“Dear Company X”

The scourge of impersonal job applications

Working at a small startup, we are all intimately involved in hiring processes. As a result, even though I’m not an “HR” person, I’ve seen every one of the 74 applications that have come in over the last month for our open Android developer position.

None of the applicants referenced the app they would be building. Less than five mentioned our company by name.

It’s not as if the job posting asks for someone to build an app out of thin air. We have an iOS version. It’s free, so you can download it and try it out.

But let’s give the applicants the benefit of the doubt that, as Android devs, they’re ON Android, so they don’t have an iPhone. Try it on iPad, then. Or watch the video to get a sense of the interactivity.

Or, you know, if you’re REALLY interested about a job, maybe go the extra meter and get your hands on a friend’s Apple device for five minutes so you can play around with a company’s app before you apply to work at said company.


Maybe it’s just a developer thing, I thought. Maybe as a marketing person, I just don’t get it. Perhaps most Android developers figure they’re in such high demand that they don’t have to show anything other than their list of skills to be appealing. Or maybe for developers code is just code, and it’s not as important as in marketing to show you’ve looked at a company’s product before deciding you want to work on it.

Then we posted for a designer. The cover letters piled in, bland as overcooked pasta.

“I would be a great asset to your team.” “I have experience with Adobe Creative Suite.” Whoop-dee-doo. You’re applying for a designer position; we assume that you know how to design. How about some indication that you’ve looked at our UI and UX? What would you change about our icons? Aren’t you supposed to be the CREATIVE types?

If we had a more nondescript product, like a techno-centric cloud or software-as-a-service system, I could understand the vagueness. But we have an app that tracks women’s menstrual cycles. It’s not exactly the kind of work you wander into.

The job description pointedly asks for applicants to specify what they find interesting about our app, our company and vision. It’s made no difference. I can only assume that people only look at the title of a job posting, and read no further.

What they’ve demonstrated is they’re just looking for a job. Not a job at our company. There’s a sense of shared responsibility that’s missing. We’ve made a much larger effort than the applicants have. They expect we’ll research them to find out if they’re interesting to us, but they haven’t done us the same favor.

Why is this so aggravating? Because at a small startup, every single employee is important to the culture of the team and the future of the business. We don’t have time for someone who wants to be an anonymous cog in a machine or work purely for their own gain. If that’s your preference, that’s fine — but you won’t be happy working here.

High demand for tech workers means skilled applicants have more power in the job search than ever. The top talent, the people companies fight over, are in the position to choose the best possible opportunity for them. They don’t HAVE to settle for any job; they can choose based on fit. And yet even the most technically qualified applicants don’t take the time to show one small indication of why they’re interested in our company, specifically. So why do they even bother?

We’ve resorted to following up with applicants asking them to re-submit explaining why they want to work at a startup focused on the female reproductive system. This is reasonably effective at getting legitimate responses — albeit at a small percentage of the original total.

But here’s some advice, job-hunters. No one wants to hear you talk about yourself, and that includes startups. Keep your list of skills confined to your CV and talk about why WE’RE worth your time. Explain to us why our listing caught your eye out of all the other job openings out there. Flatter us.

Or tell us why we suck and what you would fix. Either way, give us some indication that you took a few moments to do your research before forwarding on your resume.

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