stupid hiring practices: being a condescending jerk

A lovely anonymous commenter pointed out an outrageous article in the Wall St. Journal, headlined “Resume Overload? A Shortcut to Spot Best Hires.”

In the article, the author — a small business owner — writes that when managers are inundated with resumes, they’re left with “no clue as to how to cull through them all to select the best people.” (Problem #1, but we’ll get to that in a minute.) He writes:

For years I’ve used a special filtering technique to avoid this problem. My secret? In the ad (about three-quarters of the way down) I tell the applicants, “To prove that you’re a meticulous reader, you have to include the following sentence when you send your resume: ‘It is with my utmost respect I hereto surrender my curriculum vitae for your consideration.'”

His theory is that “including the sentence shows the applicant has read the entire ad and knows what the job entails and if they’re qualified to fill it,” screens out people who are just applying to everything they see, shows they pay attention to detail, and shows they follow directions.

Of course, it’s also insulting and will drive away most good applicants, who don’t want to work for an employer that treats them with condescension. (“My utmost respect”?  “Hereto surrender”?  Really?) And it betrays a complete lack of knowledge about how to hire good people — which I suspect affects the rest of his hiring process too, once people jump through this condescending little hoop.

If you want to ensure that job applicants read your ad, aren’t just resume-bombing, and pay attention to directions, there’s a much less insulting method that achieves this: Ask them to include a cover letter that specifically addresses some relevant point, such as why they’re interested in working for your company in particular, or why they’d excel at some specific aspect of the job. That will give you information you can actually use in evaluating their application, rather than forcing them to write a sentence that is just plain embarrassing.

And then, learn to hire.

If you’re feeling clueless about how to screen candidates and select the right people, that is a sign that you need to expend some effort learning how to hire well. There are books, classes, mentors — tons of resources that can teach you strategies to cull through applicants and identify the people best suited to the role you’re hiring for. Effective hiring has nothing to do with gimmicks like this.

(Also, as a petty little side note now that I’m on a roll, I doubt he really wants a curriculum vitae; he wants a resume. He’s just being pompous.)

The only bright side to this guy’s strategy is that job-seekers can be grateful that he’s so proactively outing himself as an ass, before they spend any time applying to work with him.

{ 25 comments… read them below }

  1. TheLabRat*

    The comments on that article are appalling. I'm truly surprised no one has posted a link to this post or at least countered it with something similar.

  2. Anonymous*

    I'm totally with you about this employer. That is a really condescending way of hiring people.

  3. Kelly O*

    I was surprised by the number of people high-fiving the writer in comments too. Honestly I wouldn't want to work for him either – the good part is he shows his jerkiness from the get-go so you're not surprised.

    There are much more effective ways to tell if someone has paid attention to your ad – the fact that you don't want to go through resumes to find out just shows me a bit of laziness on top of the whole "do what you're told" attitude.

    I'll just continue to customize resumes and craft well-written cover letters, thanks.

  4. clobbered*

    Not that I want to defend that person in the slightest, but "resume" is an Americanism -I believe CV is the only word used in some other English-speaking places (eg. the UK and Europe). Perhaps given the international readership, it makes more sense to use it.

    A UK employer will ask for "a 2-page CV" if they want a US-style resume.

  5. Gene*

    Yeah, this guy sounds like an asshat, but it's a valid 'bot elimination device. I would word it very differently; something along the line of, "To eliminate automatic submissions, please include the following text string in your cover letter: dgSrv"

  6. Henning Makholm*

    Gene: Asking for a nonsense codeword is much less "condescending jerk" than asking for applicants to put their name below a specific grovel. Still inferior to AAM's suggestion, but not half as the utmost-respect thing.

    At least, I would not let a nonsense codeword deter me from applying anywhere, but an employer who asks to be kowtowed to with specific language is not one I'd want to work for.

  7. Anonymous*

    A professor did that in college. If you read the syllabus thoroughly, you would find the hidden sentence that said to send an email with a particular subject heading. You'd earn some extra credit points within the first week.

    But that's for a few extra points in case you didn't do so great on an exam. And it proves to the professor that you read the syllabus as you should. But we don't need something like that in the real world. I don't need to be tested; the employer will have his answers in the interview so I'm chosen.

  8. Mikel*

    I really hate this condescending attitude some business owners/boss have about their employees. One's value as a human being isn't judged by placement on the org chart.

    Frankly, tricks like these seem more at home with applying to a fraternity than a job. Way to look professional.

  9. Anonymous*

    I know some employers who include such statements in their job ads, but they are not condescending about it the way this guy is, nor do they consider it a 'fool-proof' filter.

    These employers use a more professionally worded statement, and it is both a filter to screen applicants who don't follow instructions, and serves as a digital signature in lieu of a signed application form. It's usually something along the lines of, "By including this statement in my cover letter, I confirm that I have read the job ad in its entirety and aver that I meet all of the requirements as stated." Or something to that effect.
    The employers use the statement to screen out applicants, but they recognize that they still have work to do with the applicants that are left.

    This guy deserves whatever kinds of workers he has coming to him, I say!

  10. Anonymous*

    If you just want employees who don't mind being condescended to and will do as they are told, you can't then complain when you find that no one will show any initiative.

    Any candidate with that latter quality will apply somewhere else, surely.

  11. Anonymous*

    Hi, I posted that WSJ link. Appalling is what it is, but it truly reflects what I've encountered out there – biases and pettiness I never imagined from "professionals".
    Me, been unemployed 4y 10m. Interspersed with contract jobs.
    Its not for a lack of trying, it because of the unwillingness of employers to open their minds to folks potential – they're fixated on a few job requirements – no deviations whatsoever. Me: MS, BS and certifications.

