Welcome to Cykod. We are a fully-integrated, self-funded web-development startup located in Boston, MA.

How we're going to hire our next web developer

So I had an idea yesterday evening for a way to winnow the field of potential candidates for our next web developer position. Unfortunately we're probably not going to be hiring for the next 6 months or so and chances are I'm going to forget about it, because that's what I generally do.

So instead, this time I figured I might as well write a blog post about the idea and hopefully the pain and suffering caused by random individuals commenting on how awful both the idea and I am will sear it into into my brain so that it'll be available for recall when I need it. So here it is:

The next time we need a web developer instead of requesting resumes by email we're going to create a simple web page with a couple of fields of information and a resume upload (I know it's horrible, the real form would look nicer):

Simple enough, right? Except when a user correctly fills in all the fields and presses submit they will be presented with:

Now, what kind of Web Development company can't even handle a simple resume web form? I don't know, but I'm guessing that most users will press back and try to resubmit their resume. They will again be presented with:

Now I'm guessing that we'll probably lose a huge chunk of potential applicants by this point. And that's ok - from my very brief hiring experience the percentage of applicants who are just using you as a resume dump and couldn't care less about your company in particular is pretty high. Anyone who's really interested in the job but stymied by a couple of simple 500 pages and doesn't feel any impulse to hack ain't what we're looking for. These are web developers after all, and the best of them have certainly hacked their way around a website bug or two.

For the remaining 5%, maybe, just maybe they will press back one more time and take a look at the HTML for the form they are submitting. If they do that, there it'll be, plain as day:

<input type='hidden' name='resume[CauseInternalServerError]' value='1'/>

If they are a web developer worth their salt, they will open up Firebug (extra points for using Curl - we'll look at the User-Agent), POST a '0' instead of a '1', resubmit the form and be greeted with:

"Well played sir or madam, we should be contacting you to set up an interview shortly"

And there you have it, a pre-selection process that values motivated, out-of-the-box problem solving and a small modicum of Web knowledge. What more could you ask?

P.S. if anyone has used or uses anything similar to this and it worked and/or blew up horribly, I'd love to hear about it. We're probably not going to do this exactly as describe because I'd feel guilty about potential pain, suffering and frustration caused but I think we will try to do something at least slightly odd.

Addendum #1:  One idea from below that I like for how to fix this would be to return a fake status (but still show same error message) that Jim wrote:

While it's true, only strong candidates will succeed I think a lot of people will assume you have no respect for quality and leave for that reason. I think you should make the error more clear. Something like "Error 550: This is not really an error, it's just a riddle."

Addendum #2:  Lot of good ideas in the comments - I think if we were to implement this I'd probably take "Bronson's" advice slim down the form (All that info is on the resume after all) and add a little bit of text as some people have suggested to give people the idea that some game is afoot here:

After all,  I think most people might miss that line of text the first time around, but after getting an error message and pressing back they might take the time to read a little more carefully, and that sentence sounds a bit odd to include on a form that is clearly not functional (and only has 1 field).


Posted Friday, Apr 16 2010 01:07 PM by Pascal Rettig

Comments    Leave a comment

Posted by tek at 04:19PM on April 16 2010

I can only wish I could do this, it would save me so much time.

Posted by Bob at 04:24PM on April 16 2010

I’m guessing that before looking at code, my reaction would be to look up your registration info for the site and email a resume, along with the error report, to your site admin. Can you handle out-of-the-box approaches like that?

Posted by Joe User at 04:39PM on April 16 2010

Interesting experiment. I agree that only developers worth hiring are likely to get past this barrier. I’d be tempted to change the wording though to imply that the user can effect the submission processing. Even changing the wording based on the number of submissions would be enough for a candidate to think someone was messing with them.

Otherwise, I’d just move on and assume your shop was no good, since you’ve given no indication that further action on my part is necessary.

Posted by BillyBob at 04:39PM on April 16 2010

Just a thought: I’m interviewing you at the same time you’re interviewing me. It has to be a good fit for both of us.
How about this instead: don’t ask someone to send a resume with vast lists of stuff they’ve read about. Ask a single question: what have you done that you can point us to that you’re proud of?

Posted by Phil at 04:41PM on April 16 2010

I was thinking of a test where we ask the developer to devise a test for a new web developer – then judge the technical merit of the test itself.

