Executive Insights

A tech CEO explains why he 'throws CVs out the door' — but places huge value on the cover letter

Business Insider US
Don't rely on you résumé if you're applying for a job at Basecamp, said Jason Fried.
  • Your CVs and credentials are basically irrelevant at the web-development company Basecamp.
  • Instead, CEO Jason Fried wants to see how you do on a sample work project.
  • Basecamp also requires job candidates to walk through the project in a text summary to test their writing skills.
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider SA.

On an episode of the "Work and Life" podcast, Basecamp CEO Jason Fried explained why his company never looked at job candidates' credentials.

"We basically throw résumés out the door," Fried told the host Stew Friedman, who is the founding director of Wharton's Work/Life Integration Project.

It doesn't matter if you went to Harvard or to your local community college - Fried thinks that's more or less irrelevant to your ability to thrive at the web-development company.

In fact, when I spoke with Fried in 2016, he told me that Basecamp had hired several people who didn't graduate from or didn't attend any university and that they're "wicked smart".

A CV "doesn't say anything really about what someone's capable of," Fried told Friedman. "We're always about getting to the realest possible thing, so we can cut through all the fog and find out if this person can do what they say."

One way to do that is to have the candidate complete a sample project. Fried gave Friedman an example: Let's say Basecamp is hiring a designer. It'll give a candidate for that job one week to complete a project - and pay the candidate $1,500 for the work.

Then Basecamp will ask the candidate to walk it through the person's thought process in a written summary of the project. This step is crucial.

"We only hire good writers," Fried told Friedman.

Because Basecamp's employees work all over the world, they communicate mostly via writing. Basecamp also publishes books and blog posts on topics like company culture.

"If you can't make your points clear and concisely - if you can't go into detail in a way that doesn't spark more questions than you're answering, then you're just not going to work out well here," Fried said.

That's why a solid cover letter is key. "Can someone sell us on themselves in a very brief letter that's so well-written and so well-thought out that we're like, 'This person knows how to communicate'?" Fried said.

If there are ever two equally qualified candidates, but one's a more skilled writer, Fried said, "we will always hire the better writer."

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