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What's Happened to Job Applicants?

Not trying to be overly "holier than thou," here, but as I'm reading through e-mail responses to my recent job posting for a developer, I'm wondering to myself, "What's happened?"

When I was in typing class in 9th grade in high school, we were taught how to properly compose a cover letter and *one page* resume. What we were taught really doesn't resemble what I'm getting in my inbox.

In engineering school, Career Services practically *begged* you to come in and sit down with them and they would help you write and proofread your cover letter and resume. Here's some of the things they taught us:

1. Your potential employer will make an initial decision about you in 30 seconds.
2. Tailor your cover letter to the job. Make it obvious that you aren't simply sending out a boilerplate letter.
3. Make your resume fit on one page only, unless there's an extreme case which requires more information. (For example, many jobs that fit the requirements of the position.
4. List three bullet points per past job.
5. Make the cover letter and resume look extremely professional, looking like it's ready to be published.

All of these are criteria I'm now using during my evaluation process.

The bulk of what I'm getting right now, candidly, is crap. I have seen cover letters consisting of anything from "Here is my resume. I hope you like it", to cover letters that make it obvious the writer did not tailor it to this particular position.

I see resumes that span three or four pages, rambling on and on about what they've done in the past, no bullets to be seen. I see resumes submitted in plain text.

*ARRGH!*  It's very frustrating.

Is it just me?  Are others seeing this?  Are my expectations just too high?


Wednesday, October 1, 2003

"3. Make your resume fit on one page only, unless there's an extreme case which requires more information. (For example, many jobs that fit the requirements of the position.
4. List three bullet points per past job."

In the IT world these requirements are mutually exclusive.

There's a thread on this on JoS somewhere, and I'm pretty sure the majority verdict was that the "one page resume" is a dinosaur from the "career company man" days. Between working for multiple companies, having multiple projects, and dozens of technologies to deal with, 66 lines very simply is not enough for an average career.

And I have a nagging suspicion that it's the "one page" thing that's really burning you - it seems like such a simple directive, yet you never see it. That lays the foundation for everything else to piss you off more. (this is guesswork, mind you - my apologies if I'm way off base).

But let me also suggest that a large majority of the resumes you see are IT dregs - the people who rushed into IT during hte dotcom and are now left standing. The GOOD workers have jobs, and therefore don't send out (as many) resumes. ;-)

[insert standard rant about the stupid cover letter thing - "I don't have enough time to read a resume, but I want you to stroke my ego with a fluffy cover letter" blah]


Wednesday, October 1, 2003

First off the days of the one page resume are long dead. Given the long list of technical skills employers are asking for it's almost impossible to get everything on a single page if you have been in the industry for any length of time.

As to sending the resume in text versus a word document, I know some people do this because of a variety of reasons including virus checkers that strip out Word attachments. I agree a Word document is still the best format, however I can see why some people submit in a text format.

I fully agree about tailoring your cover letter, if I don't see any specific selling in the cover letter of an individual based on the job requirements and the company I usually bin it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Well, my resume would fit on one page only if I got rid of half my jobs (and I do average 3 bullet points per job).

Just because some teacher in 9th grade said things should be done in a certain way _doesn't_ mean that it holds true after you get some experience of your own.

I think Philo's comments about this are spot on (although I don't agree about the cover letter...).

I would consider the quality of the resume as a factor but unless _you_ specified the _exact_ style you wanted I don't think the style should matter that much.

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

IMHO your criteria are mostly obsolete:
- how fast you reach your decision is up to you as is the way you conduct your business
- you don’t need to append a cover letter to a resume sent by email. The subject line is enough.
- why three bullet points and not 2 or 4?
- the professional look is in the eye of beholder
- one page is not nearly enough for an experienced programmer unless you use 8 size font

Why don’t you read all emails without prejudice and pick up the best fit?

19th floor
Wednesday, October 1, 2003

RocketJeff, to clarify - to a job applicant I would absolutely recommend tailoring a cover letter.

To resume reviewers I try to point out that evaluating a resume based on the cover letter is not wise.

I look at it this way: if a developer is a software suite, then the resume is the technical specifications; the cover letter is the box. To the software publisher of course I'll say "put it in a pretty box, because some morons pick software that way", but to the purchasing agent I'm going to say "ignore the stupid box - read the technical specs and decide if that's what you want."

Seriously, can you imagine not picking a software package because the salesperson bought you the same lunch he buys everyone?


Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Philo - excellent clarification, I now agree with you 100%.

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

I have to agree with Dave's comments, execpt the one page stipulation for resumes.  2 pages should suffice.

I recently had to hire some staff and I understand his frustration.  I got about 50 - 75 resumes for an intermediate level position.  I would say that 80 - 90% of the resumes were crap. 

We're not talking 'hey this guy isn't qualified', type of resume.  More like, if I posted this on the internet, it would be a really good joke.  They didn't even enter the realm of professional.  It was very sad.

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Of course, I'd never try to say that 99% of job seekers aren't morons - in fact I actively hope it's true.

Keeps my rates up. :)


Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Re: Career Services: why should I take resume advice from someone who obviously couldn't find THEMSELVES a real job?

I don't know ANYONE who writes one-page resumes.  And for good reason.  They look way too empty.  Employer looks at them, mutters "not enough experience", and tosses it into File 13.

Two pages is optimal.  Three pages is a bit too much; no one cares what you did back in 1990 anyways.

Regarding cover letters: if you don't tell me much about the position (which the bulk of job postings don't), how the hell do you expect me to explain why why I'm such a good fit? 

If you want to know what I can do, read my resume.  That's what it's there for.

If I were an employer, the only thing I would require at a minimum is readability and no spelling mistakes.  This weeds out the folks that can't express themselves concisely and the folks that are just too damn lazy to get rid of the red squiggly lines.  The rest is gravy.

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

On the one or more pages issue: I agree that you can exceed one page; but just in case, you'd better make sure that everything that you really want to get across is on the first page.

Bill Tomlinson
Wednesday, October 1, 2003

On the number of resume pages point, I was more trying to illustrate my frustration with two things:

1. Resumes that go on and on for three or more pages.  I don't need to read 3 paragraphs about the mainframe programming you did in 1986.

2. Resumes that don't have succint bullet points about what they *accomplished* during each tenure.

I agree--the single page is probably only going to work if you've only been working for five years or so.  Of course, the position I'm looking to fill only requires two to four years of experience, so one page would certainly suffice.

Oh, and the other thing, what's with the "technology shopping list" that tends to fill up 1/3 to 1/2 a page on many of these resumes? Don't people understand that I don't care about any technologies or tools other than the ones I mention in my job ad?

I'll respond to some of the other posts a little later.


Wednesday, October 1, 2003

This is too funny. Why, why in the world would you really put much emphasis on a resume? I had a headhunter interview me on the phone and then she created a resume and had me review it. I had to take a lot out. But the point is that a resume can simply indicate money spent, not talent or character which is what I would look for. This is the year 2003. The internet. Me, I found a replacement for myself at a company once. I never looked at a resume. I, not being a professional HR person, knew what I was looking for and I knew where to look for such people. Kind of like hunting I guess. If I wanted a horse I'd not go looking in the forest. So I posted to mailing lists THAT ALLOWED job offers (I did want someone who at least attempted to keep abreast of his professional world). Son of gun and didn't I find someone. Then guess what I did, ready, I GOOGLED him. Also, schucks, I looked at his code. What a novelty.  I asked about his editors of choice, O/S preference and when he said EMACS/Unix .. ummm ... good sign as the best people I know have that preference.  Code, history as evidenced by activity on the net (gee, I was hiring a programmer), choice of editor and preferred O/S were about all I needed, oh, yeah, and I went looking in a place where I would find active programmers, not on Monster or JobsRUs etc.  The really amazing thing is how absolutely moronic most people are when it comes to hiring technical talent.  But then I guess it's kind of hard to choose the right color if you are color blind.

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

This might be a simplistic solution to the problem of long resumes, but can't you just stop reading?  People tend to list job experience from most recent to least recent.  At some point, when you decide that the experiences being listed are too "old", stop reading. 

Joe Blandy
Wednesday, October 1, 2003

I agree with Philo and I believe you are suffering from the "new world."

