Recap of round two responses

First off, I want to thank everyone who has participated so far. Aside from a very small number of annoying people, most of you were great. Of the 1,500 people who had the opportunity to participate in Round 2, about 800 finished and returned the application on time. This was the Round 2 application:

Make sure to follow all the specific instructions. Where I am vague or don’t explain everything, do the best you can, or figure out a novel or smart way to solve the problem. Though following instructions is important, part of this application tests how well you think critically and independently, operate under uncertainty, and solve problems with limited information, so because of this, I won’t respond to questions or requests for further directions.

Instructions:

1. This application must be submitted via Google Docs. If you don’t know how to use Google Docs, or don’t have a Google account…figure it out.

2. Make sure the application questions AND your answers are in the document. Name the document “Tucker Max Research Assistant Gig Application–[insert your name].”

3. When you are completely finished, share the document with this email address: tuckermaxassistant@gmail.com. Make sure you check the box that says “Notify by email”.

4. The deadline for submission is 11pm CST on January 25th. If it is submitted after the deadline, it will not be considered.

5. For the application questions, no answer should be longer than 300 words. The shorter, the better. Your answers will be evaluated on both content and technique–what you say and how you say it. And yes, spelling and grammar matter for this job, so they matter here.
The Application Questions:

1. What accomplishment are you most proud of? Why?

2. Why do you want to do this gig? I know the obvious reasons–the ones already listed in the job posting–but what are your specific, personal reasons? What goals do you hope to advance for yourself and what do you hope to get out of this job?

3. Answer only one of a, b or c:
3a. Assume Tucker were to write a blog post about an interesting new development in book publishing and marketing. He asks you to recommend the five best sites/blogs that cover issues surrounding book publishing, book marketing, media, etc that might be interested in cross-posting his piece of writing. What sites would you recommend, and why?

3b. Assume Tucker were to write a blog post about an interesting new development in piracy and copyright issues. He asks you to recommend the five best sites/blogs that cover issues surrounding piracy, copyright, intellectual property, etc that might be interested in cross-posting his piece of writing. What sites would you recommend, and why?

3c. Assume Tucker wrote a new funny story that he wanted to post on the internet, but not his own site. He asks you to recommend the five best comedy/humor/writing sites etc that might be interested in posting his piece of writing. What sites would you recommend, and why?

4. Link to your Facebook and Twitter accounts. If you only use one of the two, just send the link to the one you use, and explain why you don’t use the other one. If you don’t use either Facebook or Twitter, explain why not.

5. In addition to the above links (if any), what things online do you think best show your work ethic, intelligence, and ability? You can include blogs, tumblrs, a photo collection, an essay–basically anything that a potential employer would find valuable to see. There is one limit: Do NOT just link to a resume. Show, don’t tell.

Analysis of answers:

I’ll do the same thing I did last time and go through each question, talk about why I asked it, what I was looking for, and what some of the good and bad answers were.

1. What accomplishment are you most proud of? Why?

So this looks like one of those stupid generic college essay type questions, right? After the analysis of round 1, did you really think I was just asking a generic throwaway question for no reason? No chance. This question was worded very specifically, and was essentially the key to the whole set of questions.

Here’s the deal with that question: Most of the time, this question is worded so that it asks about an “obstacle” you’ve overcome, or how you set a goal and met it. I don’t give a shit about that–we all have obstacles, the point of life is not what barriers stand in front you, the point is what you accomplish in spite of them. I put this question first to immediately see what kind of person I was dealing with; has this person has actually done anything in their life, what do they think is important and why, are they a doer or are they a talker?

The MOST important thing to have a good answer is that its about something specific. It doesn’t have to be some amazing accomplishment, I mean shit, if you had done all kinds of great stuff, why would you be applying for an entry level research assistant position? I just wanted to see if the person has actually done something worth talking about, and how they talked about it. Here are some examples of bad answers:


Bad Answer #1:

It is almost impossible to determine one from a multitude of events that could possibly be considered the definitive “greatest accomplishment”. I think Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best with, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

First off, I didn’t say “greatest,” this person can’t read. Second, this person has clearly done nothing at all in their life, and makes excuses to themselves about it. NO chance this person can effectively work for me.


Bad Answer #2:

“the accomplishment that I am most proud of is having remained courageous in the face of trouble. As most young adults, I’ve faced a lot of hardship in various forms. Some has been inevitable, like the death of a grandparent or the backlash of an overdrawn bank account. It’s the unexpected, such as abruptly losing a job, that forced me to pick my battles. My recent past has been anything but ideal. I have never been more astonished at my ability to have overcome all the tribulation in order to triumph.”

What the fuck does that mean? Getting over Grandma’s death is an accomplishment? Why? How? The fact that they haven’t collapsed under some utterly pedestrian problems that everyone on earth faces? But what exactly have they done?

