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To whom it may concern

To whom it may concern

The topic of seeking an appealing job is frustrating, and not everyone can talk about it and make sense, even more, give actionable tips. I came across Mikael Cho‘s notes on Medium, and I absolutely love it. Mikael is the Founder of Crew; here you can read his notes on “Why I didn’t look at your resume” or you can read them here.

I’m frustrated. I’ve worked in the online industry for seven years and as a founder for the last three, 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 to come in, my mind begins to look for shortcuts. I love it 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 on 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.

On average, the person looking at your application gives it 6 seconds.

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 if you’re looking for a position at a startup, an agency, or something in the online industry, this list may help you avoid ending up in the immediate ‘no’ pile.

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)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 it 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 to me at my personal email. I welcome it. It shows me you 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.
  5. A serious 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.
  6. 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 seems inhuman. Like you don’t care if you work with us or someone else. You just want a job. These make me the saddest ☹.
  7. Your email takes more than 1 minute to read. This is probably the most important one. Stop wasting words. Don’t start your email saying, “I’ll keep it short.” If you write that, you didn’t keep it short. Focus on mentioning or linking to things that show you’re the right fit for the position. If you do this, there’s a high probability we will write back to you. Keeping your email short shows you value our time and that you know how to write the minimum number of words to deliver a punchline — another important characteristic we look for.
  8. Asking if we are open to working with good people because you’re good. Let your work do the talking.
  9. Saying “IT” when referring to software or technology. This might be just me but, referencing ‘IT professional’, “IT-oriented’, ‘IT specialist’ tells me your skillset is probably outdated.
  10. 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. A trait I would assume we all share.
  11. 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.
  12. “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.”
  13. 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.
  14. 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 a design. In the context of email, plain text is beautiful anyway.
  15. 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 said 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.

Try us.

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 contributor 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 the things you made. Be human.

Help Fellow Travelers

Help Fellow Travelers

Entrepreneurs often have so many things to do for their company, that it may seem counter-intuitive to help out or even mentor another startup. However, mentoring could be useful and should be encouraged. In this post, Jeff Wald shares the reasons why he decided to mentor another startup founder who was younger.

Jeff Wald is Co-Founder and President of Work Market, the leading enterprise-class platform for the management of contract and freelance talent. The article “Why I Mentor” originally appeared on The Huffington Post. It has been republished below with permission.

A startup founder recently asked me a simple, yet startling, question during our monthly meetings. We have been working together for nearly two years, and as with all startups she has had her ups and downs.

We have had all manner of conversations over the years and yet, in this one instance, her simple question floored me – “When I asked if you would be my mentor, why did you say yes?”

The first thing that surprised me was that she said “mentor” and not “adviser.” I have the pleasure of advising many companies. This means that I meet with them every now and again to offer some thoughts on a discrete problem, or I make an introduction or two. However, my relationship here was different. I was more than an adviser. I was a mentor to her. We meet once a month, and I know a tremendous amount about her business, where she has been and where she hopes to go. I am proud to be her mentor, so I wanted to provide an honest answer.

After collecting myself, I explained that there were three reasons why I said yes‎, in no particular order of importance:

She was the first to ask.
Mentoring helps reinforce the lessons I’m learning from my company. I believe we have an obligation to help fellow travelers.


1. She Was The First To Ask. 
She and I met at The Founders Institute (FI), an organization where I have been teaching for some years. The FI is the world’s largest entrepreneur training and startup launch program with chapters across 50 countries. In each chapter “experienced” founders teach a series of classes to aspiring founders.
Many of the students I have taught over the years will email and ask if they can discuss their businesses. I am always happy to help, so‎ I’ll meet with them and offer candid feedback on their ideas. These aspiring founders frequently end our time together by asking to return when their plans have progressed. I would always say yes, but few have ever returned. Some never make any progress; some don’t like the very direct feedback I am prone to give; some presumably just forget to follow up. So when asked why I agreed to mentor her, part of the answer was simply that she asked. I had time, and she asked, so I said yes. If someone had asked before her, then I really would not have had the time.

