Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




Where Joel REALLY goes wrong

Not understanding that his company isn't All That.

Seriously.

90% of companies think they're All That. Almost all of them are wrong. The applicant doesn't know whether you're the 1 out of 90 which is really a good place to work beyond the initial claims.

And from the other side (and I do a lot of interviewing on both sides of this divide): even if my company IS All That, I don't want to hire a bunch of people who have so little work-life balance that the most important thing to them is sucking up to me and telling me how wonderful my company is. They're either lying or socially maladjusted. It's bad enough that one kool-aid-drinking Microsoft exists; the world doesn't need any more of them.

It's a balance, sure. Nobody who's interviewing you wants to hear the truth: "I want this job because I want to get paid". But expecting junior-high enthusiasm over being invited to sit with the cool kids is freakin' pathetic.

MD
Monday, January 26, 2004

The problems with Joels article and all the barrage of posts that came along with it, is that they are all right.


Monday, January 26, 2004

They develop that belief because they get a couple hundred resumes when they advertise a position. 

Or at least _visible_ companies will get that many.

Turnabout is fair play I guess, we can submit to a couple hundred companies (all of which are our dream job, naturally) and think that we're hot shit too.

the capitalist
Monday, January 26, 2004

I read Joel's article too.. It smells of eliteness.. "Hey, I am the one giving the job".. To say that if you write small caps "I" instead of big CAPS I am going to reject you shows is ludicrous.

KS
Monday, January 26, 2004

Uh, actually I'd reject on that one too. Five years ago it would've been simple bad grammar. Today it reeks of that whole "ur the best company and i really want to work there" crap, which I loathe.

Philo

Philo
Monday, January 26, 2004

If Joel's hiring, he gets to make the rules. Get used to it.

The fact is that many people who hire also have similar sets of rules that may make no sense to you, humble job seeker.

pdq
Monday, January 26, 2004

"The problem with Joel's post and many of the seemingly contradictory responses it inspired, is that they are correct."

I doubt the poster thought they were all correct.  I also don't think the "barrage of responses" "came with" the original post.

name withheld out of cowardice
Monday, January 26, 2004

Joel never said that he doesn't want to hire a Yale valedictorian who chooses not to capitalize his "I"s.

What he said, and it's perfectly valid, is something like

Listen up all you hopefuls.  I know it's not fair, but I get so many resumes that I don't have time to look through all of them.  I need a quick way to narrow down who we're going to consider.  Here are the criteria.  Apologies for any incorrect "bad" categorizations, but I don't have time for a more fair system (or no actual software development would get done).

It's not about arrogance.  It's about practicality.  Nowhere do I get the idea that he thinks his company is hot shit.  He's (rightfully) proud of it, but the reality is he is not so desperate to hire that he must compromise his hiring practices.  It's *not* arrogance.  It's simply good business.

Richard P
Monday, January 26, 2004

When two people always agree, one of them is unnecessary!

Now where did I leave that shotgun ....

Tapiwa
Monday, January 26, 2004

"Nowhere do I get the idea that he thinks his company is hot shit."

This is absurd.  Joel is constantly ramming it down our collective throats that his company IS better than most.  He has stated that he only hires from the top 99.99% of applicants, etc.

If this attitude bothers you, it is likely because you don't think you have a sniff.

Howz that grammar?


Monday, January 26, 2004

Richard is right.  Joel (and other people with similar practices) realize they may be throwing away some potential stars with their resume filtering.  What *you* need to understand is they get enough applications that they can afford to do that and due to time & manpower constraints, they have to.

Would you rather they just throw away 50% of the resumes completely unread on the belief that people who are unlucky shouldn't be hired?  That's pretty much the only other option...

Mister Fancypants
Monday, January 26, 2004

I believe Joel is describing a system that does not work. How would we design a system to find the "best and the brightest" ( whatever that means)?

Remember big daddy Deming: Optimize the system

moses whitecotton
Monday, January 26, 2004

If Joel is hiring only from the "top 99.99% of applicants, etc." then it follows that he's only excluding the bottom 0.01% of applicants.

Captain Thunder
Monday, January 26, 2004

You Joel's resume article could be retitled"Don't Apply for Jobs You Don't Care About"

When I hire people, one of my most important criteria is that the candidates have passion and enthusiasm for the job they'll be doing.

90% of all companies *are* "all that" *to the right candidate*. I'm sure there are hundreds of people who would be overjoyed to get a job at Fogcreek and not just for the money. The same goes for Microsoft and other software companies.

The same even goes for places like McDonald's (these are typically the people that become managers at a McD's franchise).

If you're spending half or more of your waking hours doing something just because you want to get paid, then you have a joyless life. Fogcreek is a small company and each person Joel hires will have a huge impact on his company. Hiring someone who might be technically brilliant but lacks enthusiasm would be a big mistake.

