I'd be interested to see how this plays into a cover letter that reads "I know you want C++ coders, and I've been writing C++ since Stroustrup was talking about the nasty joke he plans to play on all the C guys"

Cover letters are about selling yourself to the reader, and making them THINK you're only applying to them and you care, you really care, about their company. And dammit, it's the only place you've ever wanted to work since you banged the membrane on your first Timex-Sinclair.
Honestly. You're the only one for me.
And if your racquetball partner says he got a resume from me too, he's lying.

With a nod and a wink,
Philo

Philo
Monday, January 26, 2004

Wouldn't (at least some of) those questions be asked/answered during an interview ? Flex time queries and the like sound premature (and overly eager) when you're just applying for the position ...

deja vu
Monday, January 26, 2004

The management mantra seems to be "tell me in a cover letter why you want to work here"

My response (met well by Joel, but precious few other places): "First how about some information from you about why I want to work there other than 'Consulting Group, Inc is a challenging, rewarding work environment.'"

Philo

Philo
Monday, January 26, 2004

"Wouldn't (at least some of) those questions be asked/answered during an interview ?"

Which of course they would answer honestly. Right.


Monday, January 26, 2004

If they're not going to answer honestly in an interview, they're not going to answer honestly elsewhere either. (And yes, I don't think that very many answer honestly either). But you dont want to sound too fussy about working conditions upfront if you really want that job...

Think of it this way ? People want to hire you initially for what THEY can get done from you. Its an employers market. There was a time when you could wave a hand and say "flex time, work from home or I go to that other offer".. Not anymore. So like taking a bank loan, the onus is on YOU to prove how much work you can get done.

Philo, in answer to you: why would companies bother with self promotion if they have dozens of candidates for each job offer ? (which I assume they would)

deja vu
Monday, January 26, 2004

The #1 headline on HPTi:

"HPTi named to list of Best Companies for Commuters"

Dear HPTi,

I commute. I have over 10 years of driving experience and well over 100,000 miles of driving time in all sorts of conditions from blizzard to 2,000 mile road trips to night-time driving when there are no street lights and visibility is severely limited, and more.

I drive a green Acura Integra, 1997. I'm a save driver with a perfect record and I obey all of the traffic laws. Once I know how long a trip is during rush hour, I always leave 15-20 minutes extra "just in case" and carry my cell phone with me at all times in case there is an accident, and yes, I use a hands-free device when I'm driving, and would have you on Speed Dial #1.

I also keep a map, my AAA membership card, and a GPS device in the glove compartment just in case.

Yours,
Mark

www.MarkTAW.com
Monday, January 26, 2004

> save

Should be "safe" see, I didn't spell check and that cost me the job. I bet there are more type-o's in there as well.

www.MarkTAW.com
Monday, January 26, 2004

Philo, isn't it 3am in Redmond?

www.MarkTAW.com
Monday, January 26, 2004

Most important thing in any Resume that I would look for is an answer to the question, "why do I want to work at all". Maybe its my hoteliering background. "I want to save up on my Salary and Gratuity I earn, to set up my own small Outdoor Catering outfit in 2 years" is a sure shot "Yes" for me. Those answers always gave a clear indication on your attitude towards employment, which are of more important than any specific one-to-one match between the Applicants and the Requirements.

I would be far more interested in you telling me what *you* want out of *me*. I know what *I*want out of you.

Indian Developer in India
Monday, January 26, 2004

Yes it is. But it's 6 where I'm living. (that's 6am and 6" of snow).

I'm working on a project and in case you can't tell, I've been getting stuck a lot this weekend...

Philo

Philo
Monday, January 26, 2004

Indian good point. Go look at the The Apprentice thread, one of the guys actually said his definition of success was "Not working for the man."

How did he ever pass their screening process?

www.MarkTAW.com
Monday, January 26, 2004

"Think of it this way ?"

Space-spnak!


Monday, January 26, 2004

Many companies I've gone to interview with were shamelessly bs-ing me. How professional the rest of a team are, how many customers they have, how well managed their projects are.

But then facts after second week at work: mostly not enthusiastic clueless people, no new clients in the last 3 years (actually some clients were lost because of mergers), projects a managed on hi-chaps-here-is-CEO-spec-read-it-in-five-minutes-how-long-it-would-take-cut-in-half-start-yesterday basis.

