Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

In Defense of Joel's Article

I know this one won't be popular.

In the way of disclaimer, I've been both a job seeker and on the other side of the table looking through a pile of resumes (I'm too lazy to look up the e with decoration).

Given that just about *any* job posting (not just Fog Creek) will get more resume's than you can easily evaluate, and that we have a limited amount of time to evaluate them in, you need to apply some heuristic to the decision making process.

Since there are no Bayesian Resume Filters (tm), and if there were you can be sure that any cover letter that contained the phrase:

"I understand the position also requires a candidate who is team- and detail-oriented, works well under pressure, and is able to deal with people in departments throughout the firm"

would get filtered out, we need to apply a few binary decision making point to thin the herd.

Poor grammar is a great, simple and easy to use metric. So is not following the requirements of the ad you're responding to. Generic cover letters, again, are a big turn off. Anything that makes things harder for the interviewer (like attaching a cover letter in a Word doc), again, a simple way to get rid of someone you wouldn't want to deal with on a daily basis. "I don't comment my code, I keep it in a Word doc, which is in a hidden directory my personal file share, which anyone can access if they scale Mount Everest."

The free e-mail account thing is a bit more controversial. You can't use your work address, if you have one because you never know who might be reading your email, and if you don't have a job, what other options do you have? Job searching really is about projecting the right image. Just imagine you're starting a consulting company and selling your services to Fortune 500 companies. Now realize that this is exactly what you're doing, though not always to Fortune 500 companies.

I'd recommend buying a domain name and posting your resume in HTML format (and no pictures of your winter timeshare on the beach, sorry Joel). The domain name should be your name, and with as many middle initials as you need that you can actually get it. might not be available, but might. (I have another domain that I use for this purpose.) Though this might backfire if your design skills suck.

Even during the boom any job posting would get a bucketload of resumes, and the incompetent people, those who would be in over their heads, were typically easy to spot. A second category of people who had good game but lacked the skills necessary to do the job were harder to spot, but a good interview could ferret them out. Finally, you have the all around winners. Confident, competent, and with the right skills and experience for the job.

The only problem I see with Joel's article is that it will push more of the first category into the second category.
Monday, January 26, 2004

I've failed to sense what the fuss was about.  Be very afraid if these people happen upon any college placement departments.

"I'd recommend buying a domain name and posting your resume in HTML format "

But then you've got just a generic resume, no?

the capitalist
Monday, January 26, 2004

> Since there are no Bayesian Resume Filters (tm),

Hmm, maybe there should be..

christopher baus (
Monday, January 26, 2004

> But then you've got just a generic resume, no?

Sure, it's really just there if they bother to look at your domain.

Or better yet, get a professionally done photograph and answer some bizarre questions, like who is your favorite cartoon character.
Monday, January 26, 2004

I wonder what percentage of hits represent people from /. , or whereever, that stumble upon the product pages of FC.

Nah, Joel wouldn't create a pompous persona, write controversial articles or espouse elitist rhetoric to increase traffic.

Never mind.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Hmm the article was slashdotted? Why am I wasting my breath here, I have karma points to get.
Monday, January 26, 2004

Mmmm...karma points. Too bad we can't trade them in for goods and services.

I'm ergo98, btw. Signed up in the nascent days of Slashdot (at the time it was mostly to deride the OS/2-cum-Linux freaks).

Dennis Forbes
Monday, January 26, 2004

Wow.  A Bayesian Resume Filter.  That's a GREAT concept.  Someone should try it.

The impossibility of writing a good one would just about prove the randomness of the resume selection process.  =-)

Monday, January 26, 2004

I dunno, I think that with a large enough sampling, I think it *could* find traits in common with all applicants who went on to get interviews.

Mind you, it would have to have MS Word's ability to check spelling and grammar as well as a readability metric specifically tailored to the job in question.
Monday, January 26, 2004

Personally, I don't see anything to get upset about in Joel's article.  Programming, as a discipline, is entirely about communication.  A programmer is, in effect, a translator.  Like a translator, he or she takes a text composed in one language and converts it into a text in another language while preserving the meaning of the original.  If you can't communicate effectively in syntactically and semantically correct English and you can't follow instructions, how could you possibly be any good at a job that involves translating instructions from English into the precise language required by a computer?

Monday, January 26, 2004

I think that Joel’s article says lots of things that are true, elitist or not. I work in a small company so my boss does the hiring. I help for the technical interviews. Resumes with grammar mistakes or ‘canned’ resumes and cover letters are not reviewed at all. Only the ‘perfect’ resumes stand a chance of being reviewed. Inability to communicate in English during the phone interview dooms the candidate, too.

Alex Chalucov (
Monday, January 26, 2004

Always email the resume as an attachment, unless specificaly told not to. Posting a link to a web site means the resume screener is twiddling their thumbs waiting for it to download, and indeed may even not have an internet connection.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Well, if you don't have a handy .edu address to fall back on, you can go to and get a fairly personalized email address and website.

Fred M. Napier
Tuesday, January 27, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home