Top 10 mistakes made when applying for the CSS gig

Going a wee bit battyAhem.

It’s been awfully quiet around here, as of late. And for that, I apologize.

Everyone is busy. Busy busy busy.

But I’m rarely, if ever, too busy to chat with you, gentle reader. So why don’t we get to it?

When I posted that we needed CSS help for Kumquat, I expected to get a few portfolios in the door. Maybe a dozen or so.


What I did get–over the past week or so–was well north of 200 portfolios. And I worked to respond to each applicant who emailed me, personally. Because I think that’s important. Crazy, I know.

But once all of those folks were in the door. That’s when the more difficult task began: selecting a few that were the cream of the crop.

Due to the sheer glut of resumes and portfolios, I quickly built a list of automatic disqualifiers. A list of prevalent mistakes. No matter how good the person seemed as a designer or a coder or a human being, these things got them tossed on their ear.

Now, I fully admit, I may have lost some really good talent. But that was a risk I was willing to take.

And that’s when it dawned on me: this tempest-in-a-teapot was a perfect micro case study for any job application. Oh my. Well, when that dawned on me, I realized it was my duty–nay my moral obligation–to share this information with you.

So how did I make the cut? Well, for this CSS gig, these were the top ten reasons I rejected an application:

  1. Didn’t read the instructions.
    There were some folks who never sent me an email about the position. If the applicant can’t follow that simple instruction, how can I be confident they will follow my guidance on the development?
  2. Pitched me as a generalist.
    “I am capable of coding HTML, PHP, ASP, Perl, JavaScript, CF, SQL, Flash, CSS, BASIC, COBOL, FORTRAN, and VAX/VMS. I can handle your hosting, search engine optimization, online ad buys, public relations, transportation needs, and coffee-making.” I don’t care. I think I was pretty clear about what we needed.
  3. Didn’t have a last name.
    This may seem a little weird, but I don’t hire people who don’t have a last name. So, yes, it’s true, neither Cher, Madonna, nor Cedric the Entertainer will be coding my CSS. Sniff. My loss. You see, I use Highrise to manage my contacts, and when I fire an email over there and just get one name for the contact? It kinda makes me mad. No, not kinda. Word to the wise: When you’re applying by email, make sure your email address has the necessary info attributed to it. Sorry info@ you didn’t make the cut.
  4. Showed no personality whatsoever.
    This was often the case when it was a salesperson–excuse me “business development” person–from an agency. I use humor as a gauge for personality. Sue me. I’d rather have you insult me by trying to be funny than have you send me your generalized drivel about how great your company is. Who cares? What can you do for me? (This is also known as coddling my ego. Remember, everyone has one. No matter how self-deprecating they may seem.)
  5. Assumed you knew the project.
    I can’t tell you how many folks told me they could redesign the Return site. Um. I… Nevermind. Nuff said.
  6. Didn’t employ the techniques in which you claim to be expert.
    When someone is seeking an expert in a certain discipline, they generally want some indication that the person–at the very least–understands the discipline. I don’t claim to be fluent in Spanish because I can order off the Taco Bell menu. Don’t claim to be a CSS guru because you can write some styling code. Better yet, don’t claim to be anything that you can’t back up with examples. Actions speak louder than words. Lead by example. And any other platitudes you want to throw at that one. Those table-based layouts, folks? Like what I was writing back at the turn of the century–or maybe even last week? You’re out. But so am I. Admittedly, I’m no CSS guru.
  7. Thought you were more important than me.
    I can’t tell you how many times I started resizing type on some of the pages and the sites went all whackity whack. While I doubt the developer was intending to insult me, they did. Seems pretty narrow-minded to think that no one is ever going to resize the type on your site. Or pretty short-sighted. One of the two. Maybe both. I want you to care about my concerns. I want you to build stuff so that I find it useful. I am the most important. Me. Just ask my mom.
  8. Showed an attention to detail that was only skin deep.
    Resizing the type was my first test. If that seemed to go well–or even reasonably well–I did a little looking under the hood. Oy. When I say “elegant, standards-based CSS,” that means in the code folks. I don’t care if your site renders like a champ, knocks the eyes out the best designers, and seems to be super accessible, if your code looks like garbage. Code can be as beautiful as design. Or to take it to a more general-populous level, your resume can be elegant. I can’t think of anything much more code-like and standards-based than a resume. So I’m picking that.
  9. Called me.
    Where, exactly, in the gig description does it say to call me? I’m not a huge fan of phone calls. They’re hard to queue. And I get a lot of random calls. A lot. Most all of them are important. So I feel obligated to pick up. When you send me an email and then call me after I respond? Rude. If your code doesn’t speak for itself, no amount of your yammering in my ear is going to convince me otherwise. Gone.
  10. Didn’t have a clue.
    I literally pulled the Craigslist posting after about 6 hours. Because I was getting overwhelmed by this. But, these clueless types were still arriving. When I said “take advantage of our desperation,” did I say being desperate made me a complete idiot? If I’ve stipulated what I expect from the applicant, then maybe you should have something remotely in common with those stipulations. I’ve often been accused of having an overactive ego, but what unadulterated hubris drives some of these folks is beyond me. You would be shocked, my friend. Shocked at some of the stuff I saw.

