Alice Lee, an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, is going to unprecedented lengths to get a job. On February 16 she launched "Dear Instagram," a site she designed to serve as a pitch-slash-resume-slash-love letter for the new age. In days, the site went viral.
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Lee's attraction to Instagram comes as no surprise. She's interned at Microsoft and Foursquare, and she does freelance photography and design, often using Instagram as a tool. She tells The Atlantic Wire that she got the idea for her site while having lunch on campus with Charles Birnbaum and Eric Friedman, who work in business development for Foursquare. "Charles got into Foursquare really early on just pitching himself to the company," Lee said. "They mentioned that in general, it's always a lot more effective to kind of pitch yourself in a very specific way than to say I can do anything you want," she said. She was also inspired by past success stories, like that of Tristan Walker, who doggedly pursued a job at Foursquare until he got one.
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Lee spent about three days creating a site to make her best case to Instagram, focusing on presenting the company with actual tasks she thought she could provide for them, like redesigning their site for developers. But she also polished their ego a bit: "I love what Instagram stands for. And I think your team is totally rad," she wrote.
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Lee says she wasn't really expecting the uproar that the site has gotten online. "I thought, okay if someone reads it and is interested, that's awesome. And then my friend posted it to Hacker News yesterday and it just kind of exploded in a really positive and wonderful way." Her most exciting response so far has been a tweet from Chris Sacca, who invests in several startups including Instagram: "I've never met @byalicelee. But, when I see hustle like this, I am sure I will, eventually," he wrote.
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But has the most important party noticed? Lee says she won't discuss her "existing, post-launch relationship with Instagram" or "any other formal corporate responses," until she has something solid to report. "I think it's kind of the classy thing to do," she explained. "I don't want to put pressure on the company. I just want to show them what I can do. I want to let my work speak for itself and not put pressure or talk to the press about what exactly I'm doing."
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Lee admits that she's not the first to conceive of pitching oneself outside the traditional job postings of the working world, especially among tech companies. But she doesn't worry that the strategy will become too hackneyed. "There's only so far you can go in terms of traditional resume cover letter stuff," she notes. "There are infinite possibilities when you expand beyond a resume. I don't think that copy-catting will become a major issue. At least not in the next few years."