2. Mentoring Helps Reinforce The Lessons I am Learning at My Own Company. 

I have learned great many things on my entrepreneurial journey at Work Market: mistakes I hopefully won’t repeat, important lessons to refer back to and valuable insights from colleagues. Mentoring this founder and hearing about her own struggles and breakthroughs has forced me to reflect on when we were at a similar stage as a company. Offering her advice and describing the opportunities we missed (we all miss many) helps to codify these hard-won lessons and prepares me for my next adventure.

3. We Have An Obligation To Help Fellow Travelers. 

I have walked this tumultuous, crazy, startup path three times. It’s one of the hardest journeys you will ever take. It will test limits you never knew you had and then demand you to push beyond them. So, when the journey ends, regardless of the outcome, you have gained invaluable experience. Pass it along. I can promise you this: whatever outcome you had, you didn’t get there alone. You had co-founders, colleagues, investors, mentors, advisers, customers, and, of course, friends and family that all helped in sometimes small, but many times, immeasurable ways. You owe it to them, as well as to yourself, to help others who are embarking upon that similar difficult path. No one can make it alone.

If you have made it to the end of a startup journey, and if you have the time, stretch out your hand and help the next traveler. They will be grateful, and you will greatly benefit as well. And in the meantime, check out what Beatriz and her team at DADA have built.

Right time to build a startup

Right time to build a startup

Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, sheds light on a question that haunts many aspiring entrepreneurs:

When is the right time to build a startup?

If you’ve struggled with successfully combining timing and execution, Phil provides a simple ideology for testing business ideas. He explains,

“Wait until the world changes so that an important problem goes from impossible to just really hard, then execute.”

Appeal to Angel

Appeal to Angel

Here is a note by Jason Calacanis, He is a famous angel investor and a host of many talk shows. He invests in companies like Twitter, Zynga, Thumbtack and Uber.unnamed

“After passing on Twitter and Zynga, I invested in Thumbtack and Uber. Looking back, I knew Ev and Mark were winners, but I didn’t think their ideas — for “updates” and “social poker” — were winners. I was wrong about their ideas, but I was right about them. When Travis and Marco came along with their ideas, I didn’t even try to judge if “on-demand drivers” and “a better craigslist” were winners because I knew the individuals were winners. That’s enough information to make a bet.” Said Jason.

“Jason’s Law of Angel Investing,”

“You don’t need to know if the idea will succeed — just the person.”

Just like Elon hit SpaceX on his third swing at bat and Tesla on his fourth, and Travis hit Uber after Scour and Red Swoosh. Great founders grind it out and figure it out, so as angels you really don’t need to overthink if electric cars will work, whether on-demand transportation will scale, or if Medium.com is a platform or a publication (hotly debated) — you just need to know if someone is a winner.

Raise.com and Wealthfront.com are slick products, but their founders, George and Adam are the real reasons I’m a shareholder. Those two are under the radar, but well above the crowd.

“Jason’s Second Law of Angel Investing,”

“Your success is correlated to the amount of time you give to founders.”

The more time you spend with folks, the better you’ll know if they’re winners or not. Most folks are not winners, but everyone has the ability to become a winner if they apply themselves and stop being victims.

Here are the things I look for that tell me the person is a winner:

  • Resiliency: the #1 trait in winners.
  • Relentlessness: the #2 trait in winners.
  • Debatable: people with big vision love to debate their ideas and every aspect of their product.
  • Intractable: If you’ve been called “difficult” your whole life that could sign that you’re a great entrepreneur (“could” is a key word in that sentence).
  • Curiosity: can this person suck up all the information on the planet, process it, and incorporate it into their strategy.
  • Networkability: can you get to anyone or do you need me to walk you into the room?
  • Product vision: do you know what you’re building, why you’re building it, and how to make it exceptional? Do you even know what makes products exceptional?
  • Fearlessness: can you take on any project in any vertical without any prior knowledge?
  • Resourcefulness: Do you find ways to turn nickels into dimes and dimes into dollars? Can you find the best way to solve for X with the least amount of effort?
  • Charisma: There is no substitute for a founder’s ability to get people to embrace their vision.

One thing to keep in mind is that not everyone has all of these qualities, and people frequently succeed without many of them. These are just the signals that one sees most often — but not exclusively — in a successful founder.