A Few Mistakes to Avoid if You Want to Get Hired

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As a manager in the technology space, I have the great responsibility and privilege of hiring people into my company. As part of this work, I have to: help write job descriptions, spread the word, parse through resumes, meet referrals, conduct interviews, conduct/attend hiring meetings, write offer letters, write rejection letters, and onboard people.

While I’m done with “diversity in tech”, I do try to lift up people in my networks. Unfortunately,  too often I am disappointed by people’s inability to conduct a successful job search.  I am not even going to blame those people per se; it is ultimately one of the many ways our educational systems have failed us. That said, I am tired of seeing people (especially my people — specifically women and people of color and especially black women!)  make the same silly mistakes over and over.

So I’ve pulled together a quick list of things common mistakes I keep seeing people make, in hopes that you can avoid them.

1) Not connecting with a referrer or potential referrer before sending along your resume.

If I tell you about the job or tell our mutual friend about the job, reach out to me! I am happy to make connections if I have them. If I work at the place, it is worth your while to use me as your “in”.

So many times I’ve had friends say that they don’t want to have an “unfair advantage”. Fairness in hiring is not the responsibility of the applicant, it is the duty of the hiring organization. Your only job is to be honest and put your best foot forward; so if you have a leg up, use it.

Which brings me to my next point….

2) Not mentioning you were referred by someone who works there

Related to the previous point. If you met me somewhere and I work there and encouraged you to apply, you should mention that in your cover letter. Even if I dropped the link in a Slack or other community that we are involved in you can say “Per the job ad shared by Camille in the Smash The State Slack” or whatever in your cover letter.

Use your in!

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3) Not writing a good resume or sending an overly long resume.

Your resume needs to be brief and tell a coherent story. It is not your autobiography and your work is not your total worth. You have a lot to offer the world but it doesn’t need to all be represented in your resume. My pal Andrew Spittle wrote good, short guidance on how to write a resume here.

4) Not highlighting how you meet the job requirements. 

Make sure you read the full job description and tailor your resume to fit most (if not all) of what they are looking for. Add bullet points that explain the work you actually did and any notable accomplishments.

I would discourage you from highlighting the qualifications you are missing unless you want to explain how your other skills and talents make up for it.  Job descriptions are never really an exact description of everything the job entails and the exact skills you need to accomplish it.

You can paint a fuller picture of yourself and your capabilities once you get in for that interview.

5) Not mentioning the company name and the reason you are interested in the company in your cover letter. 

Look, I’ve been there, fam. I remember one job many years ago in which I must have applied to 70 -80 different positions. (Seriously, I had a huge spreadsheet to keep track of it all). But there is never any excuse to use the same generic cover letter over and over again.

I’ve seriously had people send cover letters with another hiring manager or company’s name there. Really, folks?

If you are genuinely interested in the job, it needs to show. Visit the companies’ websites, find out what they do, and then figure out why the company AND the position interest you.
We all need money, but (for some perverse reason) people want to feel wanted too.

Even if the place and the position seem dryer than a bone, there has to be something there that appeals  to you. If there isn’t you probably should not apply. If there is, make sure you mention it clearly (and briefly) in the cover letter.

6) Not asking a referrer to pass along your resume

If we meet and chat about the position, don’t hesitate to ask me if I can pass your resume along. The worst I (or any potential referrer can say is no, and even then I think many of us will admire you for your tenacity!

7) Not actually being familiar with the product or service is before you apply/interview. 

See above. You need to understand what the company does and how you will fit in. If it is software, sign up and try it out. If it is a shop, maybe go by and visit and see what they have to offer. Just do your best to understand the company, their offerings, and their possible challenges so  you can come in and be the answer they are looking for.

8) Not taking an interest in the people/person interviewing you. 

You’ve probably heard it said before, but job-hunting can be a lot like dating. Everyone shows up kinda awkward and nervous and unsure of what the outcome will be. While the interviewer will be asking the majority of the questions, you should come prepped with questions of your own about the company and the interviewer(s).

If possible, take the time ahead of the interview to learn a bit about who will be talking to and what they do. How would your role and their role interact? I always like to end with the question, “So what brought you here and what keeps you here? Interviewers usually aren’t expecting it and have to search for an answer. The answers are often pretty raw, honest, and telling of their feelings about the company.

Also, science has shown that people LOVE talking about themselves. So get them doing something they love and they just may associate that good feeling with you!


This is of course not an exhaustive list, beloveds. It’s just a few observations borne from my years of hiring and trying to get hired.

I know capitalism is a soul sucking system full of  mind-numbing contradictions and I strongly believe that we’d better off without work as it is modernly construed. But we are where we are at the moment and I want to see my folks getting whatever paper and esteem we can amass while we work behind the scenes towards a better world.

Go on and get them legs up, ladies! 

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Disagree and Commit

From Jeff Bezos’s 2016 Letter to Amazon Shareholders

“Third, use the phrase ‘disagree and commit.’ This phrase will save a lot of time. If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there’s no consensus, it’s helpful to say, ‘Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?’ By the time you’re at this point, no one can know the answer for sure, and you’ll probably get a quick yes.

