Eight Bit writes back to every applicant - here’s why.

by Steve Polacek
April 22, 2014

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Those of us on the receiving end of job applications have a real opportunity to be a positive influence on a large number of people. The smallest amount of advice or encouragement can not only brighten someone's day — it can change the trajectory of their search and lead to a career breakthrough.

We recently had a young writer apply who called us by a completely different company name in his introductory email. For a copywriter, that’s usually punishable by death! But rather than throw stones or ignore him, I replied with some supportive and very honest feedback. As he put it, "you're the first person to lay it to me straight”.

Then we had a great talk. He’s a good kid and a bit of a misfit. I put him in touch with a producer I know and told him to strike up a conversation about their mutual love for comic books and sci-fi. He’ll probably go on to create the next “Simpsons". That’s what misfits do, right?

I didn’t let one slip-up form my entire opinion about this kid. My first instinct when receiving applications is not filing them into piles — rejected or accepted. I just want to know their story and see if I can nudge them in the right direction.

As a business owner, I find one of the highest forms of praise to be the simple act of someone applying to join our team. This form of recognition gets to the heart of why we started Eight Bit Studios, which was never about “jobs”. We’ve always put a high value on happiness and creating a place where people want to be. Each application is validation that we’re doing something right. It’s positive reinforcement. It’s a gift.

That may be a reach for some of you. I didn’t always feel this strongly either. I’ll explain how my perspective shifted.

It would be easy for us to ignore most job inquiries. We’re rarely in “hiring mode”. We prefer growing our team through referrals and don’t often publicize job openings. But what would it say about our company if we didn’t have time for the people who admire our work? If we only wanted to talk to you when WE needed something?

Most job inquiries come through our website and anything design-related falls on my plate. I’ve always done my best to reply to each one. My typical response used to be pretty generic. I often felt the urge to craft a more thoughtful message, but being “too busy” was an easy justification for not truly acknowledging the human being on the other side.

I’ve learned from receiving many copy/pasted job applications that generic messages don’t leave a good aftertaste. Hypocritically, I was frowning on this behavior, while perpetuating it with my own robotic replies.

I started thinking about the person on the other side and how tough it can be to look for work. I would see mistakes applicants were making because they probably just didn’t know any better. I thought about how green I was as a young designer, the people who gave me a break, and the mentors I was lucky to have. But mostly, I began seeing each application as a gift from someone who admires what we’re doing. And what happens when someone gives you a gift? You feel good and thank them of course. Once my thoughts changed, my actions followed.

I began writing very long and detailed responses to designers who submitted their portfolio, regardless of our hiring interests. For some, I would look at every single example and share my thoughts. I tried to be as honest and straightforward as possible, without passing judgement. I would also include advice, helpful links, and inspiration.

For weeks, I was spending more time replying to designers than just about anything else. I was really enjoying the deep level of engagement, but it was becoming stressful to keep up and wasn’t sustainable. I decided to keep the spirit of this approach, but cut back on the length of my replies, placing more emphasis on setting up time to talk via Skype or Google hangout. I usually put the ball in the designer’s court, suggesting that I would be happy to talk shop if they thought it would be helpful.

The vast majority of responses I got back were awesome and very appreciative. For some, it was as though no one had ever taken the time to give them any feedback at all. I realized pretty quickly that designers are STARVING for honest, genuine feedback. 

We can do a better job supporting our community and the people looking for work. Let’s stop trading formalities and push for more meaningful engagement.

Start conversations. That’s my advice whether you’re looking for work or in a position to hire someone.

  • To future employees - Worry about starting conversations first and open positions later. Don’t focus on just the companies that post job openings. Seek out the people and brands you admire and start conversations with them. There’s value in sharing what you like about a company and why you’d work there. It gives the recipient insight into how their company is being perceived in the real world. 
  • To company brass - Applicants are your admirers and often your biggest fans! In that way, they’re all qualified and deserving of your attention. Recognize each individual and share your knowledge. If we can do that, everyone will be more hirable and that’s a big win.

Feel free to reach out if you have questions or want to talk.

Steve Polacek (@stevepolacek) is Co-Founder and Principle of Design at Eight Bit Studios (@eightbitstudios) a mobile and web design and development studio in Chicago.

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