I’ve worked in the online industry for nine years and as a founder for the last five, where I’ve been responsible for hiring.
I spent most of today going through the emails in our company’s hiring email inbox.
I log in full of optimism. 497 messages.
“Yay!”, I say to myself. “There’s got to be someone awesome in here, we just need to find them.”
But by the 10th email, my optimism fades.
The emails are so poorly written my head starts to hurt. With 487 emails to go and more coming in, my mind begins to look for shortcuts.
I love when our inbox is full. It means people would rather work with us than do any of the millions of other things they could do instead. This means a lot to me and I pride myself in looking at every email.
But as I slog through each message, I notice myself moving emails straight to the ‘no’ pile without reading them.
An impersonal subject line or a ‘To whom it may concern’ greeting immediately triggers a mouse click to the trash bin.
I don’t want to filter emails this way but like many companies, we have a limited amount of time to review applications.
I’d like to say we give more time than that but if I think about the fast ‘no’s’ compared to the applications we give more time for, 6 seconds might be our average too.
This sucks for us just as much as it does for you. Every company is desperate to hire great people and only giving an application a 6-second review likely causes us to miss someone who is talented.
I’m sure we’ve missed people with the skills and work ethic to be great teammates but we don’t have the time to dig deep on everyone.
So instead, we look for early signs. Although it doesn’t work all the time, it works most of the time. The people who are looking to hire you are likely using some set of early signals to determine if you’re the right fit. It’s the only way they can afford to spend 6 seconds per application without feeling like they missed something.
After going through these latest messages in our hiring inbox, I wrote down the red flags we were seeing over and over, and decided to put them here.
If you’re looking for a new gig or career, I wanted to share this list of hiring red flags publicly. These things to watch out for will vary by industry and company, but this list will help you avoid ending up in the immediate ‘no’ pile for us.
Don’t do the following things and give yourself more than a 6-second chance:
The Red Flags of Hiring
(Don’t do these things)
- Apply for a Marketing position without having a Twitter profile. If you’re not building a following on at least one online network (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or whatever) I assume you’re behind the curve and don’t understand how marketing in today’s world works. Going to networking events, a resume with a business degree, and having a profile on LinkedIn is not the bar. It’s below the bar. If you want a marketing position, you should be starting an event, throwing out your resume, and regularly sharing things on a network that’s probably not LinkedIn. If you don’t like online networks, then build a following through your personal site or an email list. I’m looking for a glimpse of what you will do in our company if we hired you. Not what you say you can do. Show me.
- Apply as a designer or developer without a personal portfolio or examples of anything you’ve made. “It doesn’t matter where you learned code…It just matters how good you are at writing (it).” -President Obama. You might know you’re good but the only way for us to know is to see something you’ve made. If you haven’t shared anything with us that’s currently live, we will assume you don’t have enough experience building and tending to an online product. Go make something. Anything. Contribute to an open source project or build a personal website. Push your work live and share that link. Even if it’s just a project for yourself, that’s fine. It shows you can make something and keep it live. That alone puts you ahead of 80% of people.
- Start your email with “To Whom It May Concern” or “Sir/Madam.” The formalist of the formal greetings. This tells me you didn’t research our company and you don’t value a personal touch. We’re all in the business of making things for other people no matter what company title we have. An instinct for empathizing with people is just as important in a marketing position as it is in a product one.
- Only applying to our general hiring inbox. As much as we want to check our hiring inbox daily, things come up. There are variables you can’t control that may cause us to miss your email. Instead of just writing to our hiring inbox, write to me or one of my teammates directly too. I’d prefer if you found my email and wrote me a personal note than just left your email to chance in our hiring inbox. I’m not annoyed if you write me at my personal email. I welcome it. It shows me you really want to work with us. You will move to the top of my mind when we make a decision and you will stand out from everyone who only wrote to our hiring inbox.
- A major spelling mistake. Your introduction email might be your only shot. Spelling something important wrong, like your previous company’s name, especially when the stakes are this high, shows you probably don’t care about the quality of the work you produce for most things you make.
- Only attaching a PDF resume and leaving your email blank. Did you even try? Attaching your resume with no words written in your email makes me feel that you’re probably sending your resume around to hundreds of companies hoping to see if one bites. It feels inhuman. Like you don’t really care if you work with us or someone else. You just want a job. These make me the saddest ☹.
