Hint for Job Seekers: Wake Up and Write!

Over the last three years I’ve spent at least 6 months hiring, which equates to more than 1,000 applicants reviewed. But even before I had seen our 50th applicant, I was stunned by the applicant apathy that pervaded our job inbox. At first I figured it must be us. When we were initially hiring, it was for the opportunity to work for peanuts at an unproven web startup. Surely this must explain why 95% of the applications we received were a resume accompanied by a generic cover letter, or no cover letter at all.wakeup_job

But now that we have proven our business, with ample resources to bring aboard top tier talent, I am baffled at the scarcity of job seekers who understand the opportunity that the cover letter presents for them to stand out from the other 49 applications I’ll receive today.

Think about it, job seeker. Every day, my inbox is flooded with anywhere from 25-50 applicants. Each of these applicants sends a resume, and each of these resumes detail experience at a bunch of companies I haven’t heard of in job titles that can only hint at what the person might have really done on a day-to-day basis.

If you were me under these circumstances, how would you weed out the applicants that are most interesting? What would wake up you from the torrent of generic cover letters and byzantine job histories?


When I am not paying close attention, it feels like the same guy has been applying for our job repeatedly for months, each time with a slightly different form letter to accompany his or her list of jobs titles.

The applicants that wake me up from this march of sameness are those 5% that demonstrate they have actually taken the 5 minutes to understand what Bonanzle is, what about the company gets them excited, and why they would be a good fit relative to our objectives and specific job description. (IMPORTANT NOTE: Batch-replacing [company name] with “Bonanzle” does not qualify as personalizing)

Interestingly, the applicants for business-related positions we’ve posted in the past tend to do a comparatively phenomenal job at this. If only these business people had design, UI, or programming skills, they would immediately ascend to the top of our “To interview” list. But the actual creators — programmers, designers, and UI experts — just don’t seem to get it. I suppose it could be a chicken-and-egg situation, where the minority of them that do get it are swooped up immediately by companies that crave that glimpse of personality, and the rest of them keep blindly applying to every job on Craigslist without giving a damn.

The other sorely underrepresented aspect to a good application? Decent portfolios. If you’re a designer, take the slight interest I’ve already expressed toward resumes, and cut it in half. Your value is much easier to ascertain by what you’ve done than what you’ve said, and you have the perfect opportunity to show us what you’ve done by creating a modern, user friendly portfolio. On average, I’d estimate I see about one modern, well constructed portfolio of these for every 20 designers that apply. (Personal bias: Flash-based portfolio sites load slow and feel staid; I might be unique in that opinion though)

I see a huge opportunity to awaken and realize how little effort it would take to create an application that shines. You want to be a real overachiever? Why not spend 15 minutes to sign up for an account and browse the site, and incorporate that experience into your cover letter? Amongst more than 50 applicants for our first hire, Mark Dorsey, aka BonanzleMark aka the best hire I’ve made so far, was the SINGLE applicant that spent the 15 minutes required to do this. In more than 500 applications since, I have yet to see it again.

The world is rife with creative ways to get your application noticed. All it takes is 15-30 minutes of your time (including time to personalize the letter) to rise into the 90th percentile. If it’s a job you care about, you’re earning a potentially $100k salary for 30 minutes of work = about $3-4k per minute. I know lawyers that don’t even make that much.

One Reply to “Hint for Job Seekers: Wake Up and Write!”

  1. Bill,

    Reading your post, I had a feeling a deja vu. I’ve gotten quite a few resumes since we’ve been in business (a scant 2 years), and I thought we were just getting crap because we were small. Very few people seemed to have any interest in working for us.

    My favorite was someone who had on their resume that they wanted to find a position that DID NOT do the work we were hiring for! “Did you even read the job description?!”, I thought to myself.

    One of the most effective tools we found for weeding out the chronic job seekers was to state in the ad that we did not want a resume. We asked for a brief (1 page or less) explanation of why they wanted the job and what they thought they could contribute to the company. We still got a ton of resumes, but those went in the trash. Only 4 or 5 people, as I recall, actually did what we asked. But those were all good candidates. Just a suggestion.

    Thanks for such an awesome post!

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