Category Archives: Opinion

Thoughts on computers and the IT industry.

Humane Recruitment

There are many ways that recruitment is broken for both candidates and potential employers, but this time I want to focus on one aspect that I experienced recently as a candidate: how companies and recruiters don’t treat prospective hires with respect. I’ve changed jobs a few times over the years and some of the ways that I’ve been (mis)treated in the last year surprised even me.

Let’s start with something that I’m sure we’ve all experienced: not getting a response back from an initial application.

“We get so many applications that we’re unable to respond to each one individually.” I totally accept that this happens. It sucks and I don’t believe them. Writing a single, bulk email to every candidate saying “Thanks but no thanks” would be better than getting nothing.

It is appalling, but I was prepared for it.

What I was not prepared for was getting the cold shoulder after an interview.

One company I had three interviews with and spent the best part of a day on an exercise they set and got no response for two months afterwards, even after prompting several times. By “no response” I mean literally nothing. Not a call, not a “we’re still considering options.” They were seemingly ignoring my messages. I’m not even sure that I would have had any response had I not kept bugging them.

I assume they found another, marginally preferable candidate but took a long time to convince them to take the job. Did they think I’d wait? (Reminds me of this piece.) Did they think I’d be flattered to be second? Given the cost of a bad hire, when I’ve been recruiting, a “maybe” is always effectively a “no.”

Is this how the recruiters would like to be treated? Even if there are really so many qualified candidates that you can treat people like this, should you? These companies treat you as a commodity. I’ll come back to why this is a mistake.

A quick aside: I’m using the words “recruiter” and “company” more or less interchangeably. I’ve seen the behaviour I’m talking about here both from recruitment companies and internal “talent acquisition” teams.

Even when I wasn’t completely ignored I didn’t feel that I was treated like a human. For example, another interview appeared to go well, at the end the hiring manager said “We’ll get you in for your next interview soon.” The next day I got an automated “no thanks” message, addressed to “Dear candidate.”

Both parts of that feel like a failure. Why tell me good news if there was the possibility of bad? Is it passive-aggressive? Was it just as simple as he didn’t want to give me bad news in person? Why not just say “We’ll get back to you soon”? Similarly, the automated message just felt like cowardice. I don’t expect long and chatty. I’d like to see a reason, but don’t expect it (The reason I don’t expect it is another rant.). But after meeting someone, investing some time into a relationship, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect something more personal than a form message.

How do I know it was a form message? I’d had exactly the same message – the same wording, the same punctuation, the same title and job description of the source – from another company using the same recruitment website.

There are two other variations that I want to mention. First, the rejection because of a missing skill that wasn’t mentioned in the job description. And, closely related, a rejection because of a missing skill you never claimed to have. Both, again, show a lack of respect for the candidates time.

I’ve pitched this all from the candidates perspective so far, but it’s bad for this hiring company, too.

Many of these examples are a waste of time for the people conducting the interviews as well as the candidates. And you know the old adage: time is money. A few minutes reading a CV / resume would show that a particular skill is “missing.” If everything else looked good, a quick phone screen would confirm.

But it’s worse than just the immediate effects. It’s also a reputational risk.

When I sat on the other side of the table, I always wanted to portray the company I worked for in a positive light. Just because you don’t get a job doesn’t mean you should end up disliking the company. Almost by definition, we work in the same industry. I may end up in a position where I could recommend your product. Or you. Why give me a reason to find your competitors or communicate your products your flaws? (One project I worked on at an earlier job, I found we won the work because we were nicer people to deal with. Sometimes it doesn’t take much to tip the balance.)

I recognise that I won’t be a good fit for every job I apply for, for a whole host of reasons, both mine and theirs. And I know that recruitment is an expensive and error prone process, but doing it badly could actually take more time and alienate people that you should been keeping on your side. Why not do it right?

Support and Snark

Support can be a hard, unforgiving job. You get abuse and you feel the temptation to lash out. I saw this on Twitter this morning:

Firstly, yes, the tone of both emails from the end user are unacceptable. The first one is a bit rude, the second a lot. Having been on the receiving end of similar messages in the past, both for my software company and in my day job, I feel for Federico.

But.

But I really don’t think he helped himself with his response. It was unnecessarily antagonistic and, likely, resulted in the second message. I feel that could have been avoided. Let’s take a look at the response.

Absolutely no problem. Sorry we still send you our newsletter for free. Must have been a MailChimp bug.

The first sentence is fine, albeit a little ambiguous. It’s important to start with acknowledgement of the issue and that you’ve done something to resolve it.

The second was great, right up to the last two words. Demonstrating that you understand the problem shows you’re not just some drone sending a form letter. People appreciate that. What people don’t like is more marketing of the product or service that failed them. The words “for free” also read “you didn’t pay for it — why are you even complaining?” It’s true but not helpful.