Michael Bean
Monday, January 26, 2004

You must make a distinction between theory (I should have a chat with all applicants) and practice (I received 200 resumes and there is no way that I can do that). Thus, there must be some filtering to reduce the number of applicants to whatever you can afford to interview.

There are many ways of doing it: rise the selection criteria (if you asked for three years experience go for five), if communication skills are a criterion (they always are) eliminate "lowercase i" letters, go for additional criteria (even if they were not specified in the job requirements), etc.

I think that Joel's approach is pretty standard and, with so many resumes, he CAN afford to discard resumes written in l33t. Communication skills really are an important component of a professional background, particularly in a small company.

uncronopio
Monday, January 26, 2004

Fog Creek Software
"I'm lovin' it!"

apw
Monday, January 26, 2004

I think Joel hit critical mass of crappy resumés this week, and took it out on us  :)

But I can't believe that anyone who considers themselves a professional -- in any field -- seriously thinks Joel is in error in discarding a resumé because the applicant doesn't know to capitalize "I". To me, demonstrating that you learned something in third grade makes you a better candidate than someone who demonstrates they didn't.

Zahid
Monday, January 26, 2004

"If you're spending half or more of your waking hours doing something just because you want to get paid, then you have a joyless life."

If you're spending half of your waking hours working, you're working too much.

If you just want to get paid, you're like almost everybody else in the world.

It ain't ditch-digging. It doesn't have to be curing cancer either. Most of us are happy in-between.

People who have no life outside of work and therefore search for most to all of their fulfillment in their career always burn out, and usually are unpleasant to work around in the long-term.

MD
Monday, January 26, 2004

If I'm thinking of hiring you, and you can't be bothered to write a decent resume and spell check it, then how can I believe you'll bother making a decent effort on any project you do for me, when you won't on any project you do for yourself.

Chris Pearce
Monday, January 26, 2004

I don't have any problem with Joel's attitude.  The dollar amount committed to a hire is astronomical.  Three years salary + beneifits + overhead + hours of management time can come to $400,000 pretty easily.  I know the discussion was concerning an intern, but the same principle applies.

If I was cold-call bidding on a $400,000 project, I'd personalize a cover letter and capitalize 'i'.  If I was putting out a bid for said contract, I would expect the same.  Any sign that someone "doesn't get it" and they don't get a crack at the $400K.  Sorry.

An immaculate resume doesn't indicate someone who's anal-retentive, a perfectionist, or can't hang loose.  It's only someone who wants to advertise that they "get it".

Joel believes he runs his company well and writes articles saying "I do it this way and this way is good".  It can come across as brash, but it's his opinions that drive the site.  That said, Joel might win points with some readers by writing articles that ask interesting questions rather than answer basic ones.  But that's his call.

Bill Carlson
Monday, January 26, 2004

Bill, if you were putting out a bid for a $400k contract, it wouldn't read:

[actual job listing I just grabbed]

Provide MS Access application support for Department of Defense. Duties include: Design to implementation of active databases, modification of same and general support thereafter. Must have strong Access skills along with SQL 7.0 and Visual Basic. Responsibilities also include weekly and monthly project reporting, database documentation, and trouble-shooting. Must have sound communication skills to deal with multiple clients in a results-oriented climate.Required Skills: MS Access '97 MS Access 2000 and 2002 Visual Basic - all versions SQL 7.0 Office XPBS Bachelors Degree(or equivalent work experience) with 5 years of experience. Preferred Skills and Experience: MicroSoft Office - Word and Excel MicroSoft PowerPoint Lotus Notes IBM Compatible Personal Computers Security Clearance Required.

***********
Now will one of you "customize your cover letter to indicate this is the One True Job for you" zealots explain to me how I'm supposed to do that with this job listing?

The listing is from a huge Fortune 500 company with zero indication of where in the company you would be working. And I can tell you from six years of job hunting that 99% of them are exactly like that one.

Philo

Philo
Monday, January 26, 2004

"People who have no life outside of work and therefore search for most to all of their fulfillment in their career always burn out, and usually are unpleasant to work around in the long-term"

Exactly.  My job is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

the capitalist
Monday, January 26, 2004

No-one's asking you to demonstrate it's the one true job for you.  Not even Joel.  Just to sell yourself to them.

If that were my job advert, I'd want to see your cover letter mention some of the database design/implementation/maintenance you've done.  I'd want you to give me reason to believe you have strong communications skills by describing how you managed client communications on a project, or wrote project reports for upper management, or something else like that.  I'd want you to quickly confirm you have all the required skills, and I'd particularly want you to confirm you have the required security clearance.

Of course, all that information will be in your CV, but by putting it in your covering letter, you'd have made it much easier to find.  I wouldn't have to go through your CV looking for all the bits of information.

If your cover letter didn't have all that or even if it didn't have any of that I'd still look at your CV, but any applicant who did do that would go to the top of the pile ahead of you.

JP
Monday, January 26, 2004

"If you're spending half of your waking hours working, you're working too much."

