What I learned from reading 385 job applications

Okay, so I’m kind of weird.

This year I’ve employed six people.

It’s not supposed to be this way; just ask the Daily Telegraph:

“The chance jobseekers with little or no experience have of finding work has plummeted, with startling figures revealing entry-level positions are ‘virtually non-existent’. Graduate jobs represent a mere 4 per cent of the entire new job market, falling 20 per cent in the past five years.”


When I talk to people (especially graduates) they bitch about how tough it is to get a foot in the door:

“It’s impossible to get a job without experience!” — “I can’t even get an interview!” — “How do I stand out?”

Yet, amid all the complaining, there are enterprising people quietly landing jobs … like the six I’ve hired this year.

And they didn’t have relevant qualifications, or fancy résumés, or stellar interview skills.

So what made them stand out? And how can you do the same thing?

Today I’m going to answer those questions, using one of my recent hires as a case study.

First, let me set the scene:

I had 385 applications for a producer role at Barefoot.

But I didn’t ask for résumés. Reason being, most people lie in résumés (and If I want to be lied to I can read Donald’s tweets).

And I didn’t ask for qualifications, or experience, because they don’t necessarily mean they can do the job.

And I didn’t even talk to them. Some people are excellent at talking about a job (you’ve been in meetings with these people), while others excel at interviewing for a job (because they’ve done a lot of interviews!). But, again, it doesn’t mean they can do the job.

As a boss I have an itch I need scratching, and all I care about is how good you are at scratching it (and not in a weird way).

That’s why at Barefoot we’re famous for long online surveys where we get candidates to do the actual task we’re hiring for. And, not surprisingly, a lot of people give up. (That’s part of the plan.)

Now, a confession: I don’t read through an entire application to work out what’s special about you.

No-one else does either. Recruiters spend an average of six seconds on each résumé, according to Time magazine. (Admittedly that sounds like a bulldust statistic. Personally, I spend about 18 seconds.)

Instead, I use a favourite tactic of many business owners: I put in a ‘hidden question’ that I go straight to, so I can do an initial cull. Then I read the ones I haven’t culled.

Now this may seem a hard-nosed way of doing things. Game of Thrones almost.

But I think it’s the most egalitarian way of employing people: I don’t care if you’re male, female or androgynous, how old you are, or where you’re from. All I care about is how good you are.

It doesn’t suit everyone. I once had a senior journalist contact me to apply for a role. We’d worked together years back, and he was a legend in his own lunchbox. Here’s how our phone conversation went.

Journalist: “I see you have a job going … I think I’d be perfect for it.”

Barefoot: “Sure! Just fill out the survey on the website.”

Journalist: “Really?! I mean, I have 20 years’ experience, so I am clearly very qualified.”

Barefoot: “You’re right. No need to do the survey.”

Journalist: “Great! So when would you like to meetup to discuss the role?”

Barefoot: “Never.”

As a postscript to this story, a few months later he did the survey … and his answers sucked.

He’s now working for a competitor of mine, bless his cotton socks!

How to Stand Out From the Crowd

So let’s talk about the person who actually got the position. How did she stand out?

Firstly, she got my ‘secret question’ spot on. She realised there was a question behind the question — so rather than giving a short answer, she explained her reasoning in detail, showing me she knew her stuff.

Second, she joined the Barefoot Blueprint to see if she’d be a good fit — and figured out what I needed to hire someone for. That showed initiative.

Third, she linked me to her profile on the freelancing site Upwork, where she’d done a few jobs in her spare time — which told me she didn’t mind hustling for extra work, she could manage her time, and she could get things done.

None of these things took her long to do, but they paid off in a big way.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Okay, Barefoot, but I want to work for Company X, where they have a hiring process with real résumés and real interviews. So your advice doesn’t apply to ME.”

I thought you’d say that. So let me tell you how you can use this strategy no matter what job you’re going for.

Barefoot’s Advice to Jobseekers

My ‘secret question’ technique is ruthlessly efficient: it forces you to show how you can do the job at hand.

And that’s the secret to any job application.

All any employer wants to know is this: “Can you do the job, or not?”

So get to the point.

Ask yourself: what are they actually asking for? What do they truly need done? What’s the real job here?

And then make sure your answer (or your résumé, or interview) addresses that.

What you want to say is: “Here’s the job. Here’s why I can do it better than anyone else. Here’s evidence of how I’ve done it in the past.” Show them, don’t tell them.

Here’s you: “But Barefoot, I don’t have any experience.”

Here’s me: “Well, go and get some. Freelance on the side. Volunteer. Heck — offer to do the job for free for two weeks to prove you can do it.”

Yes, it takes a bit more elbow grease than submitting the same résumé to 56 applications on Seek.

But if you do this, you’ll be irresistible to any employer … and you’ll be too busy getting job offers to complain about how few jobs there are.

Tread Your Own Path