If you want to reassure someone that they’ve not been charged, it would be better just to be straight and factual: “You have not been billed because of this error.”

The last sentence is terrible. It’s not MailChimps bug. It’s yours. I mean, sure, it’s probably the underlying cause but so what? They’re your customers. You have to own the problem. Assure them you’ve fixed the immediate problem and, if you can, let them know that you’re making sure it can’t happen again.

Good job on the polite email, by the way.

Oh, the snark. So tempting. But, no. Not a good strategy. It’s this, more than anything else, that likely prompted the second email.

In my experience, you need to be at your politest when receiving these nasty-grams. It sounds counter-productive, but it often results in an apology. Wholly an anecdote, but when I reply to a support email I usually don’t get an acknowledgment. When I’m overly polite to a rude message, more than half the time I get a response. The sender often was angry and didn’t realise that an actual person would read or respond to their message.

And yeah, I’m not perfect. Federico is certainly a better writer than me and I’m absolutely guilty of sending back snark or replying with rudeness. But I can say what’s worked for me over the years.

Technology and Humanities

I read a couple of things about the intersection between technology and the liberal arts today, otherwise totally unrelated but the need for a connection between the two.

What the humanities can learn

The first was in the conclusion of Walter Isaacson’s “The Innovators,” a book about the inventors of the “digital revolution.” He started by talking about how engineers need to understand the arts and humanities (as Steve Jobs insisted Apple did) and moves on to how the opposite is also true:

The converse to this paean to the humanities, however, is also true. People who love the arts and humanities should endeavour to appreciate the beauties of math and physics, just as Ada did. Otherwise, they will be left as bystanders at the intersection of arts and science, where most digital-age creativity will occur. They will surrender control of that territory to the engineers.

Many people who celebrate the arts and the humanities, who applaud vigorously the tributes to their importance in our schools, will proclaim without shame (and sometimes even joke) that they don’t understand math[s] or physics. They extoll the virtues of learning Latin, but they are clueless about how to write an algorithm or tell BASIC from C++, Python from Pascal. They consider people who don’t know Hamlet from Macbeth to be Philistines, yet they might merrily admit that they don’t know the difference between a gene and a chromosome, or a transistor and a capacitor, or an integral and a differential equation. These concepts may seem difficult. Yes, but so, too, is Hamlet. And like Hamlet, eat of these concepts is beautiful. Like an elegant mathematical equation, they are expressions of the glories of the universe.

Most people have a bias one way or the other. You won’t be surprised that I know more about BASIC and C++ than Hamlet and Macbeth. You don’t have to — indeed can’t — know everything, but you can certainly learn to appreciate the other “side.”

What the scientists can learn

The other piece I read was about scientists being “easy prey for jihadists”. The study suggests that terrorist recruiters look for an “engineering mindset” as what’s required are people who are “intelligent and curious, but unquestioning of authority.”

Immunising the Mind – his report – gathers a wide spectrum of opinion in support of the contention that science education fails to inculcate critical thinking in the way that the debates within arts teaching do.

Again, basically the same conclusion but the other way around. Scientists, the report suggests, should understand more about the humanities, in this case learning about debate and arguing varying positions.

Apple TV (4th gen)

Keeping with tradition, I’m going to write about my new gadgets but my “unique selling point” is going to be brevity. And, in this case, another angle I bring is being a  Brit — much of the mainstream tech press is American and content is still very much a local.

Good

  • The same but better. I liked the old one, so I mean that as a compliment.
  • Feels much faster than the old one. (The hardware should mean that it does, but if Android has taught us anything it’s that specs don’t guarantee performance.)
  • think Siri is going to be great, and the more apps that it understands the better. For the past couple of weeks1 it’s only supported iTunes and some of the less useful stuff (weather, sports scores).
  • I really like the remote. Clearly it’s not designed for serious gamers but I don’t consider that a flaw. I’m not a serious gamer. (As an aside, it’s weird that much of the press have been complaining about the remote as a game controller and saying that the device won’t replace your Xbox One or PS4. I think it’s a good compromise between the two extremes.)

Bad

  • I think the price is starting to get a bit high as a casual/streaming device.
  • Missing a bunch of apps, though, hopefully, this is something that will be solved with time. There’s already Netflix, but I’d like to see BBC iPlayer 2, 4oD and Amazon video. US media companies seem to have been more on the ball than those in the UK, though many had apps on the old Apple TV; maybe they had less work to do to bring their streaming apps to the 4th gen?
  • I don’t have many apps yet but it’s clear that we’ll need folders sooner rather then later.

Ugly

  • The idea of copying all your credentials and configuration over from your iPhone is fantastic. Entering your Apple ID username and password using the on-screen keyboard is a pain. However, it seems not to be working for a lot of people and for me it took so long that I almost gave up.