This isn’t one way. If you’re the boss, you should do this too. I disagree and commit all the time. We recently greenlit a particular Amazon Studios original. I told the team my view: debatable whether it would be interesting enough, complicated to produce, the business terms aren’t that good, and we have lots of other opportunities. They had a completely different opinion and wanted to go ahead. I wrote back right away with ‘I disagree and commit and hope it becomes the most watched thing we’ve ever made.’ Consider how much slower this decision cycle would have been if the team had actually had to convince me rather than simply get my commitment.

Note what this example is not: it’s not me thinking to myself ‘well, these guys are wrong and missing the point, but this isn’t worth me chasing.’ It’s a genuine disagreement of opinion, a candid expression of my view, a chance for the team to weigh my view, and a quick, sincere commitment to go their way. And given that this team has already brought home 11 Emmys, 6 Golden Globes, and 3 Oscars, I’m just glad they let me in the room at all!”

Beyond “Childcare Available”: 4 Tips for Making Events Parent-Friendly

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I was just talking to a group of activists about the fact that while a lot of events both in the activist and tech space do offer childcare, that childcare always seems to be sort of dashed together by a bunch of people who clearly have little to no sense of what people with kids need in order to feel welcome/ like they can attend. The people I spoke to admitted they were clueless about what was needed and felt that “Childcare Available” was part of the standard for inclusive events and not something  to which they actually gave much attention.

*sigh*

So, in the spirit of illuminating people and moving our communities forward, I’ve pulled together a few ideas to help move “Childcare Available” from just words on a page to an actual living breathing service that empowers people with children to learn/grow alongside their peers, engage in projects they care about, and frankly just have a little break from the rigors of childcare.

1) Schedule the Event At A Child-Friendly Time

Children — especially small ones — generally need to get to bed at a certain time, which varies from family to family but usually is sometime around 7/8-ish. At the very least, parents want kids home in the evenings to settle down, not trying to hustle them onto a subway or pull them out of their carseats and get them to bed at 10pm or later. It happens — and I certainly can’t speak for everyone — but if you want people with children to participate, consider scheduling some childcare-available events on weekend days.

2)  Childcare Provided By? 

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The ChiChiCo Team

Again, the gesture of providing childcare is a kind one, but as a parent, it’d be helpful to know who the childcare providers are ahead of time. I know, for example, in Chicago that the Chicago Childcare Collective (ChiChiCo) partners with many groups to provide free childcare at meetings, protests, and other events. Here in NYC, Regeneracion does much the same.

Whenever possible, partner with groups like this and let parents know who will be available to watch children and what sort of activities are planned. I am much more excited to bring my kid to a gathering if I know they are going to be engaged in fun things with other children and supportive like-minded adults.

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The Team at Regeneración Childcare NYC

3) Childcare Money Available

While it is great to be able to bring my kid to events and share my interests, sometimes it is easier for me to focus if my child is not on the premises. In those cases, it’d be great if organizers — and here I am focused mostly on the corporate-sponsored tech events — could offer childcare reimbursements. My kid is most comfortable at home with a trusted caregiver, so if I could provide that rather than having to take them to say a hack day or an all day skills-building event — and inevitably have to do care work — it would be preferable.

4) Center Mothers/Caregivers 

This is by no means an exhaustive list of things you can do to make your event more parent-friendly (for example I imagine nursing moms would want a clean, comfortable place to pump/breastfeed), so whenever possible just ask people what would help them attend/participate. Don’t fall over yourself making accommodations based on assumptions. Just ask, listen, and see what you can do.

For further thinking on this topic, see this excellent two-part series on conference childcare by by Allison McMillan.

Something in Commons

A little under a year or so ago, my dear friend Sumana suggested to a group of friends that we read some work by the late political economist and ecologist Dr. Elinor Ostrom and blog our thoughts. Ostrom’s work focused on the natural environment and the possibilities for cooperative management of common resources.  It was of interest to the group of us who have been involved in free and open source software and also something I wanted to know about as a long-time member of the co-op movement.

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Dr. Ostrom accepting her prize.

Well, weeks and then months passed and I didn’t have time to turn to the 2009 Nobel prize lecture, “Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems” that it was suggested we start with. Nor (to my knowledge) did any of the others (well maybe Sumana did, she mentions it at the end of this post). Nonetheless, I still had it as an item on my lengthy digital to-do list, and I received regular reminders that it was something I’d told myself I wanted to do.

As the political tides turned dramatically over the past few months, I turned my attention to deeper study of radical history and alternative socio-political visions. In this spirit, I returned to the long- neglected Ostrom hoping she’d have something to share that would motivate and inspire.