So that’s my top 10, so far. And, admittedly, it’s pretty negative. Maybe once I get through all of these things and the project is off and running, I’ll sit back, smile, and write a hugs-and-kisses, right-things-to-do kind of post.

Maybe. Don’t hold your breath.

This was eye-opening for me because I usually have a first line of defense before I’m reviewing portfolios and resumes. Not this time. Ouch. I can’t imagine what a recruiter or HR person goes through on a daily basis. Oh my.

About Rick Turoczy

More than mildly obsessed with the Portland startup community. Founder and editor at Silicon Florist. Cofounder and general manager at PIE. Follow me on Twitter: @turoczy
This entry was posted in Employment, Kumquat, Perception, Recruiting. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Top 10 mistakes made when applying for the CSS gig

  1. Lisa Firke says:

    #5. Mea culpa, guilty as charged. Oh well, you may have lost a CSS-savvy designer, but you did gain a reader…

    Great list, except for that pesky #5. You’re right–of course–it’s WAS arrogant to assume the project was for the only faint online presence hinted at in the blurb (speaking as one who found the ad via the Gig Board rather than the blog). But the flip side to that is that those who got far enough to make that assumption were at least attempting to do their research and get to know the client. I’m holding out for partial credit. 😉

  2. Rick Turoczy says:

    @Lisa Firke: It’s not like you were the only one. 😉

    And, bear in mind, some folks managed to nail practically every one of these. In a single effort. Very impressive.

  3. Coder says:

    [quote] Showed no personality whatsoever. [/quote]

    That’s me done for 😉

  4. Rick Turoczy says:

    I’ve gone through enough of these things that I find it difficult to remember exactly whom to blame for which. Thanks for highlighting your error so that I can berate you accordingly. 😉

  5. Scot Herrick says:

    What you’ve just described, Rick, is the top ten things that ruin a gig for any job seeker. Change CSS to something else and you can take it from there.

    There is really an “e-mail” and an “interview” type of etiquette. The e-mail one here is to sell your services to the point of getting the interview with Rick.

    Then there is a whole new set associated with the interview itself. Hopefully, Rick will hand out some good insights off of the interviews as well as a follow-up article.

    The good news: people want your gig!

  6. Jeff Stephen says:

    I too have recently experienced what I might call Applicant Spam. It’s a funny thing the Internet does: it makes certain things easier, but simultaneously enables people (applicants, in this case) to be way too lazy. And to get all branding philosophical for a second, it provides an opportunity for all those lazy applicants to really damage and dilute their own personal brands. Too bad there’s not (yet) a way for an employer to not only see the applicant’s response to you, but to also see all the other “applications” they’ve sent out. Now THAT would tell you a lot about that applicant…

  7. Rick Turoczy says:

    @Scot Herrick: This originally started as very CSS specific. And then I discovered the same thing: these are problems across the board. So, I tweaked the post in hopes of conveying that. I’m glad it came across.

