It’s high time to rewrite the hiring script

The disconnect between how many companies claim that they only hire the best and how they try to actually do that is perverse. A depressing number of job postings are barely more than a list of technology or process requirements paired with an arbitrary desire for years of irrelevance. That’s then fluffed up by a bunch of trite rah-rah bullshit about the supposed glory of hiring company. Ugh.

It really doesn’t have to be like this, but it’ll continue to be like that until companies drastically change their hiring script.

Let’s start with how the process is driven. Far too often, hiring is made someone else’s job. Not the responsibility of the team leader nor subject to input from future coworkers. Instead, the job posting is written by someone in HR or the executive who’s too far removed from the domain or the specifics to do a good job.

Second, the matter is rushed because “we need someone yesterday” and “how hard can it be”. No wonder most job ads look like they’ve been cut from the same template because they probably have! Writing a good job posting is hard because it requires you to actually think about what the position entails and how to realistically portray the organization it’s within. This takes time.

At Basecamp, we have no illusions that we’re going to hire “the best”. In fact, even thinking about candidates in such absolute terms is nonsense. The world is full of people who are stuck doing mediocre work in a shitty environment or blessed to do stellar work by virtue of an elevating one. Most people are well capable of doing both! The only thing that makes sense is to hire the best – defined as most complementary to the organization – person out of the candidates who apply.

Which is why taking the time to describe the role, the work, and the organization with clarity and honesty matters so much. The vast majority of potential candidates in this world are not going to apply to your position in any case. The aim of a great job posting is to expand the pool in awareness of that fact. To entice those complementary candidates to apply who might otherwise wouldn’t have. Dropping this “the best” nonsense is a start.

So that’s what we’ve tried to do with renewed vigor over the past few months here. We’ve been in an uncommon hiring spree with five open positions recently. Every single one of those involved a prolonged, careful process of crafting the best job posting we knew how. Yes, some of the framing is similar between the posts, but each one was written for that particular position. Then subjected to critique, review, and editing by a broad cross-section of future coworkers. I think it shows.

It’s a banal statement that hiring is some of the most important work that an organization does. But that doesn’t make it any less true. Although perhaps the endless repetition of that thought has dulled most people to its wisdom, and they’ve failed to act as though they believe it.

Next time your company is hiring, try to get involved. If you like the way we write job postings at Basecamp, feel free to be inspired, but do the authentic work to make them yours. Your next hire will thank you!

23 thoughts on “It’s high time to rewrite the hiring script

  1. Basecamp job postings are fantastic!! I hope that I’ll be able to help craft one someday as a member of your Customer Support team! As the deadline for applications approaches, so does the excitement build. I can’t even begin to imagine how you’ll process what must be the hundreds of applications you’ve received, though I’m sure it will be handled with care. Keeping my eyes on my inbox over the next few weeks and I learn whether I’ll be moving forward or onward. 🙂

  2. Actually the story goes even further, to the interview and beyond it. Worst case you meet first with a young, relatively clueless HR person. Best case, you meet your potential new boss and then he asks you about your weeknesses or some other stupid thing. From my experience, about 15-20% of the “managers” knew how to conduct an interview properly. Somehow, it sounds like poetic justice, because everyone is getting the people he deserves at the end of the day.

  3. Well said, as always! The time your company invested into these job postings will pay dividends for decades.

  4. It’s one of your job posts that brought me here. I saw the customer support job post roughly one hour ago, nowhere near enough time to actually apply (my recipe alone is time consuming to write up it’d start with “at least 48 hours before you plan to cook…”). But I found the job post itself so interesting and engaging I have spent the last hour researching who you are and what you do.

    I wanted to reach out and say thank you for creating such a thoughtful and engaging application processes. I’m a writer, I love working with people and do well in every job I take. But I can’t say how much I dislike applying for jobs! It’s been well over 10 years since I was hired using a CV/Covering Letter combination, my brain finds that process mind numbing, dull and tedious. This is because I have ADHD and although many of us are great workers, creative problem solvers and assets to the companies we join; 95% of companies will never experience that. Simply because they hire in such a stale way our mind’s disengage from the process and the desire to join said company drops.

    You asked really interesting questions in your job posting, I was kicking myself that I only saw it 11 minutes before the deadline closed. But I wanted to say thanks for being in the 5%, doing things a little differently and attracting more diverse applicants. It’s cool to see and was encouraging to come across. Hopefully I’ll see the next job opening in time to apply for it.

  5. These job postings are absolutely great, saved them up for future reference and shared with the team.

    But the truth is in the current job market very few companies can get away with posting a job and waiting for “right” candidates to apply. Basecamp, sure. For the rest of us mere mortals you have to do active outreach and source candidates beyond jobs section on your website.