Like most economics research, Ostrom’s is dense and builds on a long history of economic concepts only a few of which I feel I can convincingly discuss, but her work is at its core a rebuke to modern society’s Hobbesian belief that without hierarchical government, people would not be and do good. Her focus was on expanding the categories of goods humans could have, use, produce, and distribute, since traditional economics had long held that there were only two sorts — public and private.

Through studies of the collective management of irrigation systems in Nepal, pastures in Kenya,  and water basins in Los Angeles, she observed first-hand how human beings could band together to cultivate and maintain what she calls common pool resources. Common pool resources are goods that differ from more standardly-defined public goods in that they are depletable and also easily accessible; so they must be preserved at the same time that they are enjoyed and consumed.  At 28-pages, this summary of her many decades of academic study and field work is relatively brief*; so I won’t bother to summarize her summary, but I will point to a few key ideas that I am keen to pursue further:

  • the value of communication (both focused and small-talk) in building goodwill, increasing trust, and producing more favorable outcomes for all users of a common pool resource;
  • polycentricity – the idea that a  functioning system can have many different and independent centers of decision; and
  • the seven design principles of successful systems
    • boundaries – user boundaries & resource boundaries
    • appropriation and provision –  ensuring that costs and benefits are consistent with local environment/expectations and harmonized with each other
    • collective decision-making
    • monitoring – of users and of the resource
    • graduated sanctions – punishment for rule breaking starts out lax and escalates as/if a users’s violations continue
    • conflict resolution mechanisms
    • minimal recognition of rights – all users have right to make their own rules
    • “nested layer” structure of governance when operating within a larger ecological system

I was introduced to Ostrom around the same time that I began to learn more about the life and teachings of anarchist/libertarian scholar and activist Murray Bookchin and his concept of social ecology. Social ecology is the idea that for the good of the Earth and humanity, society should move to a system of smaller communal societies practicing direct democracy, and it seems to dovetail nicely with many of Ostrom’s findings.

Bookchin’s message — as succinctly summed up by Dr. David Schlosberg in his rather critical 2011 lecture on the life and work of Bookchin — was:

  1. Domination in human societies is not natural.
  2. We should pay attention to the liberatory and cooperative potential of nature.
  3. We must recognize the contribution that social movements can make to social thought.

Where Bookchin theorized about the failings of the centralized, hierarchical state, Ostrom observed first-hand its inefficiencies and corruption compared to the systems where participants came together to exercise their usufruct rights. Usufruct is the idea that you can use and profit from but not abuse or sell the common pool resource, and it was a central tenant of social ecology as Bookchin envisioned it.

I have recently been working with various groups on the campaign for single-payer healthcare in New York state, but now that I am digging into Ostrom, Bookchin, and others, I am excited about the ways in which Ostrom’s design principles for successful management of common pool resources might be applied to create an even more free and fair form of healthcare. I am frankly excited about the ways it can be applied to all manner of collective organizations towards a vision of non-hierarchical relations throughout society. I’ll share my thoughts on that at a later date… after I read more Ostrom!

*For now, I encourage you to read the paper or just watch the talk, which I just discovered is available here in video form and is very enjoyable!

Gratitude: March 2017

Another super quick and super-packed month! Just sneaking in here at the end of the month to share a few things that made me grateful.

Humble – Kendrick Lamar
This living legend just crept in with a blazing hot new song for us all. Kendrick is an imperfect hero (great critique here), but heroic he is indeed.

Ecology or Catastrophe: The Life of Murray Bookchin

 

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Image from this New York Times Magazine article on Rojava, Kurdistan.

I have been digging into radical thinkers of the 20th century. Last month was Manning Marable’s expansive biography of Malcolm X. This month, I dug into the life story of of this lesser-known but pioneering environmental thinker, who was inspired by anarchist thinkers like Pyotr Kropotkin. Though I don’t march in lockstep with all the ideas Bookchin puts forward (he was definitely not serving global intersectional feminism!), his vision is more in line with my political beliefs than nearly any other I’ve encountered. The fact that his ‘libertarian municipalist‘ approach articulated in the late 70s/early 80s is only being seriously considered and put into practice (in Rojava, Kurdistan) is a testament to how far ahead of his time he was. For a good, quick survey of his work, listen to this lecture by Dr. David Schlosberg.

For Colored Nerds on Get Out

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I finally got around to watching the much-acclaimed new thriller (I hesitate to call it horror) Get Out. I enjoyed it and as a long-time fan of thrillers and exploitation films I loved all the references to films like the original Night of the Living DeadAnnie Hall, A Clockwork Orange, and Rosemary’s Baby.  But my favorite part of the experience came after I left the theater, and I was able to listen to the close read of the movie on one of my favorite podcasts For Colored Nerds. Hosts Brittany and Eric devote most every episode to a deep dive on one topic and after (nearly) every episode I feel like I could talk to them for a couple hours more. They are totally my black nerd friends in my head and I encourage you to check out the episode and subscribe to (and Patreon-support!) the podcast!

If anyone finds a Lacanian psychoanalytic read of the movie, let me know. I appreciated this Buzzfeed article for more fun Get Out easter eggs!