Those first descriptions make me wonder if it's really OK to run the same startup template again and again, even if you say that it makes you "human". I expect to read that first job description amongst a million three-person startups - besides maybe the profitable part. Is that really who you are? The cool start-up?
The inability to show discernible qualities in this kind of company kinda worries me as it comes to differentiating yourself in product - are you also the same company that's the next Google that can do better SEO and just loves that Lean Startup philosophy? I mean, they're all real and we want to do them, but what does that mean? At least those automated, robotic startups aren't pretending to be something else. They're automated machines. But if your straightforward nap-centric job description is trying to adhere to a standard professed in this forum, I wonder about your true ability to imbue the unique competitive advantages that will ultimately make you successful.
Me too. This bit could describe the local transit system: "We’re profitable, make the lives of hundreds of thousands of people better every month, have a rapidly expanding user base, and napping is an encouraged part of our corporate culture."
Maybe I'm unusual, but my idea of a perfect job posting is one which says something about the job. Don't write platitudes about how you're looking for people who think outside the box; say "we think the most exciting thing in the world is designing algorithms to target advertising better, and that's what you'll be doing if you get this job".
Think about it: do you want to do that for the next 10 years of your life? Do you want the next 10 years of your life to revolve around such a thing? Even if you don't mind it: is that what entices you to apply for the job?
I don't care what the work itself is. I care about the environment and the culture.
I'd rather design a spread-sheets application in a hacker-centric culture, than design hard-core search algorithms in a typical management-and-sales-centric culture.
Besides, the "next 10 years of your life" argument is a strawman. If you don't want to be working on the same, hard micro-problem forever, pick a smaller company, where your work will vary wildly. Sure, not all of it is going to be solving super hardcore problems, but I'd want evidence in the job description that there are interesting challenges ahead.
> pick a smaller company, where your work will vary wildly
Even with good environment and culture you still have to do the work. Every day. For the next few years. So, I think it would be a good idea to know if you like to do what they want you to do.
You don't happen to live in Toronto, do you?
It was extremely frustrating and kind of scary to be in that state of uncertainty.
That a lot of people say the same about thinking out of the box doesn't mean that you can't mean it - and it gives you a chance to call their bluff at the interview to make sure you don't get a job you don't want.
I agree that the posting overall is too vague on what the actual job is about - you might just as well be required to mop the floor before you punch out.
They mention the skills required, the state of the business and the kind of people they'd like to work with, but leaving out what the startup is actually about and what your role will be breaks the deal. It makes it sound like they need a code monkey.
I'd rather solve interesting problems in a language I hated than solve boring problems in a language I loved.
And you're right, I spent a lot less time telling you what's great about the company than I did on trying to make it obvious who we're not looking for. That's because we're looking for a very specific breed of person.
In this startup, you will not only be doing engineering, but also answering customer emails and chat messages. You will likely be an important part of strategy discussions, and you may have to write the odd press release. You may even need to go door to door and figure out what our customers want. Not every engineer is interested in that stuff, and I wanted to make sure those people didn't apply.
You will basically a cofounder-level person coming in at a stage where a lot of the risk is removed.
As far as some of the interesting challenges...
Heavy image processing, data processing, and analytics.
Primarily client-side web application with client side data processing.
Very heavy database loads with poor potential cacheability.
Data synchronization across multiple clients.
Near duplicate document detection.
Graph problems which need to be precomputed to varying degrees to make the application very responsive.
What do you think you gain by keeping it secret?
Personally, I would care tremendously about what I am doing, and not just which tools I'd be allowed to use. The fact that you respond positively to it means that it's serving its purpose as an advertisement, but I'm not sure that means it's any more or less clear as to the job description.
So while I'd probably prefer being part of this mystery company to being a "Front-End Architect" in a cubicle, I still have no idea what the job would be and the ad doesn't offer enough specifics to make me excited in the abstract.
The second job description (once you read the full thing) is actually quite reasonable. They describe their product, responsibilities, their financing, company size, languages in use, etc. It's not stellar, but it's far from bullshit.
The way I read it: You're not a bozo, you know what you want your candidate to do, you make money. Pretty good to me. There isn't perfect clarity on the product, but they're keeping that under wraps for a reason.
That posting gives you a better idea for your prospective gig than 99% of posts for launched companies.
It seems to me that the literary criticism in this thread is getting kind of thick. The job posting is like a resume in reverse, and a resume is not designed to be a window into someone's immortal soul. It's a teaser.