I couldn't imagine before so many companies might be so "self-promoting".

Once I asked during an interview with respectable company (Pinnacle Insurance) how relaxed and creative the atmosphere is in the department. I was instantly told: "It's superb". Well, then I asked, does it mean I can wear casual clothes (not suit and tie). "No" I was told, "Although we do not see any clients our management loves to show our department to visiting partners. We try to look professional". "Wait", I said then, "if you wearing suit and tie, does it make you more professional?". "No, but we still try too".

Unfortunately, its really difficult to collect an information about company before you actually go there (might be 100 miles away). Internet research wouldn't give enough overview if this is to do with mostly closed market.

Speaking to people in the company can be deceitful, as many managers are salesman. Watching actual systems  or speaking to technical personal might actually help (reverse interviewing, like: "look, that's amazing, how have you built that system?!"). And then listening, listening... Kinds of questions they ask, areas they concentrate on.

Trial and errorrrrr...

Vlad Gudim
Monday, January 26, 2004

Sorry my post is a bit off-topic, just trying to say that it really difficult to know would you like working for some companies at all. Obviously with companies which in the centre of Internet attention its easier.

Can't blame Joel for asking too much when asking cover letter. He probably has many people wanting to work for him, who know exactly why FogCreek is better place (and really trying to be better). FogCreek has to filter them, they can't interview everyone (200 CV-s for two positions, if they're right?).

FogCreek tries to look very transparent as to its processes, technical ladder, working enviroment. Of course, would be interesting to hear second opinion.

But their products are great. People put there put their soul into products, with attention to details. I can judge just by the look of CityDesk DB - it could be shown on DB design courses as an example.

Vlad Gudim
Monday, January 26, 2004

I work for the Scooby Snacks, of course!

S.D.
Monday, January 26, 2004

---" Even stupider is submitting two big Word documents with no body text in the email. This just gets you spam filtered. I don't even SEE these."----

Strange how Joel blames the applicant for a bug in Spam Bayes. I often email myself documents using send to from the file menu, and they are invariably categorized as Spam.

Yet I have never received a Word document as spam  in a message with no body text (unless you count viruses and Trojans as Spam)

Stephen Jones
Monday, January 26, 2004

May I suggest the underlying principles are:

1. That actually finding a job is probably far more important to most applicants than any work they subsequently do for an employer. Consequently, and this is certainly the position I held when an employer, if you can't be bothered to check and double check such an important communication as a cover letter, why should I (as a potential employer) expect you to do so to a piece of work?

2. The most important skill than any software engineer can possess is that of communication. You may have great technical prowess, but if you can explain your design or document your code clearly, I (as an employer) am just storing up problems for later in the product lifecycle.

What really annoys me is not those employers like Joel, who clearly state that excellent verbal and written communication skills are a prerequisite and reject applications that fail on those gounds, but employers who demand this, then filter applications through agencies who simply tick box from a checklist of putative skills.

David Roper
Monday, January 26, 2004

I don't agree, Philo. The first place I had a job out of college I REALLY wanted to work there. I CARED. It was there, or nowhere else. After all, I could just go to grad school, or keep plugging away at my 18 dollar an hour sys admin job at the university. Thus I sweated for a couple days trying to put together the PERFECT COVER LETTER. And then I devised a strategy of exactly what I was going to say in the interview, and how I was going to follow up to all the emails, and etc. It was a big deal.

I don't think caring about where you want to work is a trap. In fact I think your attitude says something about the sorry situation most programmers are put into. Programmers who care about their work (or I'll change that to, "programmers who I'd ever want to hang out with outside of work") probably want to work on something interesting. This means working at google, or working at microsoft research, or working on the mars probe, or whatever. They probably don't want to work on yet another fucking billing system (YAFBS).  However the cool jobs are few and far between, and the jobs doing YAFBS work are plentiful (at least, in India). So programmers at some point in their life turn jaded and start only caring about flex time, how much they get paid, company stability , bla bla.