  6. Thank You, Basecamp Team, for leading the paradigm shift away from overbearing corporate “whatever it takes” attitude toward the culture of calm and collected quality work within reasonable boundaries in our society! As a recovering workaholic, I have made your book, “It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work,” my daily companion on the morning commute – and as an Human Resources (HR) Manager of a department of one, I have launched a campaign to bring the ideas of the book to life in the non-profit organization I serve. Knowledge of the existence of your organization gives me hope: if there can be one workplace, where people are living out what I came to refer to as “library values” after reading your book -calm focus, respectful boundaries, and preference of quality over quantity – then, we can build other such workplaces. (Perhaps, the library metaphor especially appealed to me because some of the fondest memories of my career were those of being a librarian at a small US college while going to school as a foreign student from Russia).
    When I stumbled across your blog post on rewriting the hiring script today, it warmed my heart. It has been one of my most fundamental beliefs as a self-taught HR professional of nearly 12 years that leaders looking for new team members must be personally involved in clearly defining the job they need done and in identifying the key characteristics that would bring a person to regard this job as a good fit and to be successful at it long term. In fact, this has been one of the few major focus points of my work with my current team of managers. It is a worthy challenge to shift the well-established belief that HR should write the job description toward acceptance of the fact that HR does not possess the proper depth of understanding to do so – only those performing and supervising the actual job do (with ongoing support, helpful framework, and feedback from HR).
    That said, I’d like to thank you, once again, for the good work that you are doing in helping organizations lose the “crazy” through the implementation of Basecamp and by adopting the calm culture!
    P.S. While there is still service I must complete with my current company, I would consider it an honor and a great pleasure to try for an opportunity to become part of Basecamp’s work in any capacity sometime in the future!

  7. Those job postings are incredibly long. I think there’s a lot of fluff you could cut out.

    The concrete examples of what you’ll be working on are the best part for me.

    Thank you for making an effort to improve job postings.

  8. This resonates with me SO much! When I conduct interviews, I always take time to describe the position accurately and emphasize that it’s important for them (the applicant) to assess whether we (the company) and the position is a good fit for them.
    I must say – I have so much respect and admiration of Basecamp’s philosophies and culture. Keep up the good job Basecamp!! I hope I have the pleasure of working for you and will be checking my inbox daily in regards to my application for the Customer Service Representative!

  9. As with other good writing, I believe an outstanding job posting has a voice that gives honest and positive insight into the culture of the organization. It is written by the people who know it best, to attract the best-fit candidates and encourage them to respond in a way that demonstrates their abilities. The best person for a job that requires excellent writing, will recognize it when they see it. These aren’t the shotgun resume blasters. They won’t respond with a list of their superpowers. They will take the time to respond as you ask them to in the posting- read, follow the instructions, and write with an equally honest voice depicting their skills and compatibility with the team. At the heart of all of this is an honest and real exchange. That’s exceedingly rare and it is what makes Basecamp job postings stand out to me.

  10. I wholeheartedly agree with this. If only companies would realize that hiring is not (all) about finding the best candidate that ticks all the boxes and has x amount of years in specific field. It’s also about filling the role within the team. The person who not only has experience and skill for the required position, but also the person who has the potential to evolve into something much greater.

    And that requires a carefully written bespoke job application.

    I just found your blog recently, but it’s such a refreshing dose of reality in a world where so many people are falling prey to numbers and strategies.

  11. I once got hired at a well-known company directly by the hiring manager BEFORE HR got involved– BEFORE the ad came out in the newspaper. (Yes, I am that old.) After I was hired I saw the ad posted by HR with all its boilerplate bullet points and was intimidated– I wouldn’t have applied for the very job that I was just hired for! I enjoyed 5 good years with that company.

  12. The well-written job posts were the best I’ve ever seen fellas. It shows with the 1000+ applications for the head of marketing. I was just browsing jobs and not seriously considering applying for anything until I read your post. Really brilliant entrepreneurship guys and wish you all the best in the hunt.

  13. Thank you for this post!

    Since graduating from grad school in 2016 I have applied to 12K+ jobs, done 300+ phone screens, 150+ video conferences/”hangs”, been on 100+ “on-sites,” created & written 50+ projects (where I have seen my work parried onto company sites/products – thanks NDAs), and come up second every time.

    Each 60 day cycle I have hired resume writers, career coaches, head hunters, recruiters, and been churned and burned in the HR eco-system.

    Yes, I have a unique career in music, digital media, and furniture, while competing in a tough market, let alone being a musician who dropped out of school and went back 8 years later, but I am positive the issues I have experienced stem from the way we approach the labor pool in America.

    The onus of hiring should be on the companies and teams that need talent, as you have stated, and not simply or necessarily on the talent alone. Talent and Labor Pools should be sought, constructed, evaluated, and tried out (as stipulated in “In It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work”) in similar fashions to the better talent evaluation eco-systems in current use, think scouting for athletics.