- Your email lacks clarity. This is probably the most important one. Stop wasting words. Share about yourself, things you’ve made and how you could contribute. Like all great stories, deliver the punchline in as a few words as possible. If you do this, we will write back to you.
- Asking if we are open to working with good people because you’re good instead of sharing work you’ve done. Let your work do the talking.
- Saying “IT” when referring to software or technology. This might be just me but, referencing ‘IT professional’, “IT-oriented’ , ‘IT specialist’ tells me your skill set is probably outdated.
- Using clichés no one understands. When I read something like, “task-oriented”, all that means to me is you face in the direction of the thing you’re currently doing.
- Replying to the auto-reply that tells you not to reply. A simple thing to follow. Not following it says you don’t pay attention to things. This is not a good thing.
- “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.”
- Linking to a Word Doc that has words you could have written in the email. Just write it in the email. Attaching a Word or Google Doc creates an extra step. Making people do extra steps is not good. Every business is (hopefully) created to remove steps. To make something easier for people. How you create your email is a reflection of your understanding of this.
- Over-formatting your email. Authenticity trumps beauty. Changing the fonts or adding a bunch of images in an email will not get my attention. It will lose it. If you over-format your email, I think you don’t know how to get someone’s attention through email — one of the most important skills you could have. Say what you need in plain text. Link words to things you’ve made so I can click them. That’s it. If you need to do more formatting than that, I assume there’s not enough substance in your words and you’re trying to make up for it with design. In the context of email, plain text is beautiful anyway.
- Sending an email with an anti-virus checker.
If you apply to a position we’re hiring for, we want to see an email that feels like a human wrote it and says what you’ve done in as a few words as possible. We want to follow up with a video call or meet in person. We want to grab beers, coffee, wine, or water and share stories into the night about how we see the world the same way and want to change it for the better, together.
We want to hire you.
If you promise to avoid these red flags, we’ll promise to give you way more than 6 seconds.
Do you have any red flags during your hiring process? Leave a note and I’ll look into adding it to the post.
Bonus: Email examples from people we hired
I thought it’d be helpful if I dug up a few emails my current teammates wrote when they were interested in joining Crew.
Every message is a bit different but they mostly avoided the red flags above and grabbed my attention by focusing on what they had done and saying it in a human way.
With their permission, I’ve shared their emails below.
Angus — our Chief Technology Officer. I knew Angus for a few months before he sent this email. I had even asked him about joining Crew already. This email was super informal because I knew him and his work well. Nonetheless, Angus’ touch of humor while writing concisely is a rare trait to find and something I think is worth a lot.
Luke — Product Designer. When Luke first wrote, he shared a wide range of skills and interests. At the time, we were a small team of 4 founders so we were looking for people that could jump in on a lot of different things. And if they didn’t know something, they‘d be open to learning it. We could tell from Luke’s message he was eager to apply what he knew, learn what he didn’t, and do anything to help move the company forward (including make coffee and Subway runs). He also nailed this email by linking to an awesome introduction page he made just for us:
Marlee — Head of Happiness. Marlee hooked us from the first line. Although this email might look a bit on the longer side, it told a great story of her background, interests, and things she had done. We stayed excited all the way through and couldn’t wait to speak with her.
Thomas — Developer. Thomas wrote his message directly to Luke. Thomas had also started a Twitter conversation with Luke which was a nice way to get our attention. Thomas was also a contributer to our Unsplash project, another thing that made us interested in meeting him. Finally, his personal site gave off the vibe that he’d probably be the right cultural fit at Crew.
Jory — Editor. Jory’s message tickled us in all the right ways. One of the best parts was, the article he published on Medium ranked 2nd only to Leonardo DiCaprio in the month it was published. Jory left that out of this email so when I stumbled on it by spying on his tweets, I was even more impressed.
Dan — Designer/Developer. Dan’s email was solid. A perfect example of keeping it to the point and letting your work do the talking. We followed up shortly after and immediately started work together. Dan’s email style proved to be a reflection of his work at Crew.
With the red flags listed above and these example emails, I hope this sheds some light on what we and other companies might be looking for (and what we’re not) in an application.
Keep it short. Share things you made. Be human.