    @ Jeff Stephens: Absolutely agree. My years of CRM training has me keeping track of every one of these folks. So, I’ll have this application on file should our paths ever cross again.

    And I like your idea for additional intelligence on the applicant’s previous application history. The cookie-cutter submissions are fairly obvious, but some folks may be more crafty than that.

    If I could riff on that a bit, it would also be nice for the applicants to be able to see all of the applications (with personal content removed) that are in the queue ahead of them. That might make it easier to decide if they apply, at all.

  8. Charlie Park says:

    Hmmm. You know what would be neat? A site where you post your need, then let people throw their hat in the ring, and then let the people IN THE RUNNING vote on each other, to put themselves in some kind of rank. Kind of like in dodgeball when you had to line up by height. Or something.

    Okay. Maybe it’s not the best idea. But there’s something there.

  9. Eric Carroll says:

    Nice. I wound up doing the one thing that irks me the most about people applying for anything: I didn’t read the directions, myself. Sorry about that.

    Reminds me of the firefighter applicant that had dreamed of being a firefighter all his life. He would have passed his exam had he signed his name.

    Oh well, I look forward to the beta and hope you can get some of Kumquat’s frustrations behind you.

  10. I think I’m guilty of #4. Maybe.

    But anyway, good luck with Kumquat (or whatever it is you’re working on); I’m looking forward to it!

  11. Rick Turoczy says:

    @ Eric Carroll: I took yours not so much as an application for the gig, but as a “I’m happy to pitch in” kind of response. No harm no foul.

    @ Robert Dundon: If you believe you were guilty of #4, you just redeemed yourself. 😉

  12. Hey! Great post, and a lot to be learned!

    Unfortunately I was one that just got the super impersonal email! How rude! I mean I was so angry, that I just had to hunt you down and find your super personal blog!

    Just kidding, I actually thought it was great you replied, some companies feel it’s alright to keep me waiting for weeks!

    I hope you got the right guy for the job! There’s a lot of competition in that specific market! (As you found out!) 😉

    Good Luck!

  13. Rick Turoczy says:

    @Craig Hamnett I try to be rude and impersonal here, as well. 😉

  14. @ Rick Turoczy: Thanks, now I know what to improve on (I was afraid it was #6!).

    It’s sad though, because I remember when I would make my teachers chuckle at my witty research papers. However, it’s better to realize the problem and improve now instead of never.

    And thank you so much for giving us feedback. It really helps me out. Your time is very well appreciated! 🙂

  15. My turn to give feedback… You too leave important information out in your communications: Why Kumquat? I mean why the name?

    I went searching for a description of a kumquat to send the mother of the baby I have nicknamed Kumquat, because she is too small for pumkin–and discovered your site… which I read with interest, being myself the victim of a company that had no feedback mechanism in place, then a very idealistic one that turned out to be a lemon (more on lemons below) AND a landmine for the employees, as we were asked to evaluate our bosses. We later found out that they did not have a real evaluation in mind, just a polite meek formality, and man, where they upset by what we had to say, although we said it gently, constructively and respectfully (we are parents, we know how far brutal feedback goes–nowhere). The massive layoffs that followed a few months later, although disguised as a downsizing for economic reasons, are most undeniably rooted in this ill-fated feeback exercise.

    But your choice of kumquat remains unexplained…

    Now, a kumquat being a tiny and more orange/less yellow little brother of the lemon, I am wondering if is a less bitter or tart way of providing feedback, or if it creates less of a pucker on the users’ faces? Surely there is a reason behind your choice and it would make a good story on your website. At minimum, it would block other off-the-mark interpretations!

    Some day, when I have time, I will work on a fun website like yours for our company… So far, ours is primarily a way to prevent people typing in the web address indicated on our business card from falling into a black hole. But it does use CSS!



  16. Rick Turoczy says:

    @Marine: Thanks so much for the comments. The mystery behind the name has been explained in the past, but it takes some digging to find it.

    Instead of sending you digging, for reference, here it is:

  17. Pingback: Top 10 sites your next employer or customer will check | More than a living

  18. Pingback: Top 5 posts for July 2007 | More than a living

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