In the "new world" the initial evaluation of your resume is done by either:
  A - the admin or intern, looking for the pat phrases
or B - software scanning for keywords

Cover letters, while nice, were a business in themselves years back.  You could supply a job description to a company and they would send back your cover letter.  After a while, the cover letter lost any meaning, or more precisely, became works of fiction. 

Recently it only matters if  "A" or "B" can find "Buzzword" on your resume with at least "N" years of experience.  Where they don't even know what they asking.  Five years of C# experience? 

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Dave writes: >>> Don't people understand that I don't care about any technologies or tools other than the ones I mention in my job ad? <<<

This is an interesting discussion.  I think of the cover letter as being tailored for the specific job being applied for, but the resume describes the applicant and the same resume is sent to all potential employers.  Dave implies that the resume should also be tailored to the job being applied for.  What is the general thinking on this here?

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

>>>  The GOOD workers have jobs, and therefore don't send out (as many) resumes. ;-) <<<

Hey, Philo, that's not funny.  Well, OK, I guess the ";-)" indicates you weren't really serious.  My employer cut a third of the technical staff in one fell swoop.  Essentially, anyone who wasn't working on a contract was let go with few exceptions.  Being the most recent hire, I had neither seniority nor a chargable contract to keep me there.

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Dave, you seem to suffer from an inability to understand the effect that the current job market's incentives have on job-seekers.

In 99% of cases, they must load up the resume with tons of stuff that you or I would view as unnecessary crap in order to get past the gatekeeper, be it automatic or HR. To whit: I worked inside the JVM, but lost out on a phone interview with some idiot because I "didn't have any OOP experience".

Yes, you're different. But how the hell is the applicant supposed to KNOW that?

I know that the guy like me who ends up doing the technical screening doesn't enjoy the buzzwords any more than I do when I'm doing it at my current job. It doesn't make me any more likely to leave them out, given the fact that a 1% through-the-gate ratio is, in this job market, suicidal.

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

If I started accepting resumes tomorrow, I would fully expect the majority of them to be crap.  When those career services people were begging to help you, did you know many people who actually went?  They forced everyone at my university to go and spend two and a half days in a resume improvement course.  Everyone there resented the fact. 

Most people resented it because they were sure they could do it just fine.  If any of them applied to your position, I am sure you took one look at their resume and said "this is crap" because it was.  They were just too lazy to make something good and hide behind the excuse that people will be looking at the content.  A lot of these people also graduated with a solid C- average for the same reason.  They aren't going to go away, they will be applying to the same jobs that those 99th percentile people will be applying to. 

I resented the resume building session because the so called professionals were just running through some arbitrary formatting session.  I might as well have been talking to the paper clip in Word, for all the good it did me.  The said my resume was crap because it didn't fit in their mold.  My resume had already got me two jobs.  It's gotten me a couple more, since.  It's not perfect, because it can't be perfect. 

Resume submission is a crap shoot.  I have seen a manager discard a resume because there was too much black on the page.  No, that doesn't make any sense but that candidate didn't get a chance at the job and the decisions was purely aesthetic.  Finding a person who has similar tastes in resume format is just luck.  I've got bullets galore on my resume but it's three pages long so I guess I'll never work for you.  That's fine, I'm sure the next person will discard it because I don't use the variant of bullet punctuation that they think is correct. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2003


A listing of technologies that one is proficient in - is common place and is mostly used on a style of resume know as functional.  This is opposed to a chronological style resume.  A functional resume usually indicates that the candidate doesn't have a lot of practical experience and is throwing the key things they know at you to start.  They then list the one or two jobs they held and their educational experience.  A chronological resume usually indicates many years of experience.  Although not all of it may be relative to the position.  So the lists of skills simply tell you what the candidate knows.

I think you are a rather self-centered person for saying:

"Don't people understand that I don't care about any technologies or tools other than the ones I mention in my job ad?"

Do you really think people can read your mind?  Do you think you deserve special treatment?  If you want something done a certain way, you must make it known.  Did you mention this in the ad?  You can't expect people to just know what you want?  Is this how you communicate in your business?  Do you yell at people that don't automatically know what you want?  Can't communicate via telepathy here.

I don't understand why, if employers want something in the application process done a certain way, they don't just say it.  Something to effect of, "When you send your resume in please only list relevant skills."  This is not universal.  It's not something everyone practices.  Joel came out and said how he wanted cover letters to read after he posted his software engineer position.  I think it was too late.  He should have told the applicants in the ad how he wanted the cover letters to read.  Same thing with resumes.


This is a false statement:

"the people who rushed into IT during hte dotcom and are now left standing. The GOOD workers have jobs, and therefore don't send out (as many) resumes. ;-)"

How can you form such a poor stereotype and judge people as such?

I graduated from college two almost three years ago and have only been able to obtain one internship in that period.  Not because I'm a bad programmer or a bad person or because I don't have a professional resume, it's because of the saturated job market which is only getting worse.  I am a GOOD worker, a VERY GOOD worker.  Thank you very much.  And take a step down from your high horse.

Employers are getting spoiled.  State what you want and you will get it.  Don't and you won't.  Simple as that.

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Fortunately, I didn't have to write a resume in the past three years.
But every time I send one, I remove all that is not relevant (according to what I've learnt about the employer) for them.  It fits on one page, and the reader is not disturbed by unfamiliar words like 'spectrography' or 'prolog'.
Don't forget to keep track of what you sent to whom, though.

(I've seen once an article about a guy who automated the generation of his resumes -  maybe in xslt ; strange idea)

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Lighten up, Francis. How about this:
"If you're looking for a top 1%'er, then by definitions, ___% of the resumes you receive will be ___________"

That's all I was saying.


Wednesday, October 1, 2003

I'm still really foggy on the psychology of resume reviewers that have a snit when the information they're looking for isn't handed to them on a silver platter. Talk about a serious "my time is more important than yours" attitude problem.

You have to go through a mountain of resumes? Well I have to apply to a mountain of jobs, usually posted with minimal job description and reviewed by someone who doesn't know what they're doing. I deal, you should learn to.

Or, putting it another way: If Microsoft and Oracle can stoop so low as to read ASCII resumes with no cover letter, then I think you can, too.


Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Got a question for you. Seeing as I'm currently in the market for a job (though I have been told I have a good chance at getting one of the jobs I've applied for at my Uni) I'd like to know if you think my resume is crap or not. Feel free to look or not look:

Any comments that are polite and relevant (ie, no "it sucks and so do you") are highly welcome.

BTW, I think most comp sci and all engineers at Iowa State took a class where they were required to do a resume and make it not look like crap. Maybe that's just me. My real question is, are these crappy resume and cover letter people getting jobs, and if so, where are these jobs. It's hard enough for me to get anything besides a "We found someone else to fill the position" letter, which comes months after applying and calling back. So to the other poster/topic, yes some places are sending out rejection letters. On paper even.

Tim Miller
Wednesday, October 1, 2003

>>But every time I send one, I remove all that is not relevant (according to what I've learnt about the employer) for them. 

I've received several interviews (and via that, at least one job) because of the "not-relevant" experience on my resume.

Just because it isn't in their 'dream applicant' list doesn't mean that the person reviewing the resume won't find it valuable/useful. Sometimes it just give you a common (and unknown to you) link with a person.

Wednesday, October 1, 2003


Specifying the type of position sought may be helpful to recipients.  Development, QA, Sys Admin, etc.

Wednesday, October 1, 2003


Take out the objective, coursework, other activities and skills sections.  Make a new section titled Computers then put the Experience section then put the school section.  Take out your graduate cirriculum and make a simple statement, "Graduated with honors and a BS degree or Completed so many credits etc".  Add in some of your other computer skill under the "computer section" such as languages, networking, databases etc etc.  You must have certainly used a variety of these in college.

(Also you maybe should have made this a separate post.)

Wednesday, October 1, 2003


Comments on your resume (from top to bottom):
- Lose the 'Objective' - What purpose does it serve besides taking up space? Who _doesn't_ want that?

- Did your Comp Sci degree have a specialty?

- What was your GPA? (since you're just out of college)

- Does "Setting up and maintaining Sun workstations" include "worked as System Administrator in a Solaris environment"?

- Coursework - Do you actually need most of these? Things like "Programming Languages" is pretty generic to most CS degrees.

- I don't care about most of your activities and, since you listed your religion as part of one, your resume would have gotten tossed out by an HR drone before _any_ decision maker saw it. Not because you have a religion, but because religion is a 'protected class' (i.e. can't discriminate because of it) - and we don't need legal hassles. The same is true if you mentioned you were black/white/asian/etc.

