My dog applied for a job

With apologies to many hard-working responsive and ethical recruiters and companies.

Dear Sir/Madam,

I wish to apply for the role of xxxx on behalf of my dog Lexi. I attach her cv and photograph. I know that you don’t normally ask for photos and that to discriminate on looks is probably illegal, but she is very cute. I would expect you to be entirely professional about this, but if you do get to meet her I can provide treats for you to give her and she will be your friend and lick you.

You may be a little surprised that my dog is applying but I am assuming that she has as much chance as I have of getting an interview. When I applied for the role my cv matched your job description exactly and I have all the personal qualities listed. I can only imagine that your response to me must have been lost when my email server went down (although I wasn’t aware that it had). Your website describes your company values and I couldn’t imagine that you wouldn’t at least reply. In fact there have been some companies that I had an interview with who didn’t reply even after I had met them. Maybe if I’d taken my dog with me I would have been more memorable and had a response.

Given that you have been advertising the role for some time and continue to do so I can only imagine that you are finding it hard to recruit the right person, so Lexi could be a good solution.

Anyway, Lexi is very collaborative which is one of the skills that you are looking for. She is very open to anyone throwing her ball for her and will often bring it back, so she’s very easy to work with. I have found that introduced to a group of people she will often lift the mood and so will be a great asset in the office.

Her stakeholder management skills are second to none as she usually is very persuasive. She achieves this by staring at people with big eyes, a bit like the cat in Shrek. By the way if you’re more of a cat person we did have cats but sadly the last one disappeared recently otherwise I could have applied for her as well.

There is no question that Lexi is better behaved than many people. She has never thrown up due to drunkeness, is good to children, and doesn’t smash up city centres after football matches. She is clean and tidy – much more so than people, given the evidence of my local park or any beach after a sunny day. I have a good supply of poo bags for the only deposits she is likely to leave behind.

I believe that if Lexi is required to fill in a personality profile (I hope it will be ok for me to press the buttons on her behalf) she will sail through. She is assertive, ambitious, collaborative (as I’ve said), attentive, kind (she lets children stroke her), all positive attributes in a busy office.

Her cognitive abilities are also outstanding. She has great verbal reasoning skills, responding to words such as ‘sit’, ‘come’, ‘stay’ (for a while) etc as she reasons that she will earn a treat as a result, which is sometimes true. Lexi has good numerical skills. If there is one treat to her left and two treats to her right, she will turn to the right.

You don’t need to worry if the psychometric tests aren’t especially relevant to the job as that seems to be normal, although they are quite useful at reducing the annoyingly large number of applicants by applying an arbitrary pass mark that has been determined by highly qualified experts who have never done the job being applied for. You may find it simpler to spin a coin. If you do save a lot of money by taking this approach please send me a cut.

I hope it will be possible to make some reasonable accommodations to the office space for Lexi. A small grass mat in the toilets (or suitable location) would be required, and an open space where ball throwing is permitted would be desirable. The canteen may need to review the menu. I would assume that sleeping on the job is not an issue as you offer flexible working arrangements.

I note that your office is located on a flood plain. Should it be required Lexi is a good swimmer, and could potentially perform a first aid role by towing non-swimmers to safety. Provision would have to be made for a supply of small sticks to encourage her to go in the right direction. I attach a further photo by way of illustration.

Lexi swimming (sort of)

With regard to salary Lexi’s demands are quite modest, and she would be ok with the same shamefully low amount that you would have paid me had I not missed your reply.

If you do decide to invite Lexi for an interview the best question to ask her is ‘How are you feeling?’ because then she can say ‘Ruff’. It may be best for the rest of the interview to be skills based, as she can sometimes lose interest in having a conversation. Mind you, if she gets too excited she can shout quite a lot, which could be useful if burglars are in the vicinity.

The one possible drawback is that Lexi has little concept of your brand or what you company does. To be frank the same applies to me, despite the fact that I said in my application that yours was the only company I’d ever wanted to work for (I’m not sure if you got that far in the letter). I’d copied that bit from a website to which I’d paid several hundred pounds that guaranteed to get me any job I wanted. That clearly didn’t work and I will have to consult my learned friends about a remedy. Nevertheless I hope that Lexi’s honesty will count in her favour if you read as far as this.

Please do not attempt to reply to this application by email as it appears to be unreliable. Even the postal service isn’t what it used to be. I suggest that you leave the interview invitation with your receptionist (not sooner than one week please), and the next time I’m going past when taking Lexi for a walk I’ll drop in and pick it up. Please also ensure that there is a bowl of water and an appropriate treat. Mine’s a pint.

Yours

Nick Gassman (on behalf of Lexi)

Why should I care who is tracking me online?

Why should I care if companies and organisations can collect information about me across the Internet? Let’s be clear, I’m not for a moment advocating a lack of control or transparency. I do think that it should be compulsory for anyone collecting my data to let me know what they are collecting and how they are going to use it. I think I should have control over what can be collected and how it is used and that there should be significant penalties for anyone who abuses the rules. It is also incumbent on data collectors to hold the information securely. If someone has my data and only uses it in a way that I have (explicitly) agreed to then all is good. If that someone is careless and lets someone else get hold of that data, then that someone else could use it for purposes that I wouldn’t like – such as identity theft.

