October 12, 2011

Curious Recruitment Email Logic


THE OLD COLLEGE TRY/Image: Michael Moffa

Part I: The Worst Case Job-Hunt Scenario

A job applicant emails you a cover letter and resume, cc’d to other recruiters and companies. This is bad, says the conventional wisdom (CW). You email zero rejection letters to the desperate and anxious multitude of job seekers you reject. This is good, or at least OK, says the same conventional recruiter wisdom. The same kind of thinking deems cc’d rejection letters to be worse than no emailed rejections at all.

If actions speak louder than words, the fact that you waste no words on those you reject implies that you believe silence is truly golden, or unavoidable—as long as it’s your silence. “Seen but not heard”, normally the classic ideal for the well-behaved subservient child,  describes your job posting and response, in that order—job posting seen, response not heard, and sums up what happens to the vast majority of cover letters, from the perspective of pleading, helpless applicants.  Worst of all, of course, is the application emailed to you and to hundreds of other recruiters and companies in the same single mouse click.

As always, to the extent that all of this is conventional wisdom, it is virtually certain to be unexamined wisdom—and less than impeccable logic.  However, a close review of each of these scenarios suggest that these situations are neither as conceptually simple nor as easily properly dealt with—logically speaking—as may be imagined.

Consider even just the worst-case scenario, to expose the flaws in the CW: one applicant’s email blitz of companies and recruiters, that is, what can logically and mathematically be described as a one-to-many mapping—or from the recruiter viewpoint, a “one-too-many mapping” (i.e., an email sent out to one-too-many recruiters, because it’s one more than one recruiter’s tolerable limit.)


One applicant, to too many recruiters, in one go is pretty much universally condemned, taboo and fatal in job hunting. One hapless graduating University of Pennsylvania student, learning this lesson the hard way, has drawn online fire in recent days for inadvertently sending out a terse, typo-sullied and cookie-cutter resume and cover “letter” cc’d to, by my estimate, at least 300 Wall Street companies (judging from the displayed online image of the list scanned from someone’s inbox, shown and blurred above). I say “letter”, because what he wrote was only somewhat longer than an “S.O.S.”:


My name is ______ and I will be graduating from the University of Pennsylvania this May. I am very interested in investment banking upon graduation and I wanted to know if your firm would be hiring analysts this coming summer. I know you are busy and would appreciate any time you could give me. Thank you in advance and I hope to hear from you soon. My rsum is attached.

Best regards,…..” (Yes, “rsum” is his “typo”, not mine. For another take on this, see below.)

Even though he has since sent the companies an apology—one at a time, if he’s learned anything from the experience, the conventional wisdom and verdict is that he’s now job-market confetti: relegated and doomed to being part of someone else’s upscale pub celebration of being hired on Wall Street, only to himself be swept aside and discarded afterwards.

Severe punishment—for what? For not being a fawning hypocrite pretending that there’s only one great company on Wall Street; that in this horrible job market he won’t have to send out hundreds of resumes just to get at least one interview; that he won’t be sending more than one job-hunt email (which, come to think of it, is true in his case, since he covered them all in one go); that it’s perfectly fine for one recruiter or company to invite thousands of applicants in a single job posting, but totally outrageous for those applicants to do the same thing in soliciting hiring interest?

That kind of thinking is going to pass neither a fairness test nor a logic exam.

Calling a Spade a Spade

Why not commend his gritty, bold realism (even if inadvertent) and his willingness to call a spade a spade by calling or emailing  every other card in the deck in order to stay in the game. The analogy with poker is apt: both games are honest and authentic, as well as exciting, when all of the players can see and communicate with each other, if not also be privy to the hands the others have been dealt. Open and aboveboard.

Carrying this logic and analogy a step further, in terms of bidding against each other and raising the ante, those companies should consider playing the game this student’s way, by emailing each other about him. That’s precisely what one self-described former executive recruiter has reported and facilitated:  Not only has the recruiter, “Larry”, listed all of the company staff the student contacted by their individual emails, but has also posted some of the cross-talk among Wall Streeters about this student. (If your are inclined to be as determined to network as this student was diligent in putting together this huge list, it is a potential recruiter networking treasure trove—which, however, your innate respect for the privacy of those listed individuals will, of course, prevent you from exploiting. To ensure your ethics are not tested, the image shown here has been blurred for total illegibility.)

Here are some of the Wall Street cross-talk comments about him, with some merely amply and others exponentially cc’d:

  • “UPenn’s finest….spelled resume wrong and didn’t bcc anyone. Can anyone say blackballed?”
  • “Winner.” (Sarcastic or not, a grain of truth.)
  • “…they really teach us to be go-getters at Penn.”
  • “How long before this makes it to dealbreaker.com?”
  • “Why does everybody fixate on the typo? Dude spelt “resume” as “résumé”. Apparently didn’t appear on BB.” (My personal favorite among the email and blog comments. Insightful suggestion.)

Stopping short of adopting a “game of perfect information” model of the sort that pure laissez-faire capitalist economists idealize,  in which there are no secrets and all cards are dealt and drawn face up, why not turn the resume game played among applicant, recruiter and company into a game of imperfect information, but more perfect than the current norms of professional and polite pretense dictate? Allow a kind of communications, gladiatorial free-for-all, Roman Coliseum-style and may the best man, woman and company win.

Within that innovative, more open and candid framework, the U Penn whipping boy might just turn out to be a Coliseum chariot master whipping up the charge against the Wall Street tigers.

(Next: Part II—The battle between logic and email prejudice continues)

Read more in Job Applications

Michael Moffa, writer for Recruiter.com, is a former editor and writer with China Daily News, Hong Kong edition and Editor-in-chief, Business Insight Japan Magazine, Tokyo; he has also been a columnist with one of Japan’s national newspapers, The Daily Yomiuri, and a university lecturer (critical thinking and philosophy).