- HR people will see *nix and not know what OS *nix is...

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Keep ‘Objective’, move ‘Languages’ right under ‘Objective’, loose ‘Other activities’

19th floor
Wednesday, October 1, 2003

At some companies, resumes and cover letters are specifically requested to be sent in plain text form.  This is definitely my policy for  (I'm not hiring right now, don't bother sending me millions of resumes.)

What's more, with at least some of these companies, sending in a resume in any other format results in an immediate "no hire" decision.  Why?  Because if the person applying can't even follow simple directions like not to send their resume in a skanky proprietary format not everyone can read, then what kind of employee are they going to be?

I will almost never send a resume in Word format.  The only people who ever seem to want me to are sleazy brokers so they can change it more easily, put their own name on it, etc.  If a company has a snit because my resume is sent as plain text, I probably don't want to deal with them.

Chris Hanson
Wednesday, October 1, 2003

So a compnay that likes a well-formatted resuem that looks good on paper, as opposed to a plain text unreadable load of garbage, is not the kind of company you would work for?

At least they're saved having your unimaginative pig-headedness messing up their development team.

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, October 1, 2003

I like the style of these guys:

UI Designer
Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Dave, what planet are you on? It is a sign of respect, consideration and facility with modern communication to send in text RATHER THAN some other bloated format such as an attached Word document.

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

(Because text is smaller, can be read without any mucking around and is free from viruses.)

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Stephen, a company that will "no hire" someone based on the file format of their resume values form over function, and no, I'd rather not work for that company.

[Note that I'm presuming a well-written, nicely-formatted ASCII resume - "unreadable loads of garbage" can come in any file format]


Wednesday, October 1, 2003

You can't format ASCII text well, and you're quite likely to end up with character symbosl that the code page won't render.

I've dealt with 100-150 resumes a month for the last three years, and I can tell you that plain text  takes at least three times as long to read as properly formatted .rtf or HTML. If I have the patience to read it all, and the candidate is any good, then the first thing I do is send the resume back and ask him to send us a properly formatted one so I can print it out and send it to Personnel - unless they're really good,. in which case I mutter under my breath, and format the resume myself.

Save your resumes in Rich text format; even if  they ask for Word - the icon will be the same and they'll have extensions turned off so they will never notice the difference anyway. The only post a plain text resume is valid for is that of a second-hand anorak salesman.

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, October 1, 2003

When I apply for a job, I usually send both -- let the employer decide what they want to read.

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

"the people who rushed into IT during hte dotcom and are now left standing. The GOOD workers have jobs, and therefore don't send out (as many) resumes. ;-)"

I remember prior to the IT boom that most programmers were as good as they are now. I don't know about rushing into the IT dotcom boom but for those who milked it for all it was worth are a good candidate for some position.

And as for resumes, I wrote a resume scanner for a recruitor that took a config file of keywords to look for and produced a results as a percentage of all the resumes submitted. In short, if you didn't have the buzzwords (and many of them, even the same) you were trashed.
Of course this was for a recruitor but I assume large companies do the same thing. Only small companies truely care on who they hire because they have an incentive to hire the best, and the best candidates have an incentive to make an effort and tailor make a cover letter, phone call, whatever to get the job.

Simply put, commodity jobs get commodity resumes.

Tom Vu
Wednesday, October 1, 2003

There is a procedural reason for bulk recruiters - not individual companies - to specify Word. It's because a lot of them use automatic scanners that presume Word format.

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Lots of adds I've seen in recent years request your resume in plain text via a web based submission. Also, I've often seen HR folk print up resumes sent in Word format and then scan the output for OCR input into a resume processor (like <sic>Resumix).

Your choice of fonts and formating will definately impact the selectability of your resume because the OCR software is far from perfect. You really need to format your resume as simply as possible to keep junk from getting into the db. That means 12 pt courier with lots of white space, no fancy formats (bold, italic, etc.) or tables, etc. In other words, if you make it look good, it won't scan well leaving you high and dry.

I also see lots of resumes when it's hiring time. Most of what I see is crap, but much of the fault is with the people in our HR who send me junk because they haven't a clue as to what they're looking at.

The only times I've received quality resumes was when my boss took it upon herself to query the Resumix db. She knew what to look for. The good candidates were in there. However,  the HR people didn't know the difference between a sr. prog with solid experience and an entry level system admin.

On another note, and I'll ask you to forgive the metaphor, I don't give a damn how long a resume is. It's what on it that matters.

Tom Dratler
Wednesday, October 1, 2003

As far as I'm concerned, a resume is an advertisement.  Your labor is the product for sale and if you can't do a good job marketing it, no sale.  A good advertisement is concise, easy to read, visually appealing, and tells me about the important features of the product that will meet my needs.  If you can't represent yourself well in written communication, why would we want you representing our organization?

I read a resume the same way I read a newspaper.  I read the first thing that catches my eye.  If the things that stick out on the page peak my interest, I read on.  If not, I'm flipping to the next one.  If you have two pages, your first page had better catch my interest or I'm not going to bother reading page two.  I will not read a three page treatise unless the first page is Pulitzer prize material.  Four pages?  Forget it, you've missed your target audience.

Good typography, good layout, and visual elements that lead me to the important stuff first are all important.  For content, don't just list every job you've had and every project you've done.  I don't care.  Give me the highlights of what you did and why it matters to me.  Tell me about transferrable skills that you bring with you that are relevant to every project.  I'm not going to care that you wrote an management system in Python for documents stored in an Informix database unless I need those specific things.  I'm more likely to care that you led a team to accomplish the goal or that your company increased its market share by 10% because of some brilliant feature you designed or that you implemented some labor-saving business practice in your department that has been adopted by others because of its efficacy.

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

"As far as I'm concerned, a resume is an advertisement."

I agree. I'm sure all the other hiring managers here agree. But you gotta wonder if they only buy products that have been specifically targeted to them...

"I didn't hear my name once in that Coca-Cola ad. You guys obviously don't want to make the sale..."


Thursday, October 2, 2003


So show us YOUR resume, one page, bullet points etc.

We'll re-write ours to match, and send them in.  What's your preference - text, Word, HTML, PDF, RTF, hotel stationary?

Thursday, October 2, 2003

Southworth, 24 pound 100% cotton resume paper, watermarked Parchment Deed bond finish, typed with carbon ribbon (text must have texture - no laser or inkjet)

Make sure the envelope is made from the same paper.

Philo <- having law firm resume flashbacks

Thursday, October 2, 2003

>Southworth, 24 pound 100% cotton resume paper,
>watermarked Parchment Deed bond finish, typed with
>carbon ribbon (text must have texture - no laser or inkjet)
>Make sure the envelope is made from the same paper.
>Philo <- having law firm resume flashbacks

Instead of typing it, would printing it on a daisy-wheel printer be okay?  I think that it'd be almost worth buying one if one was in that conservative business.

Thursday, October 2, 2003

Heh, nice one Philo.


I guess IT workers really should use blue striped fan-fold paper, dot matrix printed complete with job header.

I hadn't seen that stuff for years, then worked at Toyota.  They looked at me strangely when I got excited by it.  "Wow - blue lines!"

Don't judge large companies by their press reports.  There's often a Fujitsu mainframe hidden out the back with "Help Wanted" stuck on it.

Thursday, October 2, 2003


I'd do a couple of things to your CV. First, talk in the first person, not the passive voice.

"In addition to the required Computer Science and Liberal Arts undergraduate curriculum, 3 graduate level classes were also taken."

No, no, no. The employer wants to know what YOU did, not what the course was.

Also I'd vertically align the left hand edge of each text block, but that's just 'cos I've been reading all the non-designers design books and have gotten all ansy about professional looking page design.

Mr Jack
Thursday, October 2, 2003

All good, conflicting advice.

John Topley (
Thursday, October 2, 2003

Also don't forget the recruiters can really screw around with CVs - it seems to be standard practice for them to apply their own template to the document. They also seem to retype them, so it's not just the ugly format may be the applicant's fault.
I have in my hand two CVs for the same person, obtained from different agencies. On the first I had noted a significant number of typos and spelling mistakes, which gave me a very bad impression of the candidate. In the second, which has identical content, none of these errors are present!