The reason that I ask the question as to why I should care is that I’ve seen very little quality reasoned argument about the actual risks and issues. Most of what I’ve read simply points out what’s being collected and leaves it to an implicit assumption that this is bad. If anyone does take it a step further it’s usually to do with the fact that adverts follow me across websites and that some people find this spooky and unnerving. Get over it. Some people found tv spooky and unnerving when it was introduced. Same for radio and the telephone. I can’t speak for cave paintings, but I would be surprised to know that someone didn’t like it.

Many of you will be familiar with the quote from Arthur C Clarke, visionary and science fiction author… ‘Any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic’. Most people don’t have much of a grasp of the technology used to track them online and so it borders on magic. Assumptions are made that because I see the same ad on two websites, that The Man therefore knows every detail of my life. More than once I’ve heard of people who are absolutely convinced that Facebook is listening to their conversations. They have been having a conversation about person x, then they look at their Facebook feed and there’s a recommendation to link up with person x. I have no inside track on Facebook, but I don’t think they are listening to conversations. They just have really sophisticated tracking and algorithms and sometimes there’s a coincidence that a recommendation happens just when you’ve been talking about someone. I think there are some serious ethical questions that Facebook have not addressed about how they have collected data, used it and shared it, and their lack of transparency, but I don’t think they are listening to us.

It’s a fact of life that some of what we take for granted as ‘free’ services online are paid for by advertising and by knowing who the users are of online services. That requires tracking data over time. Bear in mind that just because an ad follows you across websites doesn’t mean that anyone necessarily knows who you are – just that a system knows that user number ABC1234 has done certain things. In some circumstances it’s possible to tie that information to an actual person – such as when someone has registered on a site – but that linkage should also be subject to disclosure.

An example of the lack of intelligent informed debate came (sadly) in a recent episode of BBC TVs ‘Click’ which carried a segment on the information that browsers collect. It was entirely factually correct but made no mention at all of why any of it should be an issue with anyone, although that was the implication. I love it when my browser fills in forms for me. It makes my life a lot easier. If I found that the browser developer was using that information to sell to advertisers so I would see different ads, then I’d complain if they hadn’t told me but I’d otherwise shrug my shoulders. It makes my life easier and if I’m going to see ads, then I might as well see ads that are relevant to me.

We’ve heard a lot about Cambridge Analytica and how they and other organisations have used data for nefarious purposes, in particular influencing the Brexit vote and the Trump election. The degree to which these efforts were successful is not entirely apparent, but both votes were close and a small effect could have a big impact. Yet the practice of targeting political messages at select groups is nothing new – it was invented with politics, with people. You vary the message depending on who you’re talking to. The main problem with such efforts today is the lack of transparency of why I’m seeing a message, and the fact that many such messages are half-truths and lies. Again, not a new thing in politics. The Internet and Big Data are amplifying what was already there. Yes it’s a worry, and we could start with holding politicians to the same level of truthful accountability as advertising.

I worry about the bubble that’s being created around me. Google shows me results that it thinks I want to see. Spotify tells me about music that’s ‘like’ other music I listen to, or that other people ‘like me’ listen to. I worry that I’m going to be closed off from new experiences, from serendipitous discovery.

The collection of data per-se is not the problem. So please, let’s have a more informed debate and fewer alarmist articles about what browsers know about me. The important questions are whether there is consent, and how the information is being used. Usually there’s something in it for me. I’m happy to see ads for technology, but I’m not happy about political messages that are false – even if they accord with my prejudices. We have to care about the truth.

Here are my own rules for data collection and use. I’m referring here to ‘data’ about me.

  • Data should only be collected and retained subject to informed consent
  • The uses to which that data is put should be subject to informed consent
  • Data should be held securely
  • Data should only be shared subject to informed consent
  • Data policies should be easy to read and transparent. The key points should be summarised
  • Only authorised people should have access to data
  • Data should only be made available to government authorities based on a court order or similar legal footing
  • In the event of my unfortunate demise, my next of kin should have control of my data and access to it based on more rules I haven’t worked out yet

Three things that headings do

Three things that headings do…

This isn’t a link to an article elsewhere… I just thought I’d post this thought, which won’t be news to many people here, but I’ve found it useful when discussing principles of design and effective communication to be explicit about these points.

1) A heading communicates the start of a new section. This assumes the heading is reasonably well designed. It means that a reader can scan a page and pick out the sections.

2) A heading communicates hierarchy. Sub-headings will typically be in a small font size, or not bold etc. Again, it needs to be easy to pick out when scanning.

3) A heading communicates semantic information about the content. This assumes that someone gives some thought to the wording of the heading, and succinctly describes what the content actually is about, rather than just using the heading to fulfil the first two functions.