    The few interviews I've had, I've been humiliated, condescend, insulted, tricked etc. What for?

    Since I started work in the 80's, I've held 6 F/T jobs, and I have to say, nothing has changed in the interview process since; I encounter pettiness and arrogance beyond comprehension.

    Anecdote. 10 years ago I applied for a job. Was required to take a psych test. I failed. But they hired me at 40% less salary as posted. I took it. I needed a job. I quit after 4 months. The boss was psychopath (as well as the rest of mgmt) as only a Hollywood horror film could conjure.

    Whew, that felt good.

  12. Charles*

    Anon at 7:31 am said:

    "Since I started work in the 80's, I've held 6 F/T jobs, and I have to say, nothing has changed in the interview process since; I encounter pettiness and arrogance beyond comprehension."

    I'll second that; the only thing that has changed is the techonology they use to be jerks!

  13. Phyr*

    I can understand the idea a bit. I have applied to a position that wanted you to put 'super hero' in the title. But the writer just comes about as insulting.

  14. Anonymous*

    Cry me a river? Everyone is so quick to point out that the guy writing the article is a jerk. But even he acknowledges the technique is silly. He's just found something that works for him. Is it the best way? Probably not. But it works for him and at least he's showing he's a business man that is interested in efficiency.

  15. Anonymous*

    7:31, I hear you about the "psych tests". Those tend to be given to people at lower levels and at less reputable companies, but I've seen them start to pop up elsewhere. I once walked away from a job offer when they tried to get me to fill out one "test" that asked some very personal and uncomfortable questions, including several regarding my relationship with my parents. I was 30 at the time with an MBA. I honestly wonder who would be desperate enough at an executive level to agree to that. Employers are getting more crafty and condescending as time goes on.

  16. Joseph*

    Wow, I feel better! At least I'm not the only one looking at some of the hiring "best practices" out there and seriously questioning whether those are indications of DANGER AHEAD or just one bad idea that somehow keeps traction.

    As one reader pointed out, I've had some "tests" as part of the hiring process in the past and there have been a couple times I really wanted to ask the manager if they thought the concept through entirely. I think if you are using the same tests for a janitor as you would use for a VP, then it's kind of obvious that you haven't thought through what is needed of the position.

    I won't go so far as to call the author of the article a jerk, but I will say that I don't think he fully understands the purpose of hiring people to work for him, at least not as I have understood it. My understanding is hiring people is about finding competent and capable people who not only can do the required tasks, but can also act on your behalf with a core understanding of what you want and the ability to make judgement calls with those interests in mind.

    I'm not saying to auto pilot the business for you, but higher management shouldn't have to deal with micro details of a subordinates job either.

    It raises the question, to me at least, what happens when he isn't there?

    Considering his comments and approach, there are either very detailed instructions covering every possible scenario or constant questions so that he never has a peaceful moment. Either way, I'm sure that working there is painful for him and his employees.

  17. Jamie*

    Funny – when I read the article the word asshat came to my mind as well – there is no way I would submit to including that wording.

    I agree with Kelly O that it's good he's upfront about his jerkiness so quality candidates don't waste their time.

    If they need this gimmick to weed out resumes perhaps they need to post one more job opening: for a qualified HR professional.

  18. Anonymous*

    Hmmm… let me play devil's advocate for a minute (I am a VP currently hiring Finance/Econ students for $15/hr part-time internships).

    The initial application instructions were very simple: "Current college students who meet the criteria, please submit your application no later than…" — However, due to the very high number of non-student applicants (including walmart employees, truck drivers, cooks, etc), I simply had to add a filter (Please do not apply unless you're currently a student and please submit your email application with the subject: "Current student interested in joining XXXXXXX's team.")

    Is that a condescending way of hiring people? I dare to say no, but I'll let you be the judge.

  19. Anonymous*

    Anon@9:30 AM — I've also heard of interviews like that where the real "test" was to see if you protested against the nosy questions, or something similar. Still BS. Gimmicks are no substitute for quality, on either side of the table!

  20. Rebecca*

    Anon@2:56, your post is not NEARLY in the same league as the crap in the article. All you're doing is repeating the basic requirements for the job (be a student), which would only be offensive to someone who reads directions AND is naive enough to think that everyone reads directions.

    And plenty of job posts request a specific subject line that references the posting, so there's nothing condescending about that at all. The guy in the article, meanwhile, wants you to write a phrase that's positively groveling. That, combined with the assertion that this actually succeeds in finding obedient, detail-oriented people, makes the guy in the article a jerk.

  21. Anonymous*

    Okay, I'll bite but I want3 things: I want a tour of the office, their tenure/attrition rate and staff profiles. I'm curious if having work-alike, think-alike employees equals job satisfaction and well rounded competence over the long haul.

    I could be way off base in thinking competence is the goal. This tactic could be used to hire similar folk and walk around allegations of discrimination.

  22. Anonymous*

    I kind of like the idea (I do agree that you should use a sentence that is not insulting, of course) for jobs that require a lot of detail. I think it would be a great first test if you were hiring an editor, internal auditor, or something like that.

  23. Brad Kropp*

    I fully agree that this type of hiring and recruiting practice is ridiculous. It goes against the proper way to interview a job candidate. And, let's face it, the resume screening process is the first step in the interview process. The candidate might not be there to answer questions, but that does not mean that their resume is not part of the interview process. The hiring manager is basiclly breaking one of the cardinal rules of "the right way to interview" and that is asking questions that are irrelevant to the job. If the hiring manager is so eager to "filter" out applicants, he should use an assessment test or application form. At least this gives the hiring manager the quantifiable data he is looking for during his selection process without resulting to condecending tactics such as this.

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