So, to employers, make sure you judge the content of the applicants' CVs and not just their presentation.

To job-hunters, make damn sure you see what the recruiters are sending out with your name attached and scream bloody murder if they've messed it up!

Thursday, October 2, 2003

First, let me clarify a few things relating to the job ad.

First, there were several very specific requirements that I listed, that would lead me to believe a top-notch applicant would use to tailor both their cover letter and resume. That list included, among other things:

1. Excellent communication skills (Why? Go read PeopleWare. The reason projects fail by and large are not because of technology issues, but rather people issues. More specifically, communication issues.)
2. At least two years experience on a "shrink-wrap" Windows application development team, using C++ or other object-oriented language.
3. 1 or more years of Microsoft .NET Windows Forms-based application development using C#
4. Solid knowledge of relational database concepts

In addition, I listed *exactly* what I expected the applicant to provide, and it what format:
1. Cover letter, in Microsoft Word format
2. Resume, in Microsoft Word format
3. Completed one-page questionnaire, supplied via a hyperlink.  (This asks a few basic questions such as your salary requirements, when you could start, what specific experience you have that would qualify you for this position.)

In addition, I include this note:
Note: Plain text submissions or resumes submitted via's automated resume tool will not be considered.

Could I be any more clear?

I'm not expecting "mind readers," as some have suggested. I simply expect people to read my job ad, and provide to me what I want.  Here's what I would like to see:

1. A cover letter that highlights some of the applicant's past experiences that make them qualified for the position. This gives the applicant the ability to detail information that I would not necessarily be able to obtain from their succint resume. (In my opinion, this should be provided by any job applicant for any job. It's your opportunity to guide the reviewer through your resume, and allows you to tailor the reader's impression of you, tyipcally for the better.)
2. A resume that succintly summarizes their past and current positions, and education. As I've explained, this document should be clean and easy to read.

I think anon hit the nail on the head, and highlighted something that many of you do not seem to grasp--your application package is a marketing piece.  You're selling a product--yourself--and your cover letter, resume, and whatever else is included should be designed to close the sale.

Philo: I'm a little surprised that you don't seem to view an application package in these terms. You strike me as someone well-versed in the ways of business, especially human factor-related issues.

Your comparison to a Coke ad is a bit inappropriate.  Marketing to the masses to encourage them to purchase a product for less than a dollar is a different marketing process than selling a product or service for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Look at it this way.  In hiring a new highly-compensated employee, I'm signing up for a service that's going to cost me somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000 a year, depending upon salary, benefits, bonuses, taxes, etc. If I have an employee who works for me for several years, we're looking at several hundred thousand dollars.

Don't you think if I was looking for a service from a particular company for this amount of money, and you were a salesperson trying to get me to purchase your service, you would provide me with the mose clean-looking, professional sales package you could produce? And don't you think you would provide a nicely worded cover letter, targeted to highlight how your service addresses the "pain points" I had outlined?

I guess I'm just disappointed with the sheer number of applicants who just don't get this basic fact. They don't understand that they're now in the sales and marketing business. And they will continue to lose job opportunities to those applicants who do get it, and make themselves stand out and get noticed.

Anyhow, I'm not trying to get all high and mighty, here. I thought I'd just highlight a few of these issues, perhaps hoping this will assist some of those readers who *are* looking for a job understand the thought process that's going on at the other end of at least one job ad out there.

I suspect I'm not alone.

Thursday, October 2, 2003

(Note: I *really* need to read my posts more closely. Apologies for the two or three typos.)

Thursday, October 2, 2003

Dave, I don't think you did list *exactly* what you want to see: apparently you should have said that you want a ONE PAGE resume.

After discussing it on this board I increased my resume to 2 pages. I assume that cover letters may be lost in the submissions proess, so I don't put a lot of detail into a cover letter; a typical cover letter looks like this (it's simply to let them know that the resume is may be worth their looking at):

I have attached my resume, to apply for the "Windows Developer" position listed on your web site.

As well as the 5+ years of Windows programming/MFC experience required for this position, there are other ways in which my experience matches <your company's> areas of expertise:

*    Real-time processing (on Windows NT)
*    Distributed (networked) systems
*    Heterogenous systems (Windows NT mixed with Solaris)
*    Working in an ISO 9000 environment

I am available now, and look forward to hearing from you.

While you're at it, if you have a fixed notion of what you want to see, it would be helpful of you to post a URL to a sample resume to show the format, level of detail, type of content that you prefer.

Christopher Wells
Thursday, October 2, 2003


Good point about the resume length. I could have been more specific.

I think your cover letter is pretty much *exactly* what I'm thinking, as long as the bullets were tailored to the specific experience I had outlined in the ad.

Perhaps I can find a good resume somewhere and strip off the personal identifying information and post it. I'll think about that.


Thursday, October 2, 2003


In response to your second-to-last long posting, I think you still don't get it, from the applicant's side.

There are 100 job openings. I know that in 99 out of 100 cases, they will be screened by someone with the intelligence of a monkey. 75 out of those 99 will claim otherwise; but the facts are the same.

Do I take each one of those 75 at their word and spend an hour crafting the perfect cover letter / resume combination?

If I do, there's no way I'm getting a job in this market. Because even if I'm perfect for each one of those positions; there's another 20 guys who are also perfect; and 1000 other people who are mostly perfect. And because I took so long on your one job, I didn't get high enough on the list for the other 74 to even be in the running (at my current job at various times, we simply took the FIRST 25 RESUMES that met qualifications and screened those people).

Remember - the job seeker's goals are not the same as yours. If the job seeker's best bet to get a job at one company is by spamming a hundred; he's a fool not to do it; even if it makes you angry. Understand the incentives for your colleagues before you condemn them.

Thursday, October 2, 2003

>> "To whit: I worked inside the JVM, but lost out on a phone interview with some idiot because I "didn't have any OOP experience"

That is not a bad effect. You really want the idiots to dismiss you.

Thursday, October 2, 2003


After reading through all your posts, I know that I'll probably get turned down by you. This is a good thing, because your exacting standards and focus on the things that *really* matter (like 1 vs 2 pages, bloody hell) makes you a person I'd rather not work for, or with.

You have to remember that you are *not* hiring as yet. I feel that you can at least read through the content and interview people who might fit the job. From the interview it would be easy to see if the stylistic concerns really translate to personality problems ;)

And what is this thing to about *you* paying for a service? Surely the applicants also decide whether they want to work for you?

For the record I DO treat my resume as marketing material. I DO understand that it is my first impression. And it is 2 pages. Deal with it.

If I saw your ad (and it tickled my fancy) I would:
Send my resume in Word format (I’d remove any unrelated experience, but not unrelated IT-skills)
Write a customized cover letter, since it is relatively standard practice.

Most cover letters are just fluff designed to let HR people fall for their resume. As such I’d try not to read too much into them, and  work out later (interviews!) if the skill set, temperament, perceived interest in my company and possible future loyalty matches up.

So. The way I see it, if someone turns a resume down on stylistic grounds, they are doing the applicant a favor. One less person that they’ll have to stroke the ego of.


Albert Roux
Thursday, October 2, 2003

People don't seem to send thank-you notes anymore, either.  Over the past two years, I've interviewed five local high school seniors who had applied for admission to an alma mater of mine.  Not one student sent a note (or even an e-mail message) afterwards.  I find this surprising and disturbing.

Alex Chernavsky
Thursday, October 2, 2003

Personally, if I were looking I'd appreciate it if Dave dismissed my resume.

Any _manager_ that has a bug up his ass about resumes being in Word format will require other fluff/stupidity in the everyday world.  Things like:

. I want your status report in Word format, and a printed copy on my desk by 5PM Thursday.
. I want you to conform to xyz code style.
. You must use xyz IDE.

I can only imagine what that might be like.  Take that job and shove it is the correct reply.

nat ersoz
Thursday, October 2, 2003

Dave, let me comment on your own communication skills, which you apparently regard highly.

In your original complaint at the top of the page, to which you invite response, you complain about allegedly poor quality of the applications.

After several people analysed the validity of this expectation, you have then added the important qualifier that you were miffed that applicants failed to comply with your specifications. That's an important condition you omitted, indicating sub-standard communication skills.

Second, your analogy about a company selling a $100,000 service and taking a lot of care with the sale fails in that companies sell lots of services, so it's worthwhile to invest a lot in each sale. Individuals only do this every year or two, so the value is not the same.

