The Noisy Channel


Recruiting and a Lesson in Attention Scarcity

July 11th, 2010 · 6 Comments · General

Several people have asked me recently for advice on how to recruit for their tech startups. I’ve responded by digging out the following email that someone emailed me last year. I reproduce it in full here, minus the company name:

Subject: we just got Beatles Rock Band for the office and are looking for a vocalist !!

Good Afternoon,

I hope you don’t mind me reaching out to you, but came across your LinkedIn page and my interest is peaked, to say the least. I hope after reading this you feel the same.

If you’re unfamiliar with XXXXXX, we are a distinct small and agile team that functions as an incubated start-up funded by a larger organization. What we are working on is still kind of a secret but I can tell you that it’s focused on completely changing the way we find, consume, share, and manage content on the web today. We are focused on the growing importance of the real-time web and the concurrent need to reduce the noise. We are driven by a strong desire to deliver a better overall experience with a lot less effort required from our users.

Our office is extremely open and collegiate, and we are committed to letting ideas thrive above all else. We’re a very eclectic bunch of characters, but we all share a common commitment to taking whatever we do, fun or work, to the max. Some words that have been used to describe us are: passionate, fun, funny, innovative, contrarian, automagical, brilliant, academic, whimsical, and most importantly respectful. If you fit 3 or more of those descriptions, you might just have some of that magic we’re looking for.

If you’re interested in exploring this opportunity, please email me your resume and I’ll follow up with you ASAP, and have you come by meet the team some time soon.

Either way, I hope to hear from you!

Have a great weekend,

We too are BIG karaoke fans ( I read your website) , and as I said above we just got Beatles Rock Band for the office and are looking for a vocalist !!


I see this email is a poster child of how a startup should recruit. It’s well-written, funny, and shares enough about the opportunity to be an effective hook. Most importantly it’s *personal*. Starting from the subject line that made a great first impression, the email showed proof that the sender–a complete stranger–had taken time to get to know about me.

This is a strategy that does not scale arbitrarily–and that is the whole point. A startup that is building a small team needs to choose its prospective employees carefully and then go after those prospects with full force. If you really want to earn someone’s attention, you have to show that you’ve invested attention yourself. There’s no free lunch–if you want to send out a hundred emails like this one, you’ve got your work cut out for you! But no startup should be recruiting on such a massive scale, and the increase in yield justifies the additional per-candidate investment.

Of course, this principle applies beyond the narrow context of recruiting. Indeed, it is much like an attention bond mechanism: prove to me that you’ve invested in targeting me personally, and I’ll be more inclined to invest my attention in reading your message. Indeed, search advertising follows a similar principle. I still maintain that search is not advertising, but perhaps this aspect of negotiating a shared interest between messenger and messengee is a common thread.

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jane // Jul 12, 2010 at 11:14 am


    Did you join? And what were the deciding factors (e.g. they needed more practice, etc.)?

  • 2 Daniel Tunkelang // Jul 12, 2010 at 12:02 pm

    Jane, I didn’t join them–but I certainly took their interest more seriously than that of various recruiters who were pinging me with more of a shotgun approach.

  • 3 Bob Carpenter // Jul 12, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    Their letter to you may be personalized, but then they blow it in my opinion with their generic description of their secret plan:

    “What we are working on is still kind of a secret but I can tell you that it’s focused on completely changing the way we find, consume, share, and manage content on the web today.”

    Also, I’m not sure I’d want to work with a whimsical, auto-magical contrarian.

  • 4 Daniel Tunkelang // Jul 12, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    Fair point–I’m not particularly a fan of stealth mode for startups, cf.

    Nonetheless, I give these folks credit for being non-generic enough and showing enough personality to help people select themselves out. Perhaps that’s another way of thinking about targeting–the message should appeal to the recipient but shouldn’t look like it was crafted to appeal to everyone.

    For me at least, the whimsicalness was a plus. The auto-magical part, not so much.

  • 5 Dave Lewis // Jul 13, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    Actually, only “automagical” and “respectful” strike me as non-generic. I suspect if we got 10000 startup recruiting letters, the rest of the description of the team, culture, and project would have pretty low IDF values.

  • 6 Daniel Tunkelang // Jul 13, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    Point taken, but I think you’re being a bit harsh. In any case, what I hope is uncontroversial is that they made the targeting very non-generic.

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