Bad Answer #3:

“I am most proud of my accomplishment in the area of seeking, finding and building on my inner core transient strength, personal self~awareness and professional pursuits. I have fought my inner dragons, there were many, and some still reside within ~ peacefully and by permission. I find them to be quite useful in times of needed sarcasm or satire.”

OK…but what SPECIFICALLY did you DO? This person just rambled about nothing. They may have something very specific in mind, but if they can’t communicate that to me, then they can’t work at a job where written communication is essential.

Bad Answer #4:

“The accomplishment that I’m most proud of possessing in my young, adult life is the art of expression. Why? Because I feel that it plays a role in the self-aware human being that I am. That if I’m everything that I am and aspire to be, then all will be well. That you cannot wait on people, that what you want, you have to go for it…that you are what is stopping you or moving you forward. That watching situations in life simply play out can be aesthetically charming. That not wearing a watch is novel. That truth is far superior to fallacy. That every day I can add to my identity healthily. That focusing on community warms the cockles. That there’s always “good” or “bad”…far too subjective; it’s better not to judge. That I shouldn’t regret any of my actions, but reap the consequences. That self-loathing can be fun. That friend’s are the best support system. That you don’t have to know much to know much of anything. That if you smile big, it often swoons. That reservations make me want to run the other way. That sending postcards to those most cherished and those who need a smile brightens everyone’s world. That my sleeves are rolled up, but I’ve still got tricks. That sometimes, “something has to come up”. That if you don’t bite the bullet, you may regret it. That if you’ve gained something from a negative, consider it a positive. That if you focus on honesty, you’ll be happier. That when someone’s actions begin to affect you, it’s probably time to refocus on yourself. That I don’t need someone to hold my hand in social situations; I am a social situation.”

This person wrote 300 words, and said NOTHING. Just regurgitated a bunch of meaningless new age crap. This is the very definition of a bad answer; I didn’t ask what attributes you like about yourself or what positive traits you possess; I asked about an ACCOMPLISHMENT you are proud of. What specific accomplishment in mentioned there? None.

Bad Answer #5:

“This is supposed to be the easy question right? I’m 24 years old, middle class and Caucasian. I have not overcome any great adversities because thankfully I have not been faced with any. I graduated college. I am three classes away from a master’s degree, have a full time job and I am not addicted to crack. Life is good but I have not accomplished anything that I am incredibly proud of…yet. Ask me again when I am 30 and I have lived a life outside the confines of the “get good grades, get a degree and get a job” plan.”

No, it’s not supposed to be easy. The fact is, when confronted with the whole of their lives, most people can’t point to anything noteworthy they’ve actually done. This specific answer best shows what the difference between overcoming an obstacle and accomplishing something is. This person is in a masters program, but doesn’t mention that as something they’ve accomplished–they seem to think that unless they had some awful obstacle in their life, they haven’t done anything. Bullshit.

And the fact is, if you DON’T have any major obstacles in your life, it should be much EASIER to accomplish cool things. If that’s the case, and you haven’t done ANYTHING that you’re proud enough of to talk about in a 300 word short essay, you have failed yourself.

Good answers ranged the gamut, things like: being an Eagle Scout, completing a marathon, learning to program HTML because they couldn’t afford a web designer, setting up a charity or a business, etc, etc. There were even people who were proud of overcoming an obstacle in their life, like having a drunk abusive mother or something and having a great life in spite of that. I was even OK with that type of answer, as long as the person described a SPECIFIC thing or set of actions they did to overcome that obstacle, and WHY it mattered to them.

 

2. Why do you want to do this gig? I know the obvious reasons–the ones already listed in the job posting–but what are your specific, personal reasons? What goals do you hope to advance for yourself and what do you hope to get out of this job?

This was a sneaky tough question that ended up eliminating a lot of people. I want an assistant who is in this for the right reasons, because that person will work harder and be more diligent than someone doing this for the wrong reasons. The wrong reasons are pretty basic: money, putting something on your resume, being bored, or wanting the status of “working for Tucker Max.”

People who worry about what is on their resume are not the type of people who become successful in life. What’s on your resume is completely meaningless–what matters is WHAT YOU DO IN YOUR LIFE. People who worry about resumes are the ones who wake up at 40 with all the accouterments of success, but hate everything about their lives because there is no substance. The people who instead worry about the meaning of what they do are the ones who do things that matter. This is a problem endemic to most young people who buy into the bullshit of the American educational system; they think life is about checking off boxes, about collecting the right things to put on their resume, not about actually accomplishing something meaningful.