Third, it's a dramatic over simplification to say that the best communicators will slavishly comply with some rigid format. In fact, Dave, they won't. They will often expect you to do some of the work, and they will know that skilled managers can assess people quickly.

As others have pointed out, I don't think you would be a good manager.

Must be a Manager
Thursday, October 2, 2003

Nat wrote, "Any _manager_ that has a bug up his ass..."

In my experience, every manager has at least _one_ bug up his ass (and usually a whole goddam ant colony).  If you restrict yourself to working for insect-free supervisors, you'll never have a job.

J. D. Trollinger
Thursday, October 2, 2003


“A cover letter that highlights some of the applicant's past experiences … that I would not necessarily be able to obtain from their succint resume.”

So, you don’t want a 2 page resume, instead you want 1 page resume + 1 page cover letter to tell you what you are missing from the 1 page resume?

19th floor
Thursday, October 2, 2003

"1. Cover letter, in Microsoft Word format"

Oh for god's sake WHY?
For all my ranting about the evils of "customized cover letters" I never for a moment imagined we were talking about anything but the text of the email with the resume attached, but you actually want a SEPARATE WORD DOCUMENT?!??!

No wonder you don't have time to review resumes. I mean, seriously - you should be able to look at a resume and decide in under 2 minutes if the candidate is worth putting in the interview process. But you prefer that you have to open a word document, read it, then open a resume and read that...

You really, really need to go read a lot of Dilbert and realize that you *are* the Pointy-Haired Boss.

And you need to work on your reading comprehension - as an applicant, then I may or may not do what's required to apply for your job. But I'm giving you advice as a hiring manager, and that advice is to pull the stick out of your ass about cover letter blowjobs and resume formatting.

Get this straight, folkies - you're not hiring technical editors. You're not hiring help writers. You're hiring PROGRAMMERS. Software developers. The depth of a personality that should be judged on abilities far more important than "did he use 9pt Arial like the style guide says"?

I think all you "please stroke my ego with a cover letter and show that you care about ME, even though you know nothing about my company or the job" and "hmph, I don't care if he has to pay the bills and needs to apply to two hundred openings - if he can't spend 2-3 hours on MY application I don't want him" types are missing out on a LOT of very qualified candidates.

My $.02, of course.


Thursday, October 2, 2003

I agree with Dave on this one.  If a job applicant can't follow explicit, simple instructions (though they may appear to be arbitrary), then this applicant can't be trusted to conform to the expectations that would be imposed on him at the workplace.  Giving people a hurdle to jump is a good way to screen out the people who wouldn't work out in the long run.  Non-conformists should form their own damn companies, not work in places where they'll just get on everyone's nerves.

J. D. Trollinger
Thursday, October 2, 2003

“If a job applicant can't follow explicit, simple instructions (though they may appear to be arbitrary),”

I believe you cater to the wrong crowd. You don’t need developers. You need burger flippers. Developers have creative minds and they will question your decisions or instructions as a matter of fact.

In fact I will be disappointed if a developer would not question the instructions no matter who issued them.

We are not numbers in a sweat shop.

19th floor
Thursday, October 2, 2003

JD, that's a good point. I'm arguing (as a peer, not an applicant) the silliness of the directions.

Okay, I'm curious - I, personally, wouldn't apply to a job listing like that because a) it's not worth my time, and b) I'm sure it was posted by someone who's far, far too anal for me to work for; someone whose priorities are seriously out of whack (this is part of the reason for the conclusion in (a))

So Dave loses even a chance to look at my resume. Who here, if they were casually browsing for a job, would see the listing above, think nothing of it, and happily comply with the directions?

I'm interested in other points of view on this. Maybe I'll learn something. :-)


Thursday, October 2, 2003

Man.  I agree with Dave, too.

It looks to me like Philo's language blows Dave's comments out of proportion a little.  Dave's not having a snit because the information he's looking for isn't handed to him on a silver platter, to use Philo's words.  He also -- explicitly -- is fine with resumes that are more than one page long, in general.

A resume is more than an advertisement; it is an introduction.  It is (hopefully) the beginning of a dialogue.  Dialogue involves each person listening to and responding to the other person.  In this case, the employer wants to start a dialogue.  I don't think it's appropriate to reply with a canned answer.

The Pedant, Brent P. Newhall
Thursday, October 2, 2003

Important messages lost in the noise:

1. in this job market, you will be forced to work with gatekeepers who you would otherwise dismiss as not worth your time.

2. in this job market (and even for most of us during the boom) you will be forced to work with managers who resent paying high tech guys good money.

3. it's only getting worse.

4. this doesn't mean that your best strategy is to waste time on the Daves of the world; because as I said, that time you spent on his requirements means you'll miss out on 74 other openings in which your only hope was to be one of the first ones on the stack.

5. it's nice to pretend like only bad people don't have jobs. I used to think that too; then a bunch of people I respected got laid off. Then I got laid off. It's hard to keep that attitude in this job market; I'm amazed even the most insular MIT cyberlibertarian type can manage it.

6. #5 means that again you'd better be prepared to apply for jobs with shitty gatekeepers and moronic HR departments and pointy-haired bosses; even jobs which are good on the inside are quite likely to have this outer core of badness. We no longer have the luxury to say "well I wouldn't WANT to work somewhere where an idiot was screening the resumes ANYWAYS".

Thursday, October 2, 2003

Philo, if you can afford to be picky about the types of jobs you would consider, then you probably haven't been unemployed too long.  Lots of people are broke (or almost broke), have families to support, and would be only too glad to work for an anal-retentive manager.

Incidentally, did you see the New York Times Magazine article about the high-flying former dot-com executive who now sells pants at the Gap?

J. D. Trollinger
Thursday, October 2, 2003


I think you're quite right for certain situations, but after all, the applicant knows whether he (or she) has a not-so-bad job that he wants to improve, or he's unemployed.

In the first case, you still want to be dropped by idiot recruiters. You really want the recruiter (sorry if that word is not very English) to agree with your priorities on what a good candidate is. If only to find good workmates once you actually get in there.

I'd only write idiot-targeted resumés if I was jobless. Then I'd have the time to waste with the (90+%?) companies I'd never want to work for.

And sorry if I repeat myself :)

Thursday, October 2, 2003

JD, if you're in that position, is your time better spent customizing every cover letter, or applying to more jobs?

Actually, if you're in that position, your time is best spent creating your own job. Buy a copy of "Selling to VITO," put together a blog and a newsletter, and start selling yourself. Write and publish shareware. Network. Meet people.

Don't just sit in the basement emailing resumes (like I did...)


Thursday, October 2, 2003

Philo, that advice is ludicrous; there simply isn't enough of a market for self-employed superstars like that. Get real.

Thursday, October 2, 2003

I would say that you're far better off carefully crafting applications and resumes for a small number of openings than  using a brute-force, shotgun approach to blast your applications to everyone under the sun.

J. D. Trollinger
Thursday, October 2, 2003

MD: Candidly, I didn't consider those larger companies who have people screening resumes that have absolutely no idea what, exactly, the contents of the resume may mean. And I didn't also consider that the cover letter would not be read by the hiring manager him/herself. So again, perhaps I'm expecting too much in my particular case.

Albert: As I pointed out when I clarified myself in an earlier post, I was highlighting those resumes that ramble on for several pages (three or more).

And the exact style isn't the important point; it's what the resume communicates to me.  Quickly.  It sounds like what you proposed is exactly what I'm looking for. I just wish I was getting more of it.

Alex: I'd say sending a thank-you note to follow up after an interview would help to send that person to the top of the list, assuming the interview went well. For us, if the applicant demonstrates that they actually *care* about getting a job with us, it is a good indication that they will continue to care about their job if and when they do get hired.

Nat: It could be in HTML, PDF, or Lotus format. I've chosen to require Word for two reasons.  One, it's much easier to read a formatted document than plain text. Two, I use the editing features in Word to mark up the document with comments when I talk to the applicant on the phone.

As far as conforming to a coding style guide or using a standard toolset, well, those are the realities of working in a team environment on a shrink-wrap application with a lifetime of five to ten years.

Must be a Manager: 1) Thanks for the psychoanalysis. 2) I'd contend that there is quite a bit more personal value to someone who is looking for a regular paycheck. 3) My requirements weren't rigid. I don't understand why someone who's sending out resumes didn't create them in some sort of word processing application to begin with. 4) You have too little information on which to make that judgment.