    Plus, companies should be legally obligated to give me as much time as I have allotted them, i.e. they should have to tell me why they made the decision they have and how I can improve as a candidate, let alone a talented human being and global citizen.

    There are so many creatively talented people in this world that could fill the ranks of Top Companies, but don’t possess the family cache, prep time, or personal finances to garner entrance to Top Biz Schools for the network effects.

    Furthermore, if we all study the same, we think the same.

    And group think, much like culture fit, or buzz terms like “value add” lead to siloed approaches to problems.

    Creativity is born in adversity, experience, and differentiation.

    It is your viewpoint + knowledge + informed consensus.

    If we are all filling out forms, turning in cookie-cutter cover letters, smiling on phone screeners, building websites that merely buttress up Squarespace and Wix, and producing “elevator pitches”, seriously who is 2-minute-chatty and not simply mannered in elevators, then who are we truly aiding?

    The hiring system is not a system, but a cluster fuck. And it’s broken.

    Thank you to Basecamp team for spurring change whenever and wherever you can.

    Your fellow Chicagoan,

    John Matthew Simon

  14. hah, once in a moment of inspiration, frustration and vulnerability I wrote a Linkedin description for myself along those lines… more or less being vulnerable and real, a list of my regrets and failures along with what I can do and to what extent. But I must have another company description at all times which is boring, fake, dumb and annoying as all Linkedin profile descriptions.
    Anyways, you give me the inspiration to try and apply for jobs by being real, stating my weaknesses, failures, and many doubts 🙂

  15. To add to this the whole job search process has become furthermore terrible with advancements in Tech. The person that you want to potentially hire is not applying on job boards he’s rather busy building and learning to grow in his career elsewhere. A hiring organization needs to get more transparent in how they work and what is it working with them as a team. We are solving that by building a collaborative networked platform for hiring managers, mentors, HR’s and talent to all connect in an effective, efficient and transparent way.

    Here’s how we add transparency in our job posts – https://stackraft.com/job/Opsani/Machine-Learning-Engineer-Redwood-City-CA-97

  16. In addition to drafting clear and honest job postings, where the role is posted will determine the types of candidates added to the pool.

    I was thrilled to come across the Head of Marketing role posted on The Mom Project site. In The Mom Project posting the company was blind, but it only took a little research to find out it was Basecamp and discover the original posting on the blog. However, I was not able to apply for the role through The Mom Project since the site only allowed for 600 words in the “Why me”section when the application required answers to 6 questions that needed closer to the 1500 word limit.

    I applaud the use of The Mom Project for job postings and hope you were able to use other unique partners for diversity of candidates.

  17. Thank you for this! The Basecamp job postings are some of the best I have ever come across and the time and intention put into crafting them really shows. When I came across the Customer Support Representative position, I was really struck by the honesty and upfront accountability in the job posting–clearly, you value this role and are willing to put in the time and effort to find the person who will mesh best with the role and your team! I wish you the best of luck in reviewing what must be hundreds of applications–and hope to have the pleasure of working with you one day!

  18. Recently my company needed to hire for a junior level position. We were totally inspired by what we read/heard here and so we decided to try and make our own hiring process better, smarter and frankly kinder. We mocked up a request for submissions, borrowed some (ok, a lot but they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery) ideas from some basecamp postings and made a small investment in Linked in as the only form of advertising. Wow.

    Within hours I had several and then literally masses of responses. Roughly 20 percent followed the instructions we provided and emailed me directly with thoughtful, articulate and frankly meaningful responses and from this pool we chose to interview a handful. Throughout the process we tried to think about how we would want to be treated, and what would get us excited. It was both gratifying and terrifying. Many people were applying for jobs for the first time and it felt important to encourage and support even those candidates who were not considered. Every successful candidate cited the nature of the job posting as the primary reason they were applying.

    So many (maybe all?) of the comments here are from people looking for a job. I was hiring for a position and in a small company personalities matter. We needed someone with the skills, but we also needed someone who could succeed in our particular environment. Asking people to reveal something of themselves and demonstrate a larger understanding of the basic services our company provides (not to mention prove they could follow basic instructions) was revelatory and ultimately very successful for our process.

    I’d like to think that even the many candidates who we didn’t hire will have gotten something of value out of the process of our interaction. We responded to everyone who applied directly with personalized feedback and if someone asked specifically why they were not being considered I told them as honestly as I could what didn’t work for me about their application.

    I am pretty sure our successful hire would surprise a lot of people who applied. He wasn’t the most skilled applicant. But based on a much more “human” approach to the process we’re pretty sure he’ll be a great fit.

    Thanks (again) DHH and the Basecamp team for once again inspiring us.

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