How to get a job at betaworks (or, why do people still suck at cover letters?)
I was actually going to write a whole post about this, but Jan - one of our awesome summer interns - serendipitously did it for me yesterday:
Read: Why this kitten got meow an internship
The catalyst for my own plans to write about this mostly came from our current search for a receptionist. We don’t often hire for non-technical roles (the nature of what we do - building beta products - inherently means that the vast majority of people who work here are engineers and designers), so this particular job post has resulted in a very different kind of application.
Namely, to massively generalize for a sec: engineers and designers mostly seem to understand their worth and how sought after they are in the market right now. They are not afraid to be themselves, and if they do include cover letters (which is pretty rare), they’re short and to the point. As in: “Hey, the stuff you guys are working on looks pretty interesting. Let me know if you want to grab a coffee and chat.”
In contrast, the receptionist applications we’ve been receiving include cover letters 100% of the time, usually a full page long. And these tend to be cover letters that completely dehumanize the person applying. I’m seeing a lot of:
- Dear sir or madam
- "the résumé enclosed herein"
- I feel confident that my skills will be an asset to your firm
- Please don’t hesitate to set up a time to discuss this further
…omg I can’t. Basically, we’re receiving dozens of copy/paste jobs of what cover letters are “supposed” to sound like. The thing is though, at betaworks (and most startups) personality is a huge part of what we’re looking for. Especially in a non-technical position where your preexisting experience and skills really aren’t as important to your success in the role.
I don’t mean personality as in your hobbies and sense of humor; I mean just showing that you have one. Specifically, to us, what matters in every hire we make is that you are smart, motivated, passionate, and creative. Everything else is secondary. In Jan’s case, no one cared about the great things listed on his resume until he set himself apart from the competition by doing something silly. In most cases, I don’t even look closely at a resume unless the cover letter shows some real signs of life.
To summarize, some quick tips if you’re thinking of applying to betaworks or any other similar startups:
- Yes, you do need to include a resume. But focus more on simplifying it and stripping it down to what matters. I would rather see a half page resume that just lists relevant facts than a three page resume full of buzz words.
- Speaking of buzz words: kill them. Kill them all. In both your resume and your cover letter. This is not high school; we are not judging you on your ability to follow directions. We want to see creativity and understand what sets you apart from everyone else applying.
- Include a link to your twitter. If you’re not on twitter, get on twitter. If you really hate twitter, have some other web presence, even if it’s just an about.me page (which you can make in two seconds). It’s a good sign that you understand the internet and are excited about it. Kind of mandatory.
- In your cover letter, yes you should explain why you are a good fit for the company and/or the role, but that should be like two sentences tops. What I really want to hear is why you’re excited about us. (And with a company like betaworks, there is a ton to get excited about. Surely you love digg, instapaper, poncho, dots, giphy, or one of our bazillion other companies or projects. If you don’t, there is undoubtedly always someone else who does and I’d much rather hire them!)
- Think: WWJD (what would Jan do)? Include a funny photo or gif. Tell a joke. Tell a funny story about yourself. Don’t be super weird right off the bat, obviously - but humanize yourself. We’re funny people. We want to surround ourselves with funny people. Be yourself!
Hope this is helpful. And if you love betaworks and want to join our operations team, the receptionist job is a great way to get your foot in the door. Email me and practice your new cover writing skillz!
But I think Impostor Syndrome is valuable. The people with Impostor Syndrome are the people who aren’t sure that a logical proof of their smartness is sufficient. They’re looking around them and finding something wrong, an intuitive sense that around here, logic does not always agree with reality, and the obviously right solution does not lead to obviously happy customers, and it’s unsettling because maybe smartness isn’t enough, and maybe if we don’t feel like we know what we’re doing, it’s because we don’t.
Impostor Syndrome is that voice inside you saying that not everything is as it seems, and it could all be lost in a moment. The people with the problem are the people who can’t hear that voice.