Overall it’s already slightly better than the 3rd generation Apple TV and has the potential to get a lot better as the App Store fills out. In my mind, it’s odds of success likely rest on the cost. It’s therefore a shame that it’s possibly on the high side. Of course, that’s not been a problem for Apple in its recent history.

  1. I got the developer kit. []
  2. Having said that, I’m successfully using Auntie Player. []

Mac OS X 10.11 “El Capitan”

I wrote a few words about iOS 9 when it came out, so I thought that I should also say something now that the new version of OS X is on the verge of release.  As before, there are people who have written many words about it as a formal review, so I’ll stick to my highlights. I have no intention of being the most complete or thorough here!

Having said that, I am qualified to say a few words. I’ve been playing with El Cap since the first beta and have had it installed on my main Mac since the GM was first made available.

Highlights:

  • Stable. I’ve barely noticed that it’s a new OS and I mean that as a compliment.
  • Wiggle the cursor to find it. This is a silly little thing, but I find  that I use it all the time.
  • Suggested contacts / events in Mail. Subtle but really useful now that I expect to find it.
  • Notes. Great update, making an already useful (albeit simple) app, even better.
  • Safari tells you which tab is playing music and lets you kill it.

Shows potential:

  • Split screen. I’ve never been a big user of full screen mode, or even virtual desktops. However, the split screen feature at least got me to try it. Mail, at least, is usable in this format — they added the ability to have multiple drafts and to “minimise” unfinished posts.
  • Pinned tabs in Safari. I’ve not found a good use for them yet but I’m reserving judgement.

Not a fan:

  • The natural language processing in Spotlight. I’ve mostly been unable to get it working and, honestly, I’m used to the Old Way. Maybe I’m becoming a luddite.
  • Swipe gestures in Mail. Like in iOS, the idea is that you can delete or mark as read by swiping left or right on a message. I find I trigger this by accident when switching virtual desktops and is not terribly useful otherwise.

Overall it’s a nice release. The performance is as good or better than before, it’s stable and there are a bunch of nice, if not earth shattering, enhancements. I think you’re unlikely to have serious problems with it, even if you upgrade on day one. So I’d say go for it!

(I’d be remiss not to mention that my Mac app, Quick Calendar, still works great on the new OS. If you don’t already have it — why not?! — download your copy now. It’s free!)

iOS 9

Apple are announcing their new iPhones tomorrow. Along with the new phone will be a new version of iOS, version 9. You can read all about what Apple thinks are the best new features. I’ve been using it myself for a couple of months now so I thought it might be worth a few words.

Here are my highlights:

  • Battery improvements. Actually, they say you get an extra hour but I’ve not noticed. What works great is Low Power Mode. When it gets below 20%, the battery icon turns yellow and lots of stuff gets turned off or the frequency of background tasks is decreased. It’s not magic — if you use your phone it will drop to zero pretty quickly — but if it’s just sat in your pocket you’ll get a lot more life out of it.
  • Spotlight search inside apps. This clearly isn’t going to be big until apps support it, but even with my own apps this is really big. I miss it on my iPad 3, which doesn’t support it.
  • Looking in your email to guess the names of callers who are not in your address book. It’s kind of freaky the first time it happens. How does it know that this phone call might be from Bob?! But it works and it’s very useful. Oh, and if it can’t make a match it now tells you where the call came from (just as it has done in the US since the very first iPhone).
  • Feels as fast, if not faster, than iOS 8 on both my iPhone 5 and iPad 3. After all the press claiming that Apple make big, clunky updates to force you to upgrade that’s nice.

Showing potential:

  • Intelligence. That is, your phone will give you stuff before you ask for it. When I was visiting my parents it told me how long it would take to drive back home. When I connect to my Jambox, it knows that I likely want to open the Music app. And after a month it learned that when I plug in my headphones in the morning I probably want to open PocketCasts. Kind of neat.
  • Improved Notes app. I use this all the time, but I wasn’t willing to upgrade my Mac to El Cap so I also wasn’t willing to migrate Notes to the new format. I played with the new stuff locally — saving links, lists, etc. — but syncing the notes is pretty important so I didn’t use it for real.
  • QuickType. I love the idea of being able to use the iPad keyboard as a trackpad, however what I find is that I often end up deleting a paragraph of text, presumably because  when typing I momentarily have two fingers on-screen and accidentally make a selection. Maybe changing settings or practice will make this more reliable?

Wish I could try it:

  • I love the idea of being able to use iPad apps side-by-side. But, sadly, my iPad 3 is too old to support either the full side-by-side mode or even the slide over version.

Overall it’s a really nice release and it’s been very stable for me. It’s been good enough to use on my main phone since the beginning of August. Assuming a few minor glitches are fixed for the final version it should be a really solid release.