In fact Fog Creek is interesting in that they work on fundamentally boring problems but seemed to have already taken into account all the peoplesoft-y human workspace factor issues. So wait Philo, nevermind about the above argument. You are right! However Fog Creek already answers the question of why someone would want to work there. It would be cool if instead of blathering about how smart they all are, if Fog Creek's "work here" pitch was:
 
"Yeah, we are working on another god damn bug tracking system, but we have fucking AWESOME offices and we won't treat you like shit. So if you went to an Ivy League school (like us) we will give you a Manhattan job that is marginally cooler (but not as well paying) as working for Morgan Stanley"

the real blank
Monday, January 26, 2004

Why I want to work at company X: 

1.  You seem to be hiring, and I'm out of work.
2.  I'm currently working, but I think you're going to give me a big raise.
3.  I'm currently working, but I will gain numerous fringe benefits working for you.


When I was younger, there used to be a #4:

4.  You're doing something really cool and I want to be involved.

the capitalist
Monday, January 26, 2004

I would just like to say, that although I DO live in East Nowhere, TN, and I will NOT be moving away, that was not me that Joel was referring to.

BTW Joel, if you actually did get a resume from East Tennessee feel free to point that person in my direction.  I always throw the cover letters away without looking at them anyway.

--Steve Barbour

Steve Barbour
Monday, January 26, 2004

I agree with Philo and capitalist.  For software developers there really isn't a much better answer to why you want to work at a particular company than they are hiring and you need a job.  In other fields there might be but for writing code I don't even ask because the best answer is very likely BS.

I agree with Joel on his points of grammar.  If an applicant can't bother to get his resume mostly correct it shows a lack of attention to detail.  Of course it might also be the sign of a sick genius who can't be bothered but really, how am I supposed to tell?

I also think cover letters are silly if the resume is attached to email.  YOu can't fault people for sending them though.  They have to consider the possibility of sending it to some unthinking person who will trashcan the resume merely because it wasn't accompanied by a formal cover letter.

name withheld out of cowardice
Monday, January 26, 2004

I got the impression that Joel wasn't looking so much for "why I want to work here" but just a simple e-mail letter "Dear Mr. Spolsky, I am applying for your summer internship position, please find my resume attached.  Thank you, Joe Applicant"

Foolish Jordan
Monday, January 26, 2004

The primary point of the resume + cover letter is not "This is why I want to work there," but rather "This is why you positively *need* to hire *me*.  The employer's needs are what's important.  Having an enthusiastic applicant is also good, but unless you're convinced that you gotta have them, it's not that useful.

Rich
Monday, January 26, 2004

I think the point Joel wants to make is that his company is *different* from the others out there.

People who want to work at Fog Creek because "it's a job" are not going to fit into the culture.  End of Discussion.

My perception is that Joel is not looking for random qualified people off the street.  He's looking for qualified people who already know something about Fog Creek and are passionately interested in working there.

Sure, he might eliminate folks who would be excellent for his advertised positions.  But:

a) there isn't exactly a shortage of candidates, and

b) Joel isn't focussing on growth of the business over quality, so he can afford to take this kind of approach. 

Phibian
Monday, January 26, 2004

Valid points, except Joel wrote a generic "how to get your resume read" essay, not "how to get your resume read at Fog Creek."

If he had said "Look, I put the entire operations of my company on the web. You can see what the offices are like, what my management practices are like, and what I'm like as a person. If you can't get enough out of that to explain in a cover letter why you want to work here, I've got to question your reasoning abilities," that would be fine.

But his advice is written to sound like it applies industry-wide. Like I'm supposed to be able to address "COMPT TRFN DEPT, Acme Corporation" in some kind of intelligent way about what they do and why I want to work there.

*That* is why the rant.

Philo

Philo
Monday, January 26, 2004

I think Rich has nailed it.  The point is to sell yourself, not to suck up.  I'm hiring at the moment, and frankly, the job's not a great one.  I don't expect any applicant to demonstrate enthusiasm for it, or for the company.  But if an applicant can't be bothered to try to sell themselves to me based on the job specifications I've provided, I'm not going to do the legwork for them.

As far as I'm concerned, applicants need to show me either that they've already got the skills I need, or alternatively how they can leverage their existing skills to acquire them.  Generally I expect that their CV will show what skills they have (and how they've used them), and their covering letter will show how those skills apply to what I've asked for, but as long as both elements are in place somewhere, I'm happy.

However, most applicants supply information based on what they want to do, not on what I actually need.  It's great that someone loves Java and wants to deepen their knowledge of it, but why tell me that?  I don't need any Java programming to be done.

Most job applicants don't show any sign of having so much as read the job ad.  And in that case, why should I bother to study their application?

JP
Monday, January 26, 2004

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