24 hours per day x 7 days = 168 total hours per week.
8 hours sleep per day x 7 days = 56 hours spent sleeping.
168 - 56 = 112 hours remaining.

It's pretty easy to work 40 to 50 hours a week, factor in commuting time and personal time spent thinking about work and you're easily up to half your waking hours.

Of course your mileage may vary, but most full-time employees work a minimum of 40 hours per week (in the US).  And most people that work 40 hours per week are spending half their waking hours working.

Michael Bean
Monday, January 26, 2004

JP, I agree with you as well.
However, past discussions on this board, and the tone of Joel's article, indicate some people (and it seems to be when a CEO or senior partner is reading the resume) actually want to see some measure of "I want to work at your company because..." and then some kind of ego-stroking.
Joel's not completely out to lunch because he puts everything out there, but most companies don't - you can't even tell how many developers work there or if they get offices or cubes (you can safely guess "cube," sure - but the facts aren't available).

Now if you *do* happen to know things about the company, by all means mention it:
"I know you use XP and I'm a strong believer in the benefits of agile development"
"I understand you're a Yukon early adopter and I'd love a chance to work with that technology, even in my spare time."
"The idea of midnight catered development parties sounds like a slice of heaven."
But let's be honest - for 99% of the jobs you apply to, you have neither the knowledge nor the ability to get at this kind of stuff.

For a prospective employer to ask for an executive summary of who you are and why you're a good fit for the job listing? Fine.
But to expect every cover letter to gush about how wonderful it would be to work at their company? Check the ego and get back to work.

Philo

Philo
Monday, January 26, 2004

I didn't read that into Joel's article, to be honest (but may have missed something).  Otherwise, Philo, yes - agreed....

JP
Monday, January 26, 2004

Philo, not all jobs are created equal.  Ergo, you can't have a single job application strategy and expect it to work for all jobs.

In my opinion, the personalized cover letter covered in previous discussions and by Joel's rant is most suited to positions for companies that are focussed on quality of life over the bottom line.

In my experience, positions at larger and/or bureaucratic organizations are not in this category.  Usually those offered via recruitment agencies aren't either.

If you want to apply for generic positions at generic companies, a generic resumé filled with buzz-words to get past the software will probably be just as effective.

But in Canada at least, smaller companies make up a significant portion of the workforce (and economy...).
And in my experience, many of those who can make hiring decisions for these companies agree with Joel.

Phibian
Monday, January 26, 2004

Why is Philo so annoyed by the idea of taking time to write personalized cover letters that he is prepared to write dozens of posts to JOS decrying them?

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Philo's objection doesn't seem to be the time involved, it seems to be the impossibility of the task.

I'm inclined to agree, it's impossible to write a meaningful cover letter for a lot of jobs, particuarly ones through recruiters where they're so fearful of you figuring out who the company is they give you no information to go on what so ever.

Sum Dum Gai
Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Steve, I've refined my argument, so pay attention. [grin]

I'll grant that personalizing cover letters will most likely yield better results. I wish it wasn't that way, because I think it's silly, but "live as the world is, not as you wish it was."

*However*, I am taking on Joel's generic advice that a cover letter that doesn't address "why this job is the perfect job for me" won't cut the mustard. In this case it's a little more critical since Joel's articles have some degree of influence in the IT community.

There is no way an applicant can address the job and working environment, since all they generally get is:
a) marketingspeak from the website (Joel thinks boilerplate *cover letters* are bad?)
b) a one-paragraph job description that is usually all skills requirements.

I've given plenty of examples here and in the earlier thread I started.

What do I hope to accomplish? Ideally Joel will edit the article to acknowledge that Fog Creek is unnaturally blue sky as employers go, and it's usually not fair for a resume reviewer to expect "I want to work at XCorp because..." if they haven't provided the material for a prospective hire to evaluate.

And finally - didn't I mention I've got work I'm trying to avoid? [grin]

Philo

Philo
Tuesday, January 27, 2004

You tailor your resume to fit the one paragraph list if that's all there is. And in the cover letter you mention how your experience and skill set fits in with what they're asking.

What you are tring to avoid is giving the impression you haven't even bothered to read the job ad. When you apply for a job in Saudi Arabia stating in the resume your desire to learn more about Chinese culture (really has happened - and more than once) you're not going to get on most people's shortlist.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, January 27, 2004

I agree with Philo's point about cover letters - to a point.  With the extremely limited information available in a job ad, it's impossible to truely customize a cover letter.

That said, making an attempt will win you points in _some_ cases.  If your cover letter indicates that you took the time to do even slighly more than resume spam, it makes a better impression.

You can also set "tone of voice" in a cover letter.  Are you creative?  Formal?  A leader?  A follower?  There is some room to help the screener do something other than keyword match.

Granted, all of this is applicable in only a subset of job openings, but it's worth a shot...

Bill Carlson
Tuesday, January 27, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home