The Curse of Smart People
Lord of the Rings had a very medieval philosophy: that if the king was a good man, the land would prosper. We look at real history and it’s not that simple. Tolkien can say that Aragorn became king and reigned for a hundred years, and he was wise and good. But Tolkien doesn’t ask the question: What was Aragorn’s tax policy? Did he maintain a standing army? What did he do in times of flood and famine? And what about all these orcs? By the end of the war, Sauron is gone but all of the orcs aren’t gone – they’re in the mountains. Did Aragorn pursue a policy of systematic genocide and kill them? Even the little baby orcs, in their little orc cradles?
George R.R. Martin: The Rolling Stone Interview
10 reasons you should move to NYC
Here are some choice quotes from a whiny HuffPo opinion piece I read this morning titled “40 reasons you shouldn’t move to NYC”:
2) There is no question that being around peers comfortable with spending $5,000-6,000 a month on an apartment has a warping effect on your perspective. There is no way that it cannot.
12) Oh, you need to run over to Home Depot or head across town to pick something up at Office Max or some other perfectly minor errand? OK, see you in four hours.
18) Is there anything worse and more jarring than walking down the street and getting hit with the sound of a shrieking siren or a taxi laying on its horn five feet away?
25) It is not relaxing to come “home” to New York. Because again, New York is busy and buzzing and always on. Normally that is a good thing, just not when you’re coming off a couple weeks on the road.
26) I’m not sure if New York really deserves its reputation as a haven for creative people or as a creative, inspiring place. It is very clearly a “reptilian environment” which research shows to make being creative very difficult. As someone who wrote a book while living there, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say you have to work harder to feel safe, be vulnerable and produce creatively in New York than you do in other cities.
I’d respect it more if I felt the benefits were clearer. I’d respect it if it was necessary. If it wasn’t-in too many cases-endured simply because of cognitive dissonance and a stubborn refusal to consider alternatives.
New York is not an easy place to live. No one is pretending it is. And I’m sorry that it didn’t go well for this person. I imagine a lot of that has to do with him being an entitled artist who thinks his life should be carefree and that anyone who enjoys a challenge is just dumber than he is.
Before I moved to NYC, I never wanted to live here. I always swore I never would. And my first few months here, I hated it. I was broke, I had no friends, everything was scary, everything was expensive, everyone seemed richer and meaner and busier than me. But, as time went on, I started noticing things. Really unique, beautiful, special things that don’t exist anywhere except New York. Like…
Coming out of a building at night in my first New York winter, and seeing snowflakes gently falling from the sky. Onto all the buildings around me, onto the quiet streets and cars, reflecting light from all directions and sparkling like a painting. Winter in New York is an amazing thing. Everything feels lighter, and quieter, and calmer.
New Yorkers get frustrated with tourists because they walk slowly, they’re always lost, they ask silly questions, they don’t listen when you tell them which way to go, etc. But New Yorkers are so kind to each other. There’s a special kind of bond that forms here with other humans who are crazy enough to live in this city.
I learned that streets go east-west, and avenues go north-south. And now I can find any intersection in the city, and I always know exactly which direction I’m facing and which way to walk. It feels like I have a superpower.
It’s never boring. Ever, ever, ever. This is why we live here. We meet someone new every day. We go to a new restaurant every week. We discover a nice little park we’ve never seen before. We appreciate these things. We love finding them and sharing them. New Yorkers are endlessly curious and excitable.
Every kind of person in the world is here. It’s not a tech bubble. It’s not a religious community. It’s not a city of artists. We have everyone. And we all support each other and get along.
I love coming home to this city. I love the constant noise (it helps me sleep). I love that the guy at the corner deli knows me, because he doesn’t know everyone. I love walking from the crazy outside world into my calm tiny apartment where I can watch everything from my window and feel happy and safe. I love that no day is ever the same.
Once you learn the tricks, it’s a great place to live. Home Depot?! No one goes to Home Depot. We have no need for home improvements because we’re all renting tiny shitty apartments. We know when to walk, when to take a cab, and when to take the subway. We know there is a ferry. We know all the quiet spots where you can get a cheap drink on a Friday night. We know how to get tickets to all the events. We know which events to avoid. We know how to sneak margaritas into any park in the city.
Everyone knows everyone. I have met incredibly interesting artists, chefs, writers, actors, makeup artists, CEOs, homeless people, horse carriage drivers, poets, engineers, inventors, and celebrities - all through friends. People are friendly here. They make real connections. They introduce each other. They help each other. We all have this big, huge, crazy thing in common, and it feels like a big supportive family.
