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I Had a Bot Write My Job Application Cover Letters

These days, there's software that can do the tedious chore of writing your cover letter, so I gave it a try and applied for a ton of open positions.

by Simon Pepper
Nov 16 2018, 5:18pm

Illustration: Hugo Drummond

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

You should have received a memo regarding the fact that we're all about to become redundant. If not, check your junk, it might be the algorithms. This relentless march toward automation is great news, of course, because without jobs we'll finally be able to get on with charcoal drawing, basket weaving, and writing pastoral poetry, like we always wanted.

One of the sweetest ironies is that HR and recruitment—those most meta of jobs—are among those becoming automated fastest. Even back in 2016, a survey found that 40 percent of employers were using technology to pre-screen applications. Given that this technology's now available for free, even prospective paper boys will soon be unlikely to escape automated screening.

In the long-term, this trend will indeed be sweet. It'll remove those interminable silences when you ask someone at a party what they do and they reply: "Oh, I work in HR." Instead, they'll just show you one of their lovely charcoal drawings, or read you a few lines of pastoral poetry, written on scraps of paper they produce from a handwoven basket. In the short-term, though, it's annoying. Because one of the few shreds of comfort left in tapping out another shit cover letter is the belief that someone may have suffered as much reading it as you did writing it.

An Application Tracking System can't suffer. No more could it suffer than a Parser—those algorithms that mercilessly strip away all your lovely adjectives and adverbs and leave you staring at the picked over bones of your pitiful existence. Those seeking to defend such tools argue that they free up time for HR departments' charcoal drawing classes and—as an afterthought—that they eliminate human bias and create a more meritocratic system. Nevertheless, the overwhelming reaction from applicants seems to be one of unease at the idea of a non-sentient being dictating their career prospects, frustration at the fact that their elegant prose and careful font choice (of Garamond) can produce no effect on a digital reader, and anger at how much better their HR executive friends' charcoal drawings are than their own, what with all that newly liberated time for classes.

One logical solution, then, would be for HR departments to revert to the old methods, hire more staff and take the time to appreciate the lovely serifs and cadences of your cover letter. You know, and I know, however, that the minute they start to see a dip in the quality of their charcoal drawings that'll all go up in smoke. So, wouldn't a much better option be to level the recruitment playing-field?

I'm proposing that applicants make use of the algorithmic resources available to us as well, for such resources do exist. If you're looking to set up a fully automated job scraper and applier for Indeed, for example, then you need only search for it on AskJeeves or Yahoo, or wherever. You'll basically need a coding qualification to use it, though, and if you have one of those, you don't need help applying for a job.

For the rest of us—those of us who had to lie about Microsoft Office competency on our unread cover letters—there is another option: Botnik, "a community of writers, artists, and developers using machines to create things on and off the internet." The lazy person's solution to semi-automated writing.

Here's how it's going to work:

Treat yourself to a fresh Word doc. and drop in a previous cover letter—an early draft, before you moved the paragraphs around too much and overcomplicated things. Tie a rope securely around your waist and descend into the depths of Indeed. Find an ad for a job that you wouldn't be embarrassed to mention between sips of a Doombar outside a pub at 6ish on a Thursday. I, for example, have found a desirable role at the seemingly prestigious Mongoose Gray—a company that either witnessed the branding success of comparethemarket.com and thought: What other large small mammals are there? or believed that their management consultancy would be the perfect tribute to Rikki Tikki Tavi.

Here's their actual genuine ad:

1542371695599-mongoose

It's immediately clear that no human could possess all the contradictory characteristics Rikki Tikki expects of them, even for the princely sum of £35,000 [$45,000]. The only option, then, is to weave together a gaudy cloak of language and use it to disguise your many shortcomings. If you succeed in accurately mimicking their manner of communication, perhaps they won't notice that you have no concept of what they do.

Get on the company's "About Us" section; this will periodically appear under the guise of "What We Do" or "Our Vision" or "Why We're the Best at What We Do." Then, the "Who We Are" section and any LinkedIn and Twitter accounts you stumble upon subsequently. Harvest all the information about the current employees' skills, passions, and hopes for the future, then throw it into the word soup.

1542371672645-word-soup

Once you've chosen your file as the source for the writer app, simply pick from the words you're offered and watch as the perfect cover letter materializes before your very eyes. Get creative. But ensure your letter makes grammatical sense. Have fun. But do meet the deadline.

Here's what I got:

Dear Sir or hiring Madam,

I am writing to apply to help seriously champion your clients because they are performing people and that's why. I experience a singularly powerful passion for finding novel solutions; technology, regardless of where, is brilliant. The difference between me and other candidates: I have knowledge and culture, I speak French, they are merely machines. I can empathize and seduce very well.

After graduating in Computer Investments and Targeting, I spent time responsibly sourcing headhunters. I found it fascinating to nurture everyone and to give unwavering trust. My work taught me to deliver, deliver, deliver. Completing became everything and if there were any delays, I would see red. I learned to use spin as a way of oiling the wheels. I improved every day. My desire to pursue tasks immediately is why they are very easy for me to do. I have armed myself with transferrable skills: optimization, up-selling, context obtaining, and imperial dancing.

2016 saw me plagued by successful ideas, typically to do with developing original ideas. I created a technical project to mitigate traded reports and slowly but surely helped 35,000 candidates working for money in Asia to recognize personal acquaintances. Hundreds of lives were saved. Internships at St. £ Entrepreneurial Group and Paris Tango Inc. increased the size of my comfort zone and improved my skiing. Sure, I enjoy photography. I enjoy reading. But look at it from my perspective: If you want a house, you have to build it. Opportunities are like that too.

Just consider this: Hiring someone like me will be significant. I am credible enough to excite you, so what’s the interview date?

Yours probably,

Florian

For the purposes of this article, I created an alter ego: Florian Venn. A name suggesting an ability to simultaneously overlap with others while also remaining different. From the initial covering letter, it was possible to distill the essence of the character.

Here is Florian's impressive life reduced into a more digestible format for the time-pressed, indigestion-suffering recruiter:

1542370152587-florian-cv

Then, one Sunday night in late August, I fired off a dozen of perfectly-pitched cover letters to a whole spread of companies.

Monday dawned cloudy with a chance of employment. The first email to hit the inbox was from British and American Tobacco, knowing a morally upstanding citizen when they saw one and giving Florian a look-in for Europe & North Africa Commercial Finance Intern. Shortly afterward, I had Ella at Deverell Smith Property Recruitment on the phone, gushing over Florian's promising cover letter. I took stock over honey nut cornflakes and a Ribena, before Shane from Together Fundraising—a "face-to-face communications agency"—swooped in to fill the noontime lull. After a lunch of split-pea soup and Quavers, Gillian at GiveAGradAGo stuck her oar in, flattering Florian over his "interesting experience," and then, quick as a wink, Cara from Meltwater Media Intelligence was in my face about a phone interview. Even Mongoose Gray couldn't spoil my day with this actual genuine gloating reply:

1542370712836-mongoose-email

Sitting down to Snickers pie that evening, I had no fewer than seven tasty job leads, and I wasn’t even a real human being.

So, look, what can we take from all this?

What's clear is that sub-optimal applicants need all the help we can get. Be that from your employed friend who promises to read your application, but who—when you send it to them the night before it's due—is holding a Doombar outside a pub; or from a robot, who arguably cares about your long-term prospects just as much..

And you may be saying: You're never going to succeed in a job you couldn't get legitimately.

But all you need is a foot in the door. A foot in the door and some sturdy shoes to withstand all the slamming on your foot that’s going to occur over the 30 to 40 years of your career.

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