The Behavioural Design of Applying at SUE (2018)

How to apply for a job... at SUE or elsewhere?

Update: This is an revised version of a blogpost we wrote in 2016.

We get about 5 applications for jobs or internships per day. That’s a lot, but we read each and every one of them and you’ll always get a reply. We have been in the same spot as you are in and we know how it bad it feels to get a rejection letter or in some cases no answer at all.

The problem however, is that the process of shifting through emails, selecting people for a first conversation and eventually hiring someone is extremely flawed. It’s a lottery:

  • we have no idea who we reject,
  • we have no idea if the person we invite for coffee is good, bad, nervous or overconfident.
  • we also have no idea if we are victims of our own biases: do we think we have a good match because we like the person? Do we mistake confidence for competence? Or are we simply too desperate at that particular moment and just want a person to be the right one, neglecting all negative signs?

So for now the first hurdle you need to take, is to make it through the first “application overload” cut.

A couple of months ago we decided to send the reply you’ll find below, to everyone who is applying for a job or an internship at SUE to help them cross this first hurdle. The idea behind it is that someone who wants to work at SUE – an agency that is specialised in behavioural design – should at least prove his or her ability to persuade, seduce, convince and convert. Call it a simple shortcut.

Please read the tips below when you want to make a great first impression.

Dear x,

Thanks for your interest in SUE.

Agencies like ours get about 5 applications per day. It’s impossible for me to judge the potential fit with our agency based on a simple resume or a portfolio. I think every agency is facing the same problem.

There are a couple of ways for you to stand out from the competition and outsmart other applicants:

  • If possible: get introduced by someone well respected, preferably someone we know (Authority is an easy shortcut for us)
  • Be original in the way you apply, but please don’t do something lame like sending us a pizza or put billboards about yourself in front of our office (and never, ever ask for a coffee meetup).
  • Take a good look at the agency you’re applying for and try to tell that agency what you like about them and why you’re the only possible match for that agency. Tell us how you might be the missing link for us. Behavioural Design is all about learning to think outside-in instead of inside-out. Use that skill and apply it to sending an application letter.
  • Therefore: Study the people you are sending your application to. It’s not that hard to find these people or the agency founders on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google. Try to find out what they write about, what fascinates them and tap into that conversation.
  • There’s an interesting psychological principle called “signaling cost“. The more effort you put in crafting your communication, the more valuable it becomes. The signaling cost of an e-mail that was broadcasted to 10 agencies is low. The signaling cost of a hand-written love letter is high. High signaling cost is awesome.
  • Distinctiveness is also a really important shortcut. What’s that single thing that makes you stand out? If we would have read your letter, would we be able to describe you as “The guy/girl who….”. You don’t need to have an impressive resume to have at least one thing that makes you kinda interesting.
  • Behaviour never lies. We have seen people who are great at presenting themselves, but nevertheless oversold themselves. That’s why we’re always really curious about past behaviour: Did you display courageous behaviour in the past? Do you have evidence of the fact that you really can walk the talk? Again: This doesn’t limit itself to work experience. You can be awesome or interesting because you did some amazing things in your personal life.
  • And above all: Your first job is to be liked. That’s even more important than being known. You need to trigger curiosity.

An application is like professional flirting. It might take a little more effort to go from Awareness to Interest to Desire and Action. And this holds especially true if you want to work as a persuasion professional.

I hope this helps.

Kind regards,

Master the method and tools to change behaviour in our two-day masterclasses at the Behavioural Design Academy.
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Nah, I'd rather be unpersuasive

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You walk through life without caring if you ever have an impact.

You think persuasion is for perverts.

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