[Part 1] a Tale of Two Job Applications: From a Broken, Pointless Process to Being Hired at Applied

Published by:
Joe Caccavale
November 13, 2019
min read

Debiased Hiring Bundle

This is part 1 of our candidate experience series - talking to real Applied candidates about their experience of our data-lead blind hiring process.

Want to find hear an unsuccessful candidate's story? Read part 2: The View From The Other Side – How a rejection can actually be positive.

Palms sweaty. 

Knees weak.

Arms heavy.

I can never seem to shake the last minute nerves before any sort of interview, whether it be via phone, skype or plastic cups and string. 

At least this time I had my frantically scribbled notes to hand and knew what to expect.

What I didn’t know was that this video interview was just the tip of an endless, bias-laden iceberg of a process that would make me see traditional hiring for what it is… broken.

So, here’s how to hire yourself a content marketer (if you want to alienate them to the point that they actually give up on the application altogether).

Feel my pain already? Feel free to give this post a share and give stale, status-quo, dinosaur-ish hiring methods the bad name they deserve!

Chapter 1: how not to hire

Cover letter & CV - same old story

Mulder & Scully? Holmes & Watson? Name a more classic duo than CVs & Cover Letters. The employer who must not be named, received my very finest resume and butt-kissing letter. 

Nothing new to see here folks.

Video interviews - the gauntlet begins

How many video interviews would you false-smile your way through before reaching boiling point? 

For me, three did the trick.

First, your run-of-the-mill HR screening. Why am I applying? Ideal culture? What I’m looking for etc - no idea of salary as of yet.

Then I had a call with the Marketing Manager. Same as above plus a few more role specific questions sprinkled on top for good measure.

I was then asked to do a written task. A ‘catchy newsletter’. I have nothing against tasks per se, but writing a newsletter when I don’t know what the news is? That’s a challenge.

At this point, I thought I’d be going through to a face-to-face interview (or at least be put out of my misery). Instead, I was subjected to another video interview. This time with a different region’s Marketing Manager. I know, lucky me!

Face-to-face interviews - impartiality is lost

This is where it gets interesting. 

In at the deep end - in-person interview number one was with the Country Director. This was the most ‘proper’ of all the interviews, though it did involve delving into the ins and outs of my entire life to date. Still, it beat the slew of cookie-cutter, google-generated questions of previous rounds.

Next, in comes an Account Executive with a treasure chest of not-so-impartial questions up their sleeve.

My personal favourite: do you like football?

If this isn’t the most bias-inducing interview question you’ve ever heard, please do get at me with a better one.

Or, how about: do you enjoy travelling? 

To be honest with you, I’m not what you’d call an avid traveller, unless you count a 3-week Thailand trip and a handful of European city breaks. Does this mean that I can’t whip up some killer content? I’ll let you be the judge.

*Note: Still no mention of salary.

For the last of my face-to-face bonanza, an interview with the co-founder. 

What’s my biggest weakness? How would my boss describe me? Essential to determine my ability to do the job I’d applied for, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Plus, more quizzing about the culture I’d like to work in (queue my fourth regurgitation of the company’s values I had read on their website). 

Since three back-to-back interviews couldn’t possibly be enough, I was then tossed into a ‘meet the team’ test, which turned out to be beers on a balcony.
Do I have to drink? Am I being chatty enough? Too chatty? Must… bond... with... team.

References - has it come to this?

Just when you thought it was all over.

Despite naively believing the process was over and I’d get the good or bad news any second, I was informed (3 weeks later) that I’d made it to the last two candidates.

And to decide between us…(drum roll)

I needed to provide the details of two managers, who would then receive a call and presumably either sing my praises or throw me under a double decker. 

This was the email that broke the candidate’s back. I’d only had one previous (proper) job. So this meant breaking the news to my employers that I was leaving, then asking for their help to do so.

I was in utter disbelief.

Surely the final, deciding factor couldn’t possibly be this? A how-nice-is-your-manager-off.

After some soul searching, head scratching and chin stroking, I made the call...

I ditched my application and went back to scouring job boards.

Psst. Ever had a bafflingly bias job application you think could go toe-to-toe with the one above? If so, let me know! I’m all ears…

Summary - all Pain, no Gain

The result: 1 lost candidate, 6 lost hours of employees’ time across 2 countries and a negative Glassdoor review… when I get around to it.

And after all the above, nobody was any the wiser… about anything!

I had no clue what I’d be doing there or how much I’d be paid and the mystery company had little idea of how suitable I was for the role (bar an open-ended, news-less newsletter). They were far more concerned with my hobbies, travel history, life-of-the-party-ness and former managers’ opinion of me.

It’s not all doom and gloom though.

This harrowing (but somewhat bemusing) experience lead to a realisation that would result in me taking up arms here at Applied...

The hiring process as we know it, is defective.