19th floor:  Touché.

Philo: I'll hand you the part about the cover letter. I've read some nicely constructed cover letters that were simply part of the e-mail.

Typically, I decide within 30 to 60 seconds whether the candidate is worth pursuing further. Double-clicking an attachment doesn't take too much time.

I'm really not looking for sexually-oriented servicing when I ask for a cover letter. I'm asking for a brief introduction, explaining who you are, and explaining why you would like to work in this position.

I'm really not looking for someone to stroke my ego. I'm simply trying to determine if they have valid interest in the position. And how can you say that the applicant would know nothing about the job or the company?  The job ad explains what the position involves, and by visiting our company's Web page for a few minutes, an applicant can get a pretty good idea of what the company is all about.

Brent: Amen.

MD: With so many people applying for open positions, that reinforces the need to make yourself stand out.

Am I "anal," as some have contended?  You're damned right I am.  I design cost estimating software, not unlike accounting software.  "It's close" doesn't quite cut it when a client is bidding on a construction project worth over $1 billion. And I need people on my team who are as dedicated to high quality craftsmanship in *everything* they do, including their application process.

Here's the bottom line--I look at every e-mail that comes across my desk except those that were submitted via's resume submission tool. I am making myself sound much more strict than I actually am during this process, to illustrate my frustration with people who just don't seem to *care* about getting a job with our company.

For me, faced with a choice between someone who seems to be at least interested enough to write me a short two-paragraph note saying that they're interested in the position, and someone who submits a boilerplate package, I'll hire the former every time.

The continued success of my company and my personal livelihood depends upon me finding and hiring the "A" people. As Joel says, as soon as you start hiring "B" people, it's all over.

(Note: there were a few more postings while I was writing this. Sorry to those people to whom I didn't have time to respond.)

Thursday, October 2, 2003

"explaining why you would like to work in this position"

Because your checks don't bounce?
The perfect solution for everyone is a developer who enjoys the work environment, gets along well with the boss, and likes what he/she does.

Let's be real - nobody's going to get that from a website or a job listing. So why do we keep pretending that me crafting my "please hire me" sales pitch based on your "please buy our product/come work for us" sales pitch is anything but a huge package of lies?

I can, right now, show you two websites that are strikingly similar. Except one is a Fortune 50 company with a sea of cubes for developers and the other is a ten-person company with private offices for everyone.

I guess that's my gripe over this whole "cover letter" thing - hiring managers that seem to think everything we need to know about their company is on their website, when anyone with any experience should know that's completely untrue.

So I check your website, and I write "I've always dreamed of working for a mid-sized shrinkwrap company" or "My recent experience with document processing engines would give you the background you need to break into the EDI field..."

Does this *really* add anything to the relationship?

"people who just don't seem to *care* about getting a job with our company"

And that says it all. NOBODY who applies to your company cares about getting a job with your company, Dave. It's delusional to think they do. They CARE about getting a JOB. If they know your company well enough to know they want to work there, then the resume would be walked in by a coworker, not emailed to ""

Maybe I'm too jaded. Maybe I've interviewed at too many places where the website facade was a complete and utter lie.

Look at it this way - do you want to work for IBM Consulting? How about KPMG? ADP IT? Coca-Cola IT?

Those are all companies we're intimately familiar with. And I'll bet their websites all promise wondrous working conditions and benefits. But do any of us know the *working environment* well enough to say we'd drop our jobs tomorrow for a job there? I doubt it.

So why pretend that when I apply to DaveCo, I have a burning desire to work for you?


Thursday, October 2, 2003

I believe many people here are not really fair with Dave. I'm surprised. I can understand the resentment about how recruitment generally works (or doesn't), but he's only offering advice. (I'm not a recruiter, but when I happen to see the resumes we receive, it makes me sad for the applicants).
If you wouldn't to work with a guy like Dave, and he wouldn't hire you, then all is well that ends well.

Thursday, October 2, 2003


I would have applied to this post and jumped through the formatting hoops; it would have amounted to three minutes of work for me.  Sending two word documents is much less onerous than some of the insulting on-line application forms I have run across. 

However, I would be one of the people with the largely boiler plate cover and way too long resume.  I agree with your point about getting a job.  I'd love to work in utopia but I'm more interested in finding an amicable relationship where I can trade service for money on a regular basis.  And finding it soon. 

Thursday, October 2, 2003

Sorry to break topic real quick, but thanks to anybody and everybody that commented. Now I'm wondering if you guys are giving me advice to get past a programmer reviewing resumes or a hr drone. From your advice vs what I've gotten from other sources I'm thinking the former while everything else I've ever heard must be the latter.

And to Dave, I don't understand why people can't figure out your ad either, I submit whatever is listed in whatever ad I'm reading, nothing more, nothing less. Unless that more is 1 more reference than requested.

Thanks to all for the interesting discussion of Dave's topic. Back to background lurking mode.

Tim Miller
Thursday, October 2, 2003

"Incidentally, did you see the New York Times Magazine article about the high-flying former dot-com executive who now sells pants at the Gap?"

I'd rather work at the GAP during the day and work on a product and marketing materials at night vs. stay in the FTE begging-for-a-job ratrace. I don't know anyone my age (28) who has had the same programming job for longer than 2 years. Almost everyone I know has formed an LLC and only works on a contract basis. At least then you have some modicum of control over the hours you work and what you are working on.  Welcome to the future. YMMV.

Thursday, October 2, 2003

I have great respect for Philo, but I don't think it's delusional to want employees who want to work for your company.

If you *don't* care, that's okay.  You just won't be at the top of the list to be contacted for the job.  The ones who express personalized interest in the job and/or company (and there will be some) will be.

The Pedant, Brent P. Newhall
Thursday, October 2, 2003

Brent: Amen.

Philo: To clarify, here's what would strike me as a "personalized" cover letter.  Not too much to it:

Dear Sir:

I came across your ad today and would like to apply for the position. I feel there are certain aspects of my background that make me a good fit, based upon the requirements you listed:

- I have three years experience as a key member of a team responsible for a shrink-wrap software application used by over 10,000 users worldwide.
- Although I don't have one year of C#/Windows Forms development experience, I have been involved in a port of one of our utilities from C++/MFC to C#/Windows Forms over the course of the past nine months.

I have been looking for a position in a smaller, local company, and your company seems to be a great fit.

I'd like to invite you to review my resume. I'll gladly provide references upon your request.


Dave The Job Seeker

Elapsed time: 5 minutes.  Impression it would make on me: priceless.

Even if this guy's resume looked so-so, I'd call him and see how he sounds, *just* based on the cover letter.  It's simply *that* impressive to see someone actually take the time.  (Of course, it would help that he actually is qualified for the position based on the two bullets.)

So I'm not looking for a treatise on why you're the best thing since sliced bread. I'm just looking for someone who seems to have some interest in the position. I assume--perhaps wrongly, but who am I to know?--that any others are just firing off their resume and they don't care about working here.

Easiest way to *not* land the job?  When asked, "Why do you want to work here," say, "Because I need a job."

If you need *just* a job, go down to McDonalds or Wendy's. I'm looking to start a three to five year--or longer--relationship with you. Unless you're going to show me that you're going to show up with at least *some* level of passion and interest every day, why would I want to hire you?


Thursday, October 2, 2003

Actually, a correction, he *doesn't* fit the requirements--I asked for at least one year of C#/Windows forms.  But nonetheless, I'd be left thinking, "Hmmm.  This guy sounds like the type who, since he seems to care about us and this particular position, would work to come up to speed on the technology if he needed to."

My partner has a great saying about hiring good people, "Often, it's not aptitude that makes a great employee, but attitude."

If someone comes in here with a kick-ass attitude, assuming at least a minimum level of relevant experience, and they're reasonably sharp, they can learn the rest.


Thursday, October 2, 2003

[side note: Dave has shared his company's website with me offline]

"I have been looking for a position in a smaller, local company, and your company seems to be a great fit."

Which proves my point 100%.

Dave, I just spent ten minutes going over your website. There is nothing on there that indicates your company is "small." In fact, you're almost ten years old and have offices on two coasts - doesn't say "small" to me.