It’s not that you can’t put this gig on your resume, or that wanting to do things that can help you in the future is wrong, but how you frame that idea in your mind shows what kind of person you are. For example, saying “I want to put this on my resume” is VASTLY different than saying “I want to learn about writing and learn more of the research skills that this job will require, and take those skills to then do other things in my life.” Pretty much anyone who indicated that what they wanted out of the job was status or a line a resume, without also indicating that they cared about the work because of what it meant to them or the skills it would give them, got cut.

But those weren’t the worst answers. The worst were the ones that indicated they wanted this job to give them something that they could already have on their own. For example:

“I want to do something more with my life than what I have accomplished thus far and I need an out.”

“The gig will put me at the starting gate to get work done.”

“I want to become a writer”

On all of those, I would then I go down to question #5, and there would be NOTHING THERE. These people want to write, but don’t write. Why not?? What the fuck is stopping you? I don’t care if your writing is good or not, but if you say you WANT to do it, and you AREN’T doing it, that is proof that you aren’t a motivated person who truly wants to get better. What you want are the indicators of status without putting in the actual work. This is a real answer that best exemplifies that attitude:

“My answer to this question is simple. I’d like to be able to confidently put something down for question 5 of this application, meaning I’d love to see my hard work translate into a finished product. So far, I’ve gotten through school with little-to-no challenge. Presently, all I have to show for my work are excellent grades. I would love to be able to hold something tangible I helped create and to feel pride in my contribution.”

THEN WHY HAVEN’T YOU DONE IT YET?? Do you realize how easy it is to do something, ANYTHING, that you can be proud of? Fuck man, put up a fucking blog. Try to write a novel. Shit, just read a book a week and write a review of each! It doesn’t have to be good, it just has to show you are going to put in the work without having an immediate benefit. And not only that, but how the fuck do you ever expect to get good without being willing to put the work in on your own? I will never understand that attitude, and I don’t want those people working with me.

Look, I know it’s really hard to do something great. But it is SO EASY to just do something, anything, that there is no excuse to not have started and at least made an attempt to get where you want to be. None.

 

3. Answer only one of a, b or c: [Review of copyright, book or comedy sites]

So the answers to this question were pretty much uniformly disastrous. Virtually none of you have any real idea effective understanding of media and marketing. But, you know what? I don’t really care–I can teach you that. What really mattered to me on this question was two things:

1. Did you make a good solid effort to identify and analyze five sites that made sense?

2. Did you present the information on the page in a clear, comprehensive way?

I am OK with people who don’t know enough–I can teach you anything you need to know to do this job. Facts, knowledge, wisdom are not the issue. What I cannot teach is desire, or perseverance, or effort, or anything like that, and this question was designed to ferret out the people who care about getting the answer right, pay attention to details and who care about doing a good job.

 

4. Link to your Facebook and Twitter accounts. If you only use one of the two, just send the link to the one you use, and explain why you don’t use the other one. If you don’t use either Facebook or Twitter, explain why not.

I thought I would use this question to look at peoples Facebook/Twitter accounts to make sure they aren’t weirdos. Then, the second application in I clicked on the Facebook account and it was a stunningly hot girl. I almost let her through to the third round, despite the fact that otherwise her application was a disaster; she’d made every mistake I wrote about above. After that, I didn’t click on anymore accounts, because I didn’t want to have anyone’s appearance impact my decision.

The one thing that surprised me was how many people don’t use Twitter. Pretty much everyone either had a Facebook account or had one and then deleted it. A lot of people still don’t use Twitter. Not all that important, but was interesting to me.

 

5. In addition to the above links (if any), what things online do you think best show your work ethic, intelligence, and ability? You can include blogs, tumblrs, a photo collection, an essay–basically anything that a potential employer would find valuable to see. There is one limit: Do NOT just link to a resume. Show, don’t tell.

You’d be shocked at how many people didn’t put anything here. Nothing. For fucks sake, its not like you need a world class blog, but if there is NO evidence on the internet that you do anything in your life other than Facebook posts, why should I be confident you’re going to do a good job with work that is very much internet based? There was one girl whose application was utterly pedestrian, but she put up a short little landing page with a video about why she wanted this job, and I put her right through. She showed ACTION and INITIATIVE, which is always good.

This question is essentially an extension of #1, and was such an easy way to eliminate people. For example, there were about 100 people who had some version of this answer under question 1 or 2, “I’m not really sure what I want to do with the my life but I’ve always wanted to write. I don’t know where to start and this seems like something that could help direct me in a field of interest.” And then under this question, they’d say something like, “Unfortunately, what you see on facebook is what you get. I don’t have anything else.”

WHAT THE FUCK!! This confused the shit out of me for awhile, until one application, and it all made sense. This was an answer under #1 for someone that had nothing under #5:

“All I know is that I want to move to New York City and live the life of a writer.”

