Category Archives: Computing

Articles about 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 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.

Apple TV (4th gen)

Yes, I already wrote about the new Apple TV but I had a little more to say now that I’ve been using it a few months.

So far Siri has not been as useful as I thought it would be. The main failing is that we use Netflix profiles a lot and Siri doesn’t understand them. I might tell Siri that I want to watch, say, House of Cards but if it’s currently logged into the kids’ profile it either won’t let me watch it or wants to start it on the first episode. If you’re going to have to switch profiles with the remote anyway…

On the other hand, gaming has been far better than anticipated. The biggest hit so far has been two player Crossy Road. I’m sure my son would enjoy it on the iPhone but playing with someone else, on the big screen, gives it that little extra zing. Not Apple’s fault, but the two player mode feels very much an after thought right now, as it’s not super-easy to activate.

Some other games show a lot of potential, too. Asphalt 8 has the occasional frame rate issue but otherwise looks great. Not that I’m a heavy gamer or necessarily a good judge of these things.

So, overall, still a great set top box.

Synology DS215j

I needed a replacement for a failing Time Capsule, used to back up two MacBooks. The obvious solution would have been a new Time Capsule but I did a little investigation and found that I could get a two disk Synology (a NAS, or network attached storage) for less than the equivalent from Apple. More features for a lower price? Yes please!

The downside? It’s not plug and play in the same way that the Time Capsule is. I had to install the disk, download the operating system, set up the disks, create users… None of which were really hard but still need to be done.

At this point, the Time Capsule and NAS are roughly level pegging. Apples solution is easier, the Synology cheaper. For some that might already make the latter the obvious solution.

But the Synology also does more. I set up a VPN and a Plex server. I configured quotas so that both me and my wife both get 1Tb of space for backups each, rather than 2Tb of space both both of us (where the person with most, biggest backups tends to get the most space). And it switches itself off overnight, saving power and wear-and-tear on the disk.

And while it’s certainly harder than the Time Capsule, the UI is well presented and powerful. The admin interface does so much that I’ve not felt the need to enable to the ssh interface.

It’s easy to recommend as a Time Capsule replacement for the more technical user. For everyone else, Apple’s solution is easier but it might still be worth considering the Synology if any of the extra features might be useful.

Mpow Swift Bluetooth headphones

Buying the Mpow Swift Bluetooth Headphones was an experiment to see if there was a solution to a very first world problem: tangled headphone cables.

Good bluetooth headphones easily go into the hundreds of pounds. These were less than £20 and, considering that, are surprisingly good.

They’re in-ear and block enough sound that I can listen to podcasts on the tube which is my main requirement. The sound quality is fine for music if you’re not too picky.

My main gripes are the colour (bright green) and the battery indicator which drops from a claimed 30% full to zero in milliseconds. In practice I don’t let it drop much below 50% before re-charging.

Overall it’s difficult to argue for the price.

Amazon Fire 7″

The Amazon Fire 7″ falls very much into the “good for the money” category. If you compare it to an iPad you’re going to come away disappointed. The screen is terrible. Viewing angles are not great, the colours are washed-out and it’s low resolution by modern standards. Battery life could be better. The case feels cheap and it creaks a bit when you squeeze it. And the app selection is nowhere near what you get in Apple’s (or even Google’s) eco-system.

But — and it’s a big but — it’s a tenth of the price of an iPad. And, if all you want to do it watch Netflix and BBC iPlayer, it’s perfectly adequate and well worth £50.