Did you read the instructions before applying for that job?

We’ve been in operation for slightly over 6 years, building and maintaining software for our clients. Almost 5 years ago, we secured our first major clients and set about establishing our presence in the market by setting up modest offices (nothing close to the fancy lawyer chambers you see in the upscale tree-lined neighborhoods of our city, but we’ll get there).

Fast-forward; business was picking up and we needed to get some extra hands on-board so we set out to recruit. Instinctively, we put out adverts through Google Trader (which was alive and kicking at the time) and like any first-time recruiter, we dutifully spelled out the job description, requested interested applicants to send through their CVs to our company email account (we resisted the urge to request for hand-written applications — not sure who still does that) and stipulated the deadline.

We received hundreds of CVs and soon noticed the uphill task involved in sifting through the CVs.

A couple of days and red-bulls later, we’d isolated the 50 or so candidates we thought merited a practical interview. Given the modesty and size of our offices, we took the decision to email them the practical interviews and stipulated the 2nd deadline for submission.

Our thinking at the time was precipitated by the analogy that “the answers to many of the questions in the practical interview are available through Google/Bing searches. We were not looking to hire ‘human encyclopedias’ but practical people who’ll find solutions and apply that information to solve real-life problems”.

Our gamble played out and from the responses to the practical assessment, we were able to schedule oral interviews with 10 final candidates and eventually hired the 2 successful candidates who turned out to be real assets to us.

Armed with this experience, we decided to spice things up a few years later in our 2nd recruitment run by including the practical assessment in step 1. Put simply, we asked interested candidates to do 3 things;

  1. Send through their 3-page CVs. We believe in quality over quantity.
  2. Respond to the practical assessment (which was available at a link on our website) and send their responses along with their CVs.
  3. Send through items “1” and “2” above, by a stipulated deadline (set at almost a month into the future).

In less than a week, we were flooded with CVs of interested candidates but here’s what was disturbingly fascinating; NONE OF THEM included the mandatory response to the practical assessment.

Some of us were convinced there was some technological witchcraft at play which was somehow hiding the link to the practical assessment but alas, it was visible on our website even when viewed using a computer running Windows 95 (on a 16 bit color monitor, 500mb Hard Drive, 8mb RAM) with BonziBuddy singing away in the background (this joke was provided by our CTO and does not represent the collective sentiment of our company).

It was a huge relief when in the 3rd week, we received our first applicant who included with his CV, his responses to the practical assessment. We put some dance-hall maestros to shame with our celebrations upon the receipt of that application.

Long-story short, the following weeks saw lots more applications come in with all manner of responses to the practical assessments, my personal favorite was a blank/empty document titled “responses to practical assessment.doc”.

Here are some statistics you might find interesting;

  1. Total applicants: slightly over 500
  2. Those who ignored the practical assessment: 60%
  3. Those who included a response to the practical assessment: 15%
  4. Those who asked us to call them back, sent us their phone numbers, praised God for the job opportunity and, or asked for directions to our office (we used Facebook so there was no shortage of feedback): 24%
  5. Those who colluded and had remarkably identical responses to the practical assessment (only the font styles in their responses differed): 1%

We dutifully reviewed the 15%, threatened to water-board one of our members who suggested we respond to the 24% and “courteously” responded to the 60 + 1%.

It’s been more than 6 months since and the staff we hired through this experience continues to meet most of our expectations.

If there’s anything the reader ought to take out of this, it’s the following;

  1. Just like your secondary/high school geography/history teacher taught you, spend the first 5–10 minutes to read and understand a job description/accompanying application instructions and if necessary, write down key points/strategies on how to respond.
  2. Anyone can send a CV, but few know that it pays to study a potential employer and submit a CV tailored to what that employer is looking for.
  3. Life is like a chess board; those that excel have taken time to strategize their every move.

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