The best job application I’ve ever received

As I debated the pros and cons of drinking the remains of the half empty, tepid mug of coffee sitting in front of me or making the monumental effort to get up off my arse to make a fresh cup, an email landed in my inbox.

Dear recruiter/HR,

My finger hovered aggressively over the delete button. I read on regardless.

I am sure you get a lot of emails from people like me.

I don’t even know who you are but yes, you’re probably right. Let me guess, the next sentence will highlight the fact that you actually don’t care about how many similar emails I get and you’re just going to launch straight into your tired old sales pitch lifted directly from ‘Pitching for Dummies’.

I’m a big fan of the work your company does so in order to get your attention, I have built a simple recommendation engine, using products from your site and taking direction from a number of your open source projects.

My skepticism was obliterated by the combination of a completely unique job application and the dregs of what was by now, a cold mug of really shitty coffee.

The company I was working for at the time had an incredible recommendation engine built in-house, entirely from scratch. It was the core of our business and something we were incredibly proud of. This person wasn’t attempting to improve it, nor was he attempting to clone it. Instead, with vastly limited resources and an infinitely smaller amount of time, he had single-handedly built his own alternative implementation of the most crucial element of our platform. He did this because he wanted to prove how interested he was in working for our company.

I stopped reading at that point and opened up his CV.

PhD in Complex Recommendation Engines for e-commerce

You’re joking right? This can’t be real. His PhD was tailored almost exclusively to our business. I closed his CV. I didn’t really need to read the rest of it at this point. Instead, I forwarded the entire email along with the links to the private repo containing his ‘simple recommendation engine’ to our CTO and our Lead Data Scientist with the subject:
“Stop what you’re doing, and read this”

I spent the next 20 minutes pouring over the finer details of the rest of his CV and cover letter and mentally wrestling with the logistics of acquiring a visa for this person should we end up hiring him (he was a Russian citizen who still lived and worked in Moscow).
My frustration at the ridiculous complexities of the UK’s work permit structure was interrupted by the presence of the immense beard of our Lead Data Scientist.

Hire him. Like, now.

Well that’s that sorted. I wonder what our CTO thought of him. As it happens, he’s just replied to my email.

Have you hired him yet?

Ok, I think they like him. We invested a lot of time and money in hiring the guy. We paid for him to fly over to London for a few days and put him up in a decent hotel so that he could spend time with lots of different people throughout the business, learning more about what we do behind the scenes and allowing us to learn more about his experience and what makes him tick.

Despite the UK’s Tier 1 visa system bending over backwards to thwart my efforts in securing him a work permit, we eventually succeeded and seeing the blatant excitement and gratitude on this guys face when he turned up for his first day of work as our newest employee is still one of the most satisfying moments of my career.

What’s the point?

This all sounds like an awful lot of effort right? Well, it was, for both him and us but it was worth it. We ended up with an absolute superstar Data Scientist and he ended up with a lucrative career in a company he admired, in a city he always wanted to live and work in.

The point I’m highlighting is that this person recognised that he needed to do something in order to capture our attention as at that point, we were receiving dozens of CV’s on a daily basis.

The final point I’m attempting to highlight is that if someone has clearly invested time and effort into applying for a job at your company, respect their time and efforts and as an absolute minimum, give them useful feedback rather than a generic “thanks, but no thanks” rejection email.

Applying for jobs is soul destroying. I know because I’ve been on that side of the fence. You have to swallow your pride and accept that you’re vulnerable. It really isn’t a pleasant feeling and the only thing worse than a generic rejection email is no response at all.

Stop making excuses about not having enough time.
Stop using the fear of litigation as an excuse not to give feedback.
Fuck your ‘company policy’ and just hit the reply button.

Start recognising the fact that you’re dealing with humans. Show them a degree of respect and do the hard thing for a change.

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