So that letter is blowing smoke but you love it. [granted, you wrote it and have insider info]

"Your company seems to be a great fit"

Why? Because it's small? A four-person company run out of a hotel suite is "small"; so is a 120-person corporation with five offices and $40 mill in revenues. What do they have in common? You know, apart from "nothing."

There's nothing on your website that differentiates you from any of the dozens or hundreds of other companies out there doing shrinkwrap software, ASP services, consulting, or whatever. No photos of the offices, no discussion of work policies, nothing about what kind of workstations your developers get, etc, etc, etc.

So how can I say I want to work for *your* company? If I do, I'm lying. But you want to hear the "oh Dave, DaveCo is so amazingly awesome I'd work there for free because you guys are so great" - you want proof that someone cares enough about your anonymous position in your anonymous company to take the time to read your site and try to glean some info from it.

I'm just saying let's be honest - if I haven't been in your offices, then it's all sales talk. Can't we just be upfront about the whole thing?


Thursday, October 2, 2003


Correct me if I'm wrong...  But you do require your reports to write status reports in Word format, and they must be printed, and delivered to you in person by some certain day & time.

That is you, isn't it?

nat ersoz
Thursday, October 2, 2003

Oh, and alchohol may not be consumed during a peron's lunch break?  That' you too?

nat ersoz
Thursday, October 2, 2003

Say nat, you did get that memo about the new TPS report cover sheets, didn't you? I'll send you a copy. Greeeat.

Thursday, October 2, 2003

Philo: Thanks for the great compliment!

You're actually 100% correct--our Web site does look pretty damned good, and you'd never be able to guess we're a company with less than 25 people.

So, hmmm.  What, exactly could they write?  I guess I'm down to the bullet point portion of that self-written cover letter.  I.e., highlight your particular experience that makes you a good fit for the *position*, since you wouldn't be able to tell *too* much about the company.

(Side note: recent applicants have highlighted the great customer accolades on the site as something that attracts them to the company. My guess is, if our clients love us that much, perhaps the employees at least *like* working here.)

Again, the bottom line is, just include *something* to indicate you're actually talking about *our* position, not us plus the other 100 companies to which you've submitted the same cover letter.

Nat: The engineers swing by my office on their way home to let me know how they made out, and what they're going to work on in the morning. They also enter status information in Project Server to keep the schedule up to date (I tried Joel's painless schedules--didn't end up working for our 7-person team).

Elapsed time: approx 5 to 10 minutes daily.

They can drink on their lunch break if they want, as long as they still produce great-quality results. If you come into the office on Friday afternoon, however, you'll probably see most people drinking a beer at their desk.


Thursday, October 2, 2003

You know, I've never really liked sending cover letters in Word format either. I'm just not going to do that any more.

Thursday, October 2, 2003

"If you come into the office on Friday afternoon, however, you'll probably see most people drinking a beer at their desk."


Dear Dave,
I'm applying to your awesome company because I've heard so much about your employee-friendly policies. Your company is obviously a leader in the industry, and word of your quality software has spread around the globe. I understand you're an exacting but fair manager, and it would be a pleasure to learn under your leadership.

In addition, you drive a great car, your wife is very attractive, your kids are polite and if I were gay I'd be chasing you, too.


Thursday, October 2, 2003

Although Philo does seem to be getting a little carried away, I'll go with him on this one.

You want a cover letter showing that the applicant has done some research on your company, and "really wants" your job.

But, the job sounds uninspired and tedious. You've given no reason for anyone to sound interested - what type of software is it? Oh, sort of like accounting software, good thing you didn't mention that!

Thinking back to when I only had a couple of years experience, I wouldn't apply for this job, unless I was desperate. And yet you want some enthusiastic cover letter? Guess what, everyone you get that from is lying and/or desperate.

Thursday, October 2, 2003

This is TRULY tragedy of the commons at work. The state of hiring today is:

One decent sounding medium-level tech job ad in print or on the web garners resume submissions in the 3 to 4 digit count.

Behind the scenes of most jobs meeting that description: HR f*ckwits with the brains of raisins and a "Catbert" sense of glee at the power they wield, use automated tools to sift through resumes with only arbitrary buzzwords as criteria.

The 1 out of 100 technical lead who chooses to actually *eyeball* this firehose spew of paper suffers from a brain aneurysm from the sheer magnitude of spammed out rubbish.

Meanwhile, out there in the hinterlands, there are senior SW engineers with published articles and huge multiple projects on their resumes who suffer from the gross sin of modesty - who don't SPAM their resume - who don't overstate their achievements - who rather selectively apply to the few jobs advertised. Their resumes and cover letters are a model of terseness and direction and would make "Dave" a *very* happy man. If *only* they had not utterly given up on the sheer randomness of the job selection process and had not taken that Home Depot greeter job in desperation to keep *some* money flowing.

The point is: anyone good has given up looking for a decent job because the stunningly arbitrary nature of "selectiveness" of employers has discouraged them. And anyone with a decent job to let is stymied by the spam factor that has arisen because gates are lifted high against all comers.

Even very qualified job seekers are desperate and in turn do stupid things and hurry through applications, just for the sake of exposure. And even decent, well meaning and intelligent hiring parties have extreme difficulty selecting someone qualified from the slush pile of desperate wannabe's interspersed with a few qualified candidates.

Basically, the hiring environment is polluted by SPAMmed resumes, lies, bad manners, and callous attitudes. Each side assumes the worst and is getting it. Applicants really hate the hiring companies. The companies have a "chosen few" snotassed attitude toward the circumstantially unemployed.

F*ck this scene. I hope a comet hits us, and soon. Just reading this thread is highly depressing.

Bored Bystander
Thursday, October 2, 2003

No it's not depressing, the point is you can easily stand out from the spam with a mere 5-10 minutes of personalized attention to your email or cover letter.

Strictly anecdotal, but I've had 75% interview results just by spending an additional 30 minutes customizing each of my resume submissions to their position description, expanding on the possibly relevant parts even if it was just a month-long task five years ago, and bullet pointing the rest.

Thursday, October 2, 2003

Philo: How did you find out so much personal information about me?

I think Ron reinforces my point.

But don't take my word for it. Don't take Ron's word for it.  Try it out.  Forget about broadcasting a generic e-mailed resume to 100 companies.  Take the next five job opportunities, and spend the time to research the company, research the position, and write a targeted cover letter explaining why they just can't live without at least *talking* to you. (I threw those asterisks in there just for you, Bored.)

This is a time-tested, proven technique to land a job, and I can tell you, the vast majority of people are not employing these tactics.

See for yourself what kind of difference it makes. Trust me, coming from someone who has viewed approximately 200 applications since Friday night when I posted the ad, YOU WILL STAND OUT, and when you stand out, you get noticed. And you know the rest.

As always, just my humble opinion.


Thursday, October 2, 2003

you guys seem to exist in a different world than I do. if someone needs some interesting programming work done, they think to themselves "oh, who do i know that could do this kind of work. i bet RZ and maybe ZZ could do this in a few weeks. I've got $25K to spend, i'll see if they are available."  I don't know anyone who spams their resume around or who would bother applying to dave's place. I don't understand why dave's current employees don't know someone who they would recommend to be hired? Why are you even posting job ads to ?

Thursday, October 2, 2003

When I receive really dumb applications (such as the person whose portfolio website had broken links), I'm tempted to give the applicant some constructive advice on how to improve their chances for landing a job.  Then I think, "Eh, screw 'em.  Let Darwinian forces take care of them."

Alfred Russel Wallace
Thursday, October 2, 2003

This is certainly an interesting thread.  I have been combing through the job ads in the Sunday Post and searching web sites for jobs to apply to.  I limit my applications to those where I have a significant match to the listed qualifications.  I have tried both email and snailmail to see if one gets more noticed than the other.  So far I have had only one response, a call from a "recruiter" for a really huge company (initials LM), but no interviews yet.

I'll have to review my cover letters to see what might be wrong.  I am getting a sense that I need to emphasize bulleted lists.  The one call I got was a result of sending my resume to a friend in the company.  There was no cover letter at all.

I am not yet sure whether I would like to work for Dave's company or not. My initial impression was not good, but his additional postings make him seem much more tolerable to work with.

Philo had a good point about company web sites.  With few exceptions their career web pages are advertising fluff with little substance.  There is usually detailed information about benefits, which are almost exactly like every other company's benefits.  They do have "challenging" projects to work on, just like every other company will claim to have.  Some will try to differentiate themselves with frills such as free lunches prepared by a goumet cook (aren't they planning to pay me enough so that I can afford to buy my own lunch?).  But saying anything about what it is like to work there that would differentiate them from other employers is rare.

