How do you apply for a job?

From a Behavioural Design point of view, this is a fascinating question. When you are applying for a job, there are several challenges you need to overcome. It’s a multi-level game in which you need to figure out how to reach level 3 or 4 with one single run.

  1. Trigger attention and curiosity
  2. Get invited
  3. Persuade that you are the one

A context of fierce competition for attention

First of all you have to be aware that most companies like ours get about 2-5 applications per day. In addition, those applications have to compete with about 50 other e-mails we have to try to process per day. That means you only get about 10-20 seconds to trigger my curiosity to invest more time in learning more about you. Don’t get me wrong, this has nothing to do with being an asshole. It has everything to do with having to figure out how to process the flood of information  – in my inbox alone – that is competing for my attention every single day. Add to this the daily requests by vendors who approach us by phone or e-mail to “have a coffee” and you must realize that time is incredibly scarce and valuable.

Applying for a job is a classic choice problem: With a very limited amount of information and a limited amount of time, we need to make a judgement of whether we want to invest more time in getting to know you.

How to trigger curiosity?

The best way to help us to make a decision is to offer us system 1 shortcuts. One of the core principles of the Behavioural Design Method, that we train at the Behavioural Design Academy is “Help people to make a decision without having to think”. What this means is that the more we have to use our rational brain to figure something out, the more we end up with not making a decision at all. Here are a couple of tips to create shortcuts when you’re applying for a job:

  1. Get introduced by someone we know and trust. If you can get someone to vouch for you, you make it a lot easier for us to get curious
  2. Never pull a stunt to grab our attention. Applying for a job is a delicate seduction process. You wouldn’t set up a surprise act on your first Tinder date, won’t you?
  3. Be intriguing: what are surprising things you’ve done in the past, both in your personal, as well as your private life, that proofs to us that you’re an interesting person? Past behaviour never lies.
  4. Signaling: There’s a lot of value that you communicate in the effort you put into reaching us. We once got a hand written love letter in which the candidate wrote why and when she fell in love with SUE. We hired her on the spot. She still works at SUE.
  5. Study the people to whom you are writing your application. It’s not that hard to find the founders on Twitter, Linkedin and Google. Try to find out what they write about and try to contribute something to the things they are passionate about.

Summary: Think outside-in

An application is like professional flirting. It might take a little more effort to go from Awareness to Interest to Desire and Action. Sometimes it even takes a couple of years. But just like with every every challenge to influence someones behaviour, you have to think outside-in: Try to figure out what the Job-to-be-Done is of the person you try to persuade, then take away their anxieties, then present yourself als the best solution to their pains and make them understand how hiring you would offer them gains that are incredibly valuable.
One more thing: At SUE we prefer to recruit within our network of Behavioural Design Academy alumni,or people who participated in one of our Behavioural Design Sprints.  The simple reason is that are already familiar with the Behavioral Design Method.
I hope this post inspired you to rethink the way you design your application process approach. Good luck!
Tom