While the dot-com wash out is nothing to smile about, I couldn't help but laugh and think: just beginning to clutter electronic inboxes? As head of an interactive marketing agency actually hiring people, my e-mail box has been getting spammed by errant dot-bomb resumes (mixed in with the offers for great sex, low-cost loans and guaranteed debt collection) for almost two years.
Helpless, cringing desperation
Hiring helps me truly understand the dot-com boom and bust cycle as it affects job candidates. The transition over the last 18 months -- from insufferable arrogance to helpless, cringing desperation -- has been both a lesson in human nature and good cocktail party fodder. It also suggests there may be an entire generation out there that will need some serious therapy.
Here are a few of my favorites:
- An e-mail cover letter for a production position addressed "Dear Dude." Not only simply bad business practice, it also was clear evidence that the candidate had failed to look at our Web site, where he might have learned that the majority of our managers are women. Dudette perhaps?
- A two-page cover letter in which someone claimed in a single sentence to be: "a trendsetter and a trend follower." Our interpretation: "You spent most of your career chasing your own rear-end."
- We've had applicants of both genders dress to show their navels. Pierced or otherwise, it at least offers a break from dot-com basic black, which was perhaps cool when the Nasdaq was rising but now seems frightfully funereal-not to mention profoundly unoriginal (unless you went to New York University, where it is required by the dress code).
- Personally, I don't mind dabs of color in applicant hair. But I have a hard time moving beyond the anticipated look on a Midwestern client's face when I would present the highlighted one as their new account executive. Somehow executive and purple don't belong in the same sentence.
- It was discouraging to interview for a new-business position (in which persistent, smart yet somewhat charming sales skills were required) only to suffer through a long line of monotonously condescending black-suited, blue-shirted applicants (of both sexes, I add hastily) whose last exposure to the concept of charms was on a cereal box.
The Queen's English
One of the truly sad legacies of the Internet boom is the price paid by the Queen's English. Somehow job candidates seem to think that if they string together enough "insider" jargon we'll be so impressed we won't notice they are simply incapable of communicating effectively. After all this time, I'm still not entirely sure what "disintermediation" is (nor, frankly, am I losing sleep over it). And if one more person says "granular" or "traction" in an interview I will personally push them off "the path to profitability."
And there have been -- even as recently as late last year -- the recurring demands of the under-qualified for every imaginable perk. For example: A candidate three years out of college with 2.5 failed dot-coms worth of experience (where he was the "marketing director") asked for $105,000, to work two days at home, options (Sharpe Partners' options consist of either a Mac or a PC), participation in a non-existent equity program and a car!
Why? "Well, that's what I need to motivate me." It motivated me to say, "Gee, thanks for coming in."
I appreciate that the casual attitude of the Internet boom deluded a great many youthful job holders into thinking that another job (closer to the foosball table) was an economic guarantee buried somewhere in the Bill of Rights. But if nothing else, the dot-com bust should teach us all that it is time to return to the basics in dress, presentation, attitude and expectations.
That is if you want to work for Sharpe Partners.
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Kathy Sharpe is founder/partner of Sharpe Partners, New York.