Thursday, October 2, 2003

Home Depot is hiring greeters?  Hot damn!  Hang on while I send out my resume ...

From: Alyosha`
To: Home Depot HR
Subject: Employment Opportunity
Attachments: resume.doc, resume.htm, resume.pdf,, resume.rtf,  resume.std, resume.sxw, resume.txt, resume.xml

Dear Sir/Madam:

I have recently learned from the Joel on Software bulletin board that you have several open greeter positions.  I am sending my resume to you for consideration for this position.  For your convenience, I have sent it in multiple formats; please select the version most convenient for you.

As you can see, I have strong communication skills gained from many years experience in customer-facing positions.  In addition, my extensive domain knowledge in the home construction field make me a natural fit for this position (see section entitled "fixing kitchen sink"). 

I dream of working with a local team as a part of a nationwide enterprise.  In addition, you drive a great car, your wife is very attractive, your kids are polite and if I were gay I'd be chasing you, too.

Please respond at your earliest convenience,
Sincerely, Alyosha`


Okay, we're back.  What was I gonna say?  Oh, I remember now ...

I've had a lot of experience writing cover letters like this.  These days I can bang them out like nobody's business.  It's really quite easy ... you just scan the job posting for all the job requirements, then parrot them back to the employer, changing the order in which they appear so as to evade suspicion.

Did it help my job search any?  Not really ...

Let me tell you how I got my current job.

One day, after months of email silence, I get four - count them, FOUR - inquiries from four different recuiters.

All for the same position.  Job requirements?  "Win32, Windows CE, and GDI".

So I pick one, send him my resume and a few short words on how I'm qualified, and then ... never heard from him again.

Month later, I see the same position on Monster.  I send my resume and then call up the recruiter.  "Hey, it looks like you have Win32, Windows CE ... uh oh, I don't see GDI on your resume.  Yeah, gotta have GDI.  And you don't look like you have the three years experience.  I'm afraid you're not qualified, I'm not going to submit you".

Of course, I'm all WTF ... okay, so I haven't done a ton of UI work in my life, but I've read Petzold, I know how GDI works, it's not all that complicated, to me it's just a part of Win32 programming.  Do they need a GDI guru or something?  Damnit, why do I have to leave off the one buzzword they're scanning for?

A few days later I get an email from recruiter #6.  Yup, same position.  But this time I have my entire GDI speech prepared, I list every single thing I've done in my life that even marginally relates to GDI, exaggerating as I go along (hey, they're a recruiter, they have no idea).  She makes the usual noises about "but you don't have all that much experience", but finally I am able to convince her that I'm legit. 

So I go into my interview and talk with the manager there.  "Yeah, it's horrible, we've gone through like ten applicants in the past month, can't find anyone qualified.  So anyways, here's my standard GDI question: can you tell me what SelectObject returns?"

"Yeah.  Sure.  It's a HGDIOBJ.  Returns the previous object you had selected so you can select it back in later and not change the state of the DC.  If you pass in a pen, you get a pen back, if you pass in a brush, you get a brush back, etc".

"Okay, and what's the difference between SendMessage and PostMessage?"

"SendMessage returns immediately".

"Okay, well, that's good enough for us".

Gee, if I knew it was THAT easy ...

So what the hell do those other five recruiters DO for a living?  They seem worse than useless.

Friday, October 3, 2003

Dave, some of your points are reasonable. However there are a couple of things to think about.

First, where you compare the effort of a candidate in making an application with the effort of a sales rep selling a high value service, the point is that, for the best candidates, there is actually little marginal value in investing effort in their application.

They will get their $100,000 anyway. If not from you, from someone else. Easy. For them, it's a waste of time and effort to invest a lot of time in an application.

Second, if you've ever had to hire really good writers, as I have for a business, you actually do find that some of them don't bother with a written application at all. Their work is available on the web, and you're expected to know about it and to have read it.

This is not necessarily applicable to your circumstances, but it is to some of the comments you've made.

Must be a Manager
Friday, October 3, 2003

Philo adores sending in the heavy artillery to bombard enemies that don't exist- not tilting at windmills so much as zapping them with laser-guided missiles.

Nobody is seriously suggesting that you should go through the fluff on a company's web site before you send off your resume, although you certainly should do if you are called for interview.

But you should tailor both your resume and cover letter to what the job requires. You get a job emphasizing VB programming skills, give more weight to those sub-skills and your experience in the resume. The job is emphasizing maintaining a DB, expand on your experience in that and cut down on the other stuff. You will rarely need to tailor a resume for a particular job; just four or five separate templates such do the trick, wiht their corresponding cover letter templates which you can then modify.

All this is easy with computers. People who claim to be computer programmers should not find it impossible to cut, paste and format in a Word Processor, though for some of the geeky types here it seems to represent a kind of technical Mt.Everest, or Pacific Trench. Shit, I'm old enough to remember when I had to send out every resume hand-written in fountain pen.

The other thing you must remember is that your resume is going to be transferred to paper. This isn#t because HR in the companies you are applying to are incompetent Luddites (though that is sometimes true) but because MOST PEOPLE DON'T HAVE DUAL MONITORS. And, if you want to transfer information from the resume to the computer the easiest way is to print the resume out.

Even on screen formatted text with bold and non-bold type is much easier to read than plain text. On paper the differnece is even greater. Typography is an art that has five-hundred years history, and those of you who think you know better and recommend that you should write everytning in plain text are showing retarded adolescent nerdy arrogance.

The truth is that in any field 75%-90% of resumes are absolute crap (a good quarter of them contain such boobs as "I really want to work and live in China" - whilst applying for a job in Saudi Arabia, or sending the same letter out to fifty employers and using c.c. instead of b.c.c. for the address field.) Some posters here seem determined to make sure their resumes get classified among them.

Stephen Jones
Friday, October 3, 2003

Employers who gear their hiring practices to the assumption that programmers are desperate will continue to attract almost nothing but desperate programmers.

Unfortunately for them, they seem to forget that most programmers aren't desperate.  Over 90% of programmers actually still have a job, and of the rest who aren't, many have other options whether that is becoming a self-employed contractor, working outside the US, extensive savings/being close to retirement, developing their own software product, or even a highly paid spouse.

T. Norman
Friday, October 3, 2003

Dave - regarding tailoring cover letters, I have no doubt of what you say. Once again, my debate here is not about what applicants should do, but what YOU should do while reviewing applications; to wit: don't put so much weight on cover letters.

Stephen: "Nobody is seriously suggesting that you should go through the fluff on a company's web site before you send off your resume, although you certainly should do if you are called for interview."

IIRC, someone in the last cover letter debate (I don't think it was Dave) specifically said they wanted evidence in the cover letter you had researched their company.


Friday, October 3, 2003

Again I want to emphasize this point: I am at a company which has advertised openings perhaps a dozen times over the last year and a half; and in every instance where we did so on a public site, we got far too many resumes to screen.

Far too many to even _screen_.

Our practice was to look at the first 25 or so; screen those; if we ended up with enough to start interviewing; we'd stop there.

So all this advice about spending time tailoring your resume is, as I said, just going to make sure that you're NOT one of those first 25; because they "spammed" their resume as soon as they saw the position on

When we can, we avoid that whole scene by posting positions at a local java users group and doing word-of-mouth; in those instances, I agree with Dave's advice about tailoring your resume/cover letter. But let's get real - those opportunities are the exception rather than the rule; we usually have to use monster or dice as a supplement because there aren't enough word-of-mouth hires left (our work environment is toxic enough that we're not recommending a change to people who are already unemployed - and we've all run out of jobless friends).

Friday, October 3, 2003

Philo and a few others hit on an important point. Anyone who is really desparate for a job is taking the wrong approach if they're sending out lots of resumes and worrying about the details of the resumes.

The jobs are not there. You have to create your own in some way, and while you're at it pass on your views to the politicians getting paid a small fortune to supposedly represent you.

This relates also to the point that I think MD makes, that you have to accept dealing with bad environments and managers. Actually, you don't. You're better off trying something where you have respect, if you feel the current environment doesn't provide that.

Must be a Manager
Friday, October 3, 2003

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