Posted by Tom at 04:53PM on April 16 2010

This would turn me off working for the company because it makes you look unprofessional because you let such a simple get into a live application when you are looking for employees

Posted by Duncancook at 04:57PM on April 16 2010

I agree with BillyBob (say hello to angelena for me).
The interview process is a two way thing. Any good developer would think what a bunch of monkeys and move on! At my agency we only employ the best of the best and I’ll happily go through stacks of cv to find that gem.
However with some work, like Joe pointS. It could turn into a great idea!

Posted by Pascal Rettig at 05:12PM on April 16 2010

@Tom that is always the danger – I do think a little hint might be a good idea – something that gives an indication that it’s a “game” and not just a bunch of idiots, but anything too obvious would ruin the point.

The alternative idea I had was just to put up that says “RESTful resume submission API” with a url and make people submit their resume via Curl or the like.

Posted by Ryan at 05:17PM on April 16 2010

Interesting. It would get you a much better signal to noise ratio to be sure. Personally, if I cared about applying I’d find that, but I wouldn’t consider myself qualified as a web developer.

Posted by PHPdiddy at 05:18PM on April 16 2010

I would immediately think this company has no idea what they’re doing and move on, especially a web company.

A good idea I saw on Craigslist once was a code snippet with an encoded message and additional errors that stated something like “Figure out this snippet to find out where to send your resume”. You had to fix the errors and decode the message to find out where to send anything and incorrect methods of doing so would actually give email addresses as well, but they would be email addresses for incorrect answers. Just a thought.

Posted by Pascal Rettig at 05:26PM on April 16 2010

@PHPdiddy – that’s actually kinda the point. If you’re just doing a drive by resume upload, haven’t taken the time to read anything about the company and couldn’t care less, then yes – you are going to move on right away.

But hopefully the people that haven’t already been rejected from a bunch of jobs and are pretty selective about who they submit to might take a second or two more.

Posted by Eli at 05:26PM on April 16 2010

You spelled “awful” wrong. Hire me as your editor.

Posted by Mark at 05:37PM on April 16 2010

Here’s another approach from a few months ago:

It was a fun way to spend 20 minutes!

Posted by Albio at 05:40PM on April 16 2010

@Pascal I think PHPdiddy was saying that a technically competent applicant would be turned off that a web development company “can’t even get their website to work”.

Posted by Albio at 05:42PM on April 16 2010

This is also what Joe (above) was getting at, with the suggestion that the error is slightly off. Drive by uploaders won’t notice the difference and won’t take the time to investigate it. Someone technically competent would hopefully notice (attention to detail!) and it gives them a hint to look deeper.

Posted by Will at 05:43PM on April 16 2010

I dunno, if I was submitting a web developer resume in like that, and I saw that error page, my initial thought would be fear. Wow, they can’t even get their resume submission page working? They must have absolutely no idea what they are doing and if I get hired I am going to have zero help. Pass.

Posted by busstation16 at 05:47PM on April 16 2010

I don’t agree with BillyBob. I spent 2 years working for a company, wrote tons of code, but never produced anything I could do this with. There were 2 problems, 1. management sucked, and kept forcing us to work on project that we knew were terrible ideas and would never go anywhere and 2. the stuff I actually was proud of was all backend code that there is no clear way to show what it was or what it was doing. That being said, I had plenty of stuff to put on my resume, and when the new places I applied to asked to see some code examples, I spend a day whipping up a little app that didn’t really do anything other than show I could write decent code.

Posted by Leo at 05:56PM on April 16 2010

I would just like to say that the only thing new about this approach is that you’re doing it on purpose. This seems to happen about 30% of the time i go to submit a resume and typically the company has no idea the site is broken.

I just went through this with the local hospital that was hiring for graphic design positions, what they really need is a dev that doesn’t misspell JS variables.

Posted by Till at 06:00PM on April 16 2010

Right. If it’s just a junk filter, you should give a rather large hint. The RESTful API thing sounds good.

But if you want a real test like the one Mark links to, that’s going to require some more effort to create.

In either case, displaying a common error message is a bad idea.

Posted by Ben at 06:14PM on April 16 2010

Now hiring script kiddies with time to waste!

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