People here are not insane. They get apartments they can afford. Almost no one I know lives in Manhattan. We live in New Jersey, and Brooklyn, and deeper Brooklyn. We commute from Westchester and Long Island. Also, the salaries here match the ridiculous housing prices, so it really isn’t as scary as it sounds.
You can succeed in New York - anyone can - if you just accept it for what it is. If you want suburb living, you should stay in the suburbs. If you want consistent air conditioning and cheap restaurant chains and a big backyard, it’s not for you. But you’ll be ok if you can learn to laugh off the inevitable ridiculous situations (everyone has a story where they got stuck on a subway for 4 hours in the middle of the summer with no AC and a dead phone battery and thought they’d never make it out alive). You learn to appreciate the good and easy moments because you’ve been through so many difficult ones. You learn to love the guy singing karaoke on your street corner every day because he’s just trying to have a good time. You find your favorite subway performer, who makes you cry happy tears every time he sings Sam Cooke. You find your friends who you can complain to, and commiserate with, and then laugh it off and go back out to do it all again.
I don’t want to be here forever. I think everyone has an expiration on their time in NYC. But I will never, ever regret living here - and I think everyone should try it. It’s difficult, yes, but it’s magical. It’s still New York. It’s still the most fascinating place on earth. It’s still a place where anyone can do anything they want, if they just try hard enough (and ok, maybe find a few rich friends to supplement their costs). It changed my life. it has changed all of our lives.
And if you’re gonna talk shit about New York, we’re not gonna like it.
Yes, you can use punctuation in incorrect ways, but that does not mean there is only one way to use it. A friend recently told me publishers don’t care whether you use an oxford comma or not, as long as you pick one and stick with it. This is stupid. If punctuation obscures or distorts the meaning of a sentence in an unintended way, it is wrong, but apart from that, punctuation is about rhythm. An Oxford comma is not a flip switch in an author’s voice, it’s a decision made in the moment to maintain the flow of the idea. Momentum, syncopation, rhythm and pattern make a sentence flow, because writers are trying to transfer the voices in their heads into yours. You can hear punctuation in speech: politicians talk in periods, Morgan Freeman is liberal with the commas, and Jon Stewart is a master of parentheses. Lewis Black made a career out of the exclamation point while Dennis Leary barely uses any punctuation at all. If you told Dennis Leary he needed more Oxford commas, I can only hope he’d put a cigarette out in your eye, but I heard he quit smoking.
Nobody. Understands. Punctuation.
A meetup you will actually like: Product Secrets
(Cute logo by #1 designa Emmi Hintz.)
It’s official: my friend Mike and I are starting our own meetup. I know what you’re thinking: another meetup is exactly what the world needs! We don’t have enough of them! Yeah, yeah.
We started ours because we want it to be different. Three things we think we can do better by running one ourselves:
A conversation about the full product process
Mike and I are both product people. We’ve gone to meetups for PMs, meetups for designers, meetups for engineers. At each one, the conversation is limited, because the topic is built for one demographic and then is discussed by people who all have the same frustrations and suggestions and resources. We think one meetup group targeted to people who are involved in the full cycle of product development will be more interesting, more valuable, and more effective. (Plus, as you might have guessed from the name, every speaker will reveal an industry secret that they haven’t shared publicly. So that’s cool!)
A focus on networking
I know, networking is a dirty word. But it doesn’t have to be! We want to provide a place where every person you meet is relevant, interesting, and probably has something in common with you. We hope to achieve that by really getting to know our attendees and being able to introduce people who should meet. Plus, easy things like nametags, letting people stand up after the speaker to announce things they need or can offer, and, most importantly…
We want to be very clear that this event is for product managers, engineers, and designers. If you are not explicitly involved in building a product, we still think you’re great but this is not the right meetup for you. Recruiters who show up will be banned from future events. We are very serious.
Basically, we’re developing the meetup we always wanted. We’re looking forward to sharing knowledge and learning, meeting other great people in the industry, and making sure everyone feels happy and welcome. You should join us!
