How to Find a Great Employee Using Craigslist

If you’ve ever posted on Craigslist you know: Craigslist can suck. It gets exponentially worse when posting a job position. You will get this kind of response: “I want 2 work for u.” Really? That’s how you respond to a job posting? You will also get dozens of emails from headhunters and contractors trying to sell you their service. In general, it can be a huge waste of time that many small business owners don’t have.

That’s why I was so happy about a month ago when I received the following response to the Craigslist post we put out for our repair technicians:

It’s just a cell phone repair job, dude. Relax.

Craigslist job posting success! You see, a good post has 3 major objectives:

  1. Deter people of low ambition and/or talent.
  2. Filter out solicitors so you don’t even have to bother with them.
  3. And the most important goal: Find a great employee.

I’m not going to stand here and tell you I’ve figured everything out. One thing about running a business is you learn there’s a lot more you don’t know than you do know. That said, I think our strategy for finding good employees using Craigslist has gotten pretty good.


Craigslist Job Post Filters
Our typical filters for Craigslist Job Posts

Near the end of every job we post we say that we will only consider people who respond with the subject line: “I want to work for you.” Then I use a few gmail features to sort out responses. First, any email with that subject line skips the inbox and goes straight into a label called Employees. It’s left unread so I can see that we have applicants, but it doesn’t clutter my inbox. I don’t have to deal with the responses at all until I’m ready to look at them.

I also create a second filter which immediately deletes any email that comes in with my Craigslist subject. For example, let’s assume I give my Craigslist job post this title: “iPhone and iPad Repair Technician Position in Chicago.” If the person responding to the post simply hits Craigslist’s “reply” option, the subject of the email will be the subject of my job posting. It will not be “I want to work for you.” When it shows up at my inbox, my gmail filter is smart enough to say, “Hmm… You didn’t follow instructions. Delete.”

By using these filtering techniques we accomplish three things: We don’t have to bother with people who can’t follow direction or are simply applying to every job, we don’t have to bother with bots, and we don’t have to bother with contractors/headhunters because they almost always just hit reply.

Do we potentially miss a good applicant with these filters? Perhaps. But the first time I ever posted for a job on Craigslist, I didn’t use these techniques and got over a 100 responses in about 24 hours. I definitely missed good applicants then because I just didn’t have time to go through all of those emails. The last time I posted on Craigslist we got about 30 responses in a week (including that one at the top). Of those, we found 2 fantastic candidates and ended up hiring them both. In other words, in the case of Craigslist job postings, less is more.

Make Them Work for It

Our Craigslist job post is a little over 500 words in length. That doesn’t make it a novel, but it’s a good full page of reading. In it, we explain who we are, who we’re looking for, what talents we require, and how to go about applying for the job. People just posting for every job they come across do not take the time to read the whole post. They simply respond with their generic cover letter and resume and leave it at that. I’m sorry, but if you don’t really know who we are and can’t express why you’d be a good fit for us, then we’re probably  not interested in hiring you. Of course, they usually don’t use the right subject line, so most of these people get deleted without me even having to look at their responses.

Once they’ve read the entire post, we then require even more work from them. We have a list at the end of every job posting of the 4 things they need to do to apply and have any chance at getting an interview. Yes, this can be a lot of work for someone, but as I’ve mentioned, we’re really only interested in applicants that are really interested in us – not just any job they can get. Here’s the list:

  1. Respond with the subject line: “I want to work for you.”
  2. Include a resume.
  3. Write a single paragraph about why you want to work for us and why you think you’d be good at it.
  4. Write another paragraph telling us something interesting about yourself.

Make Them Write Something Non-Standard

Item #4 is probably the most important part of the initial screening process. One of our hiring goals is not only to find someone very capable of doing the job, but someone that is fun to work with and great with customers. You can tell a decent amount about someone from how they answer that questions.

We had one guy who said it was interesting that his favorite restaurant was Chick-fil-A. That might not sound interesting, but if you had read his entire paragraph you would have been laughing your ass off. It was not only well crafted but it was hilarious.

Let Your Personality Come Through

Here’s a paragraph from our job posting:

We have a simple hiring philosophy: Hire people who work hard, are intelligent, interested in technology, and who we enjoy working with. Who do we like to work with? Someone that’s a good conversationalists, pleasant disposition, friendly, outgoing, well read, and most likely a bit nerdy. Not too nerdy, mind you, but a little bit.

The good applicants almost always find a way to work in some kind of science fiction reference as well as present a tone to their email that is friendly (yet professional) and often has a little bit of humor in it.

To sum all of this up, let me say that you will never hire anyone based solely off of their response to your Craigslist ad. It’s simply a way to find potentially good people to interview. The actual process we use for hiring someone is quite a bit more in-depth than just a Craigslist post – it involves a phone interview, an in-person interview, and a half-day technical interview. Sounds like a lot of work for “just a cell phone repair job,” but to me it’s about a lot more than fixing phones. It’s about building a company that I love and that requires great people.

One thought on “How to Find a Great Employee Using Craigslist

  1. Jimmy says:

    I found this article after a lot of online searching. Thank you so much. I am posting my first job on Craigslist, had heard a number of horror stories and was intimidated by the process. I’ve read this a few times now, and am grateful you took the time to write it. I’m looking for hair stylists and I feel like you’ve given me a great road map to do so. Very much appreciated.

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