OK, now I get it. Notice how this person didn’t say they want to write. And nothing else in their application talked anything at all related to actually writing. They said they want to “live the life of a writer.”

That’s the problem: So many people who applied for this job don’t care about the work, all they care about is the status that the work will get them. They want an identity that they perceive as cool or high status or meaningful, but they don’t want to put in the work, or take the risk, that living that life entails. Don’t get me wrong: I was the same fucking way at 22. It’s a very common mindset–and it’s exceeding dangerous to your success and happiness. I said it earlier and I meant it: 22 year old Tucker Max wouldn’t have made it through this process, and I don’t want those people working for me. They make awful assistants.

Ultimately, that’s what this round of application was about: Weeding those people out, the people who want the rewards without being willing to put in the work. I can’t tell if you can do research with this application–round 3 is about that. What this application did was get rid of the people who aren’t doing this for the right reasons, and thus won’t be reliable or hard working when I need them most.

 

Some other issues I encountered:

-A LOT of entries were dismissed because of basic problems, the main two being they didn’t follow the document naming rule or put the question in the application with the answer. If you made either of those mistakes, I did NOT read your application. It may have been awesome, but you need to follow directions. Whats crazy about this is that while a ton of people made those mistakes, I only found 1 entry that broke the 300 word limit on an answer. Why did so many people not name the document correctly, or put the questions in the doc, but ALL of them got the word limit right?

-So many page design issues. If you can’t clearly organize information on a page, then how can I expect you to do that in a research report?

-There were some people who were preposterously overqualified for this position. If you’re making 200k+ a year at a sales job, why the fuck would you want to do a shitty research assistant job? That made no sense to me, and no one explained this in their application. I get that maybe you want a new career or new challenge, but once you reach a certain station in life, this job is not how you start over. This is an entry level job. For the most part, I rejected people who seemed way too overqualified; those people are usually entitled and won’t be hungry enough to put in the work I need from an assistant. If you are one of those people, and you applied to this job because you want to change your life in some way, understand this: You can’t make major life changes in a safe way. It takes risk. Decide what you want to do, and go do it, but trying to ride the rail who you hold the rail won’t work.

-Lots of people tried to bullshit me, e.g., “I have a passion for marketing.” No you don’t. The only people who say that are people who have never worked in marketing. It is entirely possible that people lied to me about something in their application, but that’s different than bullshitting. Leave the stupid corporate crap for your interviews with HR at Proctor & Gamble.

-I really need to write something up about how to become a writer, what it means to be a writer, how to get started in the business, etc. SO MANY people gave that as their personal reason for wanting this gig, and you know what, I agree with you: There is nothing on the internet, and no book I’ve ever found, that accurately describes what its like to be a creative writing professional. There are some books that do a decent job of covering certain aspects of writing, but nothing that puts it all together. I have been thinking about that for awhile, and I’d say at least 30% of the people mentioned something about this. I’m going to put that on my 2012 to do list.

 

One last word:

Aside from the ones that made obvious instructional errors (like not naming the document properly), I read all 800+ of the second round submission applications. If people took the time to work on these then I owed them the courtesy of actually reading them. After I was done, my overwhelming emotion was profound sadness. And not because I thought the majority of people were stupid or annoying or anything like that. Not at all–I was sad because so many of these people had genuine desires to work to improve themselves and do something good with their lives, but had no idea how to actually do that.

To me, that doesn’t speak poorly of them; it means our social and educational system has failed them. If a young healthy person is interested enough in life to even get to the second round of this process, but is still totally clueless about how to accomplish something in their own life…that means they’ve been failed by the people and institutions around them. We’re not talking about societal rejects. These are sincere people who are trying to do something with their lives, who are motivated to contribue to society, but can’t see how or where to put their effort in a way that will effectively and appropriately reward them, or just don’t know where to start.

To all the people who talked about wanting this job because it would help them do things they want to do with their life:

Look, you can do all of that without me. I want all of you, whether you are in the third round or not, to heed this advice. If you want to do something with your life, then start right now. Decide that you are going to do something that you like, that creates value and makes you proud, then go do it. If you aren’t sure where to start, that’s OK–just start anywhere. Do something. Start small, with steps you can manage, create some action, and keep going with. From there, iterate, learn, recalibrate, and keep going. Look at this real quote from a submission:

“There’s plenty of things i could list as reasons to wanting this gig. However the most prevalent reason personally, is the fact that i get a chance to show how well i can work. I’ve never been given this kind of opportunity before and I’m excited to see how much success can come from it. I hope to get some good experience under my belt and something to show employers when i attend interviews or meetings. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m not willing to let it slip between my fingers.”

You have the opportunity right now, regardless of whether or not you work with me. The world is full of opportunity, you just need to decide you’re going to take advantage of it, then go out and work at it. You can do it.