I couldn’t, and still can't get my head around how I managed to get so far with just a single test of my skills. I suppose strong opinions on Video Assistant Referees would’ve probably served me a lot better.

If a backpacking, Budweiser-guzzling Arsenal supporter is what you’re after, then this process is spot on. As you were.

However, if you’re looking for a predictive means of hiring that candidates actually enjoy (me included), there is another way!

A week or so after pulling the plug on my application, I stumbled upon Applied’s job ad for a content marketer. 

Now, to be honest with you, I wasn’t feeling all that enthusiastic at first. I was leaning more towards giving up on civilised society and becoming a forest dwelling hermit than cobbling together another cover letter.

But, as it turned out, this was no ordinary application.

Here’s how I became Applied’s resident mouthpiece… and had my faith in recruitment restored.

Chapter 2: how I got hired at Applied

Sift questions - goodbye CV, my old friend

Instead of ye olde CV and Cover Letter, I answered four role-relevant questions. You know, the kind that might actually reflect my ability to do the job I’m applying for… no previous roles, eduction, profile photos, Linkedin URL etc required.

I’ll admit, I felt iffy about parting ways with my long-time resume companion, especially since I’d just given it a rather sharp makeover (even if I do say so myself). 

But, the work sample questions that replaced it were a clear test of the everyday, in-the-trenches, bread and butter skills I’d be needing to get by at Applied, which gave me just enough of a flavour for how the role would actually be… with little room for copy/paste cover letters most candidates settle for (you know who you are).

For example, I was asked:

  • 'How do you decide on what topics to create content for? How do you decide whether an idea is worth pursuing?'
  • 'Craft a short post (250 words) about why unconscious bias is a problem in recruitment and why it is important to tackle'.
  • Give an example of a company that is doing content marketing really well, explain why?

Oh, and did I mention I knew the salary before applying. Shock horror!

Round 1 interview - Putting my skills to the test

Once through to the next stage, I had a‘structured’ interview.

You’re probably wondering what on earth a ’structured interview’ is. Well, it means that all candidates answer the same preset questions in the same order, for the sake of fairness and to avoid bias.

A complete 180° from the off the top, freestyling interviews I had endured a few weeks prior.

In the interview, I was asked questions about my process and skills (the ones needed to succeed as a Content Marketer - not, say, my knack for necking balcony beers). There was no ‘going with the flow’, and a distinct absence of football-related questioning.

There were also situational questions for me to tackle. Generally, these tend to send me into a complete system meltdown, although I managed to pull through (apparently well enough to get the job *pats self on back*).

What got my cogs really turning was that I was being tested on my own merits alone. No relying on impressive-sounding companies I’d worked for or a red-brick uni degree - not that I had either of these in the first place.

Round 2 interview - Getting to know ya’

The next round consisted of more structured questions, this time with more of a focus on me (as a marketer, as opposed to my travel resume, favourite team, pineapple on pizza preference etc). 

I got to express my love of all things content and startups, which required me to switch off the autopilot that had successfully guided me through to the final stages of my previous application process.

Written task - sealing the deal

As a final test of my content capabilities, I was tasked with writing a case study. 

A relatively quick and straightforward task, especially since this time around, I was actually given somewhat of a brief, as much as l missed writing unknown-news-newsletters.

Again, this also gave me a pretty good idea of what I’d be doing, should I be hired at Applied.

I’s dotted.

T’s crossed.

 I submitted my case study, crossed my fingers and braced for the incoming rejection email...

Then I got the call.


Huh? No reference checks? No ‘culture’ obsessed co-founders? No balcony beer bonding? 

Had I actually just been hired based on my ability? Just my ability?

Then the icing on my career-move cake… I received something that made me really lose my sh*t...


A job-seeker’s goldust.

The precious, rarest commodity in the recruiting realm.

Through all the hits and misses of my three year marketing career, I have never received feedback on any application.

So, you can imagine my astonishment when I saw this:

This is just a sliver of the tasty feedback pie I received.

Summary - my first positive candidate experience

The result: 1 hired candidate, 2 hours of employees’ time, a 5 star Glassdoor review and feedback for me to see where I’d smashed it and where I’d dropped the ball.

It was refreshing not to be judged on the prestigiousness (or lack thereof) of my uni or relations with ex- managers (breakups can get messy). Instead it was as if I was being judged on, errr, my skills. Which when you say it out loud, sounds like how it should be!

Applied assessed me on what mattered and what was relevant… nothing else.

Plus, by using the Applied platform to bag my role here (and a lovely desk plant I creatively named Planty), I already understood how the product worked for candidates and why it’s making waves in the HR world, before even stepping through the door.

Me & Planty.

Applied was built to assess candidates on their ability to do the job and remove unconscious bias from the hiring process to find the best person for the job, every time.

Take the first step in transforming your candidate experience and request a demo now. Too soon? Feel free to browse our handy guide on removing bias & designing an experience candidates love.