Not those two questions

When posting job openings, especially on public forums like Craigslist, we are flooded with responses. These responses tend to fall into three categories:

1. Obvious Spam

Why iPhone scares and beats its competitor?

Broken English, a nonsensical introduction, and a random soup of claimed expertises – all the hallmarks of Obvious Spam.  This is my favorite spam response, which we’ve received multiple times, from a different domain name each time. I still chuckle at, “Why iPhone scares and beats its competitor?”

Despite adding language to my postings to explicitly state that we’re looking to fill a staff position, these spammy responses from freelancers and agencies come in every time. There’s little you can do about them, particularly when posting to somewhere like Craigslist. Simply file them into the Rejects folder and move on.

2. Resume Blasts

Some responses actually come from individuals, but are stock messages that simply get blasted to every job that gets posted in a Craigslist category (or, worse, every job that gets posted, period).

These respondents generally aren’t actually reading what they’re responding to, but rather are attacking their joblessness problem with the shotgun approach.

3. Legitimate Responses

These are the responses you want – applicants who responded specifically to your job, and (hopefully) are sufficiently qualified for consideration.

The Problem

Obvious spam is usually easy enough to spot, but it takes closer inspection to filter out the mass-blasted responses from the ones that actually read your posting, particularly if the mass-blasted response does fall within your posting’s general area (or if the auto-blaster cleverly mined some keywords from the post.)

Hiring is enough of a hassle as it is – time spent on that is time not spent Getting Work Done and off of my task list. After becoming annoyed with the time spent digging through responses to try and find the valid ones, I implemented a very simple test.

The Solution – The Two Questions

At the bottom of my postings, along with the request for a resume, I ask two simple questions:

1) What software tools do you typically use for development?
2) How do you keep up with and learn about new development technologies?

The purpose of the questions is multi-faceted, but the most immediate thing it does is make the first pass of filtering responses a lot easier. I simply skim in search of answers to the questions. If they’re there, the person took the time to actually read what they were responding to, and their response merits being read in full.

If the answers are not there, the person is simply mass replying. Or, equally bad, they responded specifically to this post but could not be bothered to read it (or is incapable of following simple directions.) It’s a very quick and easy filter, which our creative director has taken and adapted for her job postings as well.

If you’re reading this and saying, “Van Halen brown M&Ms contract rider!”, good on you. Subconsciously, that was probably an inspiration, although I didn’t make the connection until after I had started using it.

I chose these questions because they’re simple to answer, but reveal a lot about the respondent. A developer who doesn’t have much to say about their tools likely hasn’t done much rigorous work, or has simply not cared enough to use anything beyond what they’ve been handed. Also, I’m looking for developers who are constantly learning and staying current, rather than someone who has learned one trick and sticks with it. From those responses, I can generally sort out the non-hackers from the ones that merit interviewing.

Not Bad, For a Start

We haven’t yet jumped into crafting cool little challenges for prospective applicants, as companies like Bandcamp and Instagram has done, but maybe that’s the next step. (When I have time. Whenever that is).

For a very simple, no-effort thing to attach to a job posting, however, this technique has really paid off. It’s little extra burden on the applicant (most seem to enjoy it) and it makes the garbage responses easier to filter out at a glance.