Women in Tech
I’m not a person who generally talks about the “women in tech” issue. I’ve always said it’s never affected me personally. I feel awful when I see bad things happen to women in our industry, but have never felt the need to get involved in the conversation.
I think I was confused about what the issue is. I’m at AltConf this week (which - to their credit - have been incredibly welcoming to women and vocal about the inclusive nature of the event), and Brianna Wu got up on stage today to give a talk called “Nine ways to stop hurting and start helping women in tech.” The room was packed. She gave a lot of concrete advice on things men should be doing differently. You should watch it. But what really struck me was the conversation that happened with the audience after the talk. As soon as Brianna finished, a man raised his hand and said (I’m paraphrasing, but this is all true):
"This was a really aggressive way to approach this issue. You gave us a lot of stick and not a lot of carrot. Why do you have to attack us and make us feel like bad people? Why not phrase it positively and constructively - like, our businesses are at a disadvantage because we’re missing out on female candidates? I think people would respond a lot better if you did. I’m not saying this from a place of privilege or anything."
It illustrated her point so perfectly that I wondered for a second if he was a plant in the audience. First of all, hello tone argument. Secondly, he did it. He did exactly what every man does when they hear a woman talk about these issues. He made it about himself. He chastised her for “being negative.” He got defensive. He separated himself from the issue by saying that he’s not sexist or privileged; he’s just a normal nice guy trying to help her out. (For the record: he did actually seem like a nice guy trying to help. I don’t at all mean to imply he’s a bad guy or not supportive of women in tech.)
Part of Brianna’s talk was about how it’s not enough to be a nice guy. (This echoed a lot of the concepts in Mike Lee’s incredible talk, as well.) In fact, that mentality is part of the problem. It keeps you from changing anything. It prevents you from taking accountability. We get it; none of you do this on purpose; you still do it. You really need to acknowledge that you are doing it and stop doing it, instead of relying on us to get used to it.
So, for the first time, I got really, really angry. I felt personally offended. I finally saw the thing other women have been experiencing. I realized I am one of them.
Brianna kicked off her talk by saying that no women like talking about this issue. Female developers want to talk about, you know, development. And some of them have gone so far as to say they no longer want to be responsible for speaking to this issue; they just want to get back to what matters to them. But we have to talk about this issue. We have to talk about it until it stops being an issue. That’s going to take all of us (all of us women, and a lot of you men).
So let’s talk about this. I don’t think of myself as a victim of sexism in tech. I’ve always had respectful coworkers, and I’ve been lucky enough to always feel safe at work. But this conversation happened to me last night at AltBeardBash (which was, otherwise, a lovely party):
Guy: “Hey, we’re thinking a lot about how to make WWDC and AltConf more appealing to women. Do you think it would help if we offered childcare?”
Me: “Oh, I think it’s great that you guys are making that a priority, but I don’t think it’s that easy. It goes so much deeper than that. You guys should do some outreach to schools; you should have more female speakers; you should make sure female developers feel welcome and important here-“
Guy: “Oh, I wasn’t serious. I just wanted an excuse to come talk to you.”
And you know what? Last night, I brushed this off as a drunk guy attempting to make conversation - I didn’t take it personally - but let’s be honest. I didn’t like that someone talking to me in the context of the conference wasn’t interested in my ideas, or my thoughts on diversity in tech, or even what I do for a living. I was one of a handful of token girls at that event and that’s all he saw. And that is (unintentional) sexism in tech. And those moments add up to - I think mostly unconsciously - why some women don’t want to be in this industry. And it’s a terrible feeling to realize that I’ve been helping this happen by not saying anything. By not even realizing these kinds of interactions were anything but normal.
Brianna talked about how sexism in tech isn’t the Mad Men world that men picture when they think of that word. Men (and women!) don’t notice sexism is happening because they don’t see men groping women, or kicking them out of meetings, or saying outright derogatory slurs, or the other bullshit they see in clearly misogynistic fiction. But it’s there. It’s sometimes subtle, and often unintentional, but it’s constant, and it’s really, really not okay. I no longer want to be a person who says it is okay.
So I want to start talking about this. I want to join Brianna and so many other amazing smart women in fixing this. I don’t want to have to worry about men hitting on me at tech conferences.* I don’t want to have to wonder if I’ll be able to get a job in 10 years, when my greatest perceived asset is not being young or pretty. I don’t want to be interrupted by men every time I talk. I don’t want men to keep making stupid insulting jokes and telling me that I’m the problem if I don’t think they’re funny. I don’t want people to gossip that I got a promotion by flirting. I want my hypothetical future daughter to join a work force that is 50% female, and that is totally happy to make her the boss.
I encourage you all to watch Brianna’s talk, pick up a book, follow some tech women on twitter, include them in your events and your conversations, and think about how you personally can help. Speak up if you see something happen. I know we can do this.
Whether you’re a man or a woman, if you’d like to continue this conversation and talk about what we can do to work on this together (particularly in NYC), feel free to email me.
*EDIT: A (male) friend of mine read this and asked if it’s ever ok to hit on women at tech conferences. I hope this doesn’t come off as a diatribe against flirting at conference-related parties. To be clear, my issue was with the insulting (and, frankly, ironic) nature of the conversation: the implication that diversity in tech is a joke, that I don’t have any important opinions to share, etc. I certainly don’t think I can prevent people from falling in love at tech conferences. Everyone here is great! I hope some people do fall in love! Why not!
EDIT #2: For the record, a representative from AltConf reached out to me after reading this post to apologize for that conversation happening. I didn’t really need an apology, but it was a really nice gesture. They are super serious about including women and have zero tolerance for these kinds of situations. Which is great.
When you really think about it, process is just what happens when people realize there’s a problem, put together a checklist to solve it, and then immediately forget about it. Soon, it’s not relevant anymore,” Deng says. “Most companies are full of processes designed to solve problems from a long time ago.
Process Is Being Told What to Do by Someone Who Has Less Information than You
For instance, the same sound, sie, means you, and it means she, and it means her, and it means it, and it means they, and it means them. Think of the ragged poverty of a language which has to make one word do the work of six — and a poor little weak thing of only three letters at that. But mainly, think of the exasperation of never knowing which of these meanings the speaker is trying to convey. This explains why, whenever a person says sie to me, I generally try to kill him, if a stranger.
"The Awful German Language" by Mark Twain
It’s okay to stay (until it’s time to go)
I’ve had the idea for this blog post floating around in my head for a while now. Ever since I hit around the 2 year mark of my career at Aviary, I’ve been getting increasing pressure from the people around me to go do something else. “Wow, 2 years - that’s a crazy long time in the startup world.” “Don’t you want to try something else?” “You’re wasting your time; no one learns anything after 2 years at one company.”
And I kept wishing that someone, somewhere, would tell me that it was okay to stay. Because for me, staying felt right.
I knew I wasn’t ready to leave when talking to any other company just made me appreciate Aviary more.
I knew I wasn’t ready to leave when I noticed I was learning something new every single day.
I knew I wasn’t ready to leave when I was balancing 4 jobs and lots of customers and partners very literally depended on me.
I knew I wasn’t ready to leave when I laughed my ass off for an hour straight at lunch with my best friends.
But then? One day, I was. I woke up and I realized that it now suddenly felt okay to go. Aviary is doing great and getting better every day. The team is stronger than ever, and has perfected a bunch of smart processes to automate various things and make sure nothing goes wrong. And - while I still felt like I was contributing - I no longer felt like I was the only person in the world who could do my job. For the first time, I felt like I could leave and both I and Aviary would be okay.
So: I just wanted to put the word out there that it is okay to stay. Stay as long as you’re happy. Stay as long as you’re learning. Stay as long as your company needs you and you need them. And the moment will come when you know in your heart that it’s time to do something new (and that your company will still be able to thrive without you).
On that note: while I’m very sad to be leaving the incredible team at Aviary, I’m thrilled to say that I’ll be starting at Betaworks on Monday. I truly believe in their mission, have an insane amount of respect for everyone working there, and can’t wait to help them change the world.
Night of the Living Dead cemetery. Tall, menacing boyfriend. You know what had to happen here. (at Evans City Cemetery)
Hey. It’s January 2nd. What are you doing with your life.
You’re going to hate hearing this. My only defense is that this is what I wish somebody had said to me around 1995 or so.
Please read this.