A job posting is a telegraphic commercial that's designed to describe the job in the broadest possible terms, so that the obviously unsuitable might be discouraged while the potentially suitable might be prompted to waste a few minutes on an email cover letter. That is why they use the same jargon, that is why they deal in cliches and fashionable labels ("Lean Startup", "Fortune 500 company", "lifestyle company" -- these terms may not be highly specific but they tell you important basic things about the company's outlook, just as the words "SWF, thirtysomething, seeks SM with LTR potential" tells you boring but crucial basic facts about your potential first date.
Don't expect Tolstoy. If you want to learn what a company is really like you're going to have to pick up the phone or start an email discussion.
I would consider the first job posting another version of a) a bad job posting and b) the modern form of "bullshit"
I agree with the rest of what he is saying, but I think the first example was poor and derailed the point.
How would I have done the advert? Try:
We like pragmatic people who get things done. We're looking for someone relaxed and with the ability to think about the product as a whole and their impact on it.
We're profitable, have hundreds of thousands of users and a rapidly expanding user base. We are a relaxed company run by programmers, so no corporate nonsense.
You will be the first employee of a small successful startup; with a paycheck and equity. It you are interested and live in Silicon Valley, send email about yourself to email@example.com.
There, bullshit removed. Clean, simple, descriptive.
The problem with the original is that the company is not announced, so any "exciting" description is just bullshit and unhelpful. The job ad in this case is there to say what they want and what roughly they are offering, it is to filter out some basic candidates. And at that point you can turn on the charm when it makes more sense to the potential employee
Never try to sound cool in a job ad.. it backfires. Go for friendly but offhand professionalism :)
I also was completely turned off by the first job offering. I don't want to work for a company that isn't bothered by starting off with a cliche. But then again, maybe neither of us are the kind of person they're trying to hire.
In the rewrite, it's a great opening line if you're shooting for somebody in the YC universe. If not, starting with an acronym that people don't know is a turn off. At least to me, it gives the impression of wanting a utility player (rather than somebody with deep skills at anything in particular) who wants to work in a relaxed programmer-friendly environment (as opposed to somebody who's passionate about whatever it is they'll be working on or is looking to join a business-focused company). If that's what they're looking for, great. Especially in this day and age I probably would move the bit about being profitable to the very front because it establishes legitimacy.
One of the things we did at Qworky was to ask the kind of people we wanted to hire to review our job description. So when we were looking for a system adminstrator candidate we asked several good sysadmins "is this the kind of job you'd apply for? how can we make it a clearer and more appealing job description?" lo and behold our JD got much better in a hurry and we wound up with great candidates.
This comment thread has been pretty helpful in figuring out future revisions. Thanks for the tip.
It was certainly near the top of the curve :)
As my 3rd grade teacher always said - actions speak louder than words.
Getting clear answers from the Enterprise types is akin to the Socratic method, if not psycho-analysis. You would have to repeat the same question over and over again, until you can illicit the root answer from layers of vague reasons and non-goals. If you're a contractor, a good way is to not make eye-contact, and "delve" deeper into thinking as you listen to their answers (you're not really thinking, you're just encouraging them to think, by mimicking you.)
Of all the W-questions, "Why" is the most important. Keep asking why, why, why, until you hit a logical tera firma, something closest to reality, further down from their tower of froth, and woolly ideas.
 I was gonna say "clear spoken", O'oh! Then I remembered my Strunk & White.
Or to quote Bob:
So what is it you DO here?
I didn't like the first because they couldn't give me even the slightest inkling about what they do, and that is important to me.
The second was bad because it attempted to describe pretty basic things in a way that made them seem more exciting than they really are. It also gave me the impression they were trying to actively mislead me; I don't like that.
Having said that, I think the OP made it seem like the second was completely impossible to understand and it wasn't: it was just obviously created to sway and mislead.
Most of the pitches I get these days force me to wade through swamps of buzzwords that have become absolutely meaningless. It's enough of a turn-off that I pretty much ignore those pitches -- I figure that if the company had something really exciting to tell me, they'd figure out a way to tell me so within a couple sentences without using endless strings of empty jargon.
In pitching (to journalists, or users, or potential employees), keep in mind the most basic rule of poetry: The fewer the words, the more powerful the statement. I.e., less is more.
The three main killers are (1) passive voice, (2) long words and (3) jargon.
If you can write something that avoids the above (except when necessary), you're on your way to reducing any waffle that your reader may have to wade through, and if polished enough can turn into prose that shines.
Looking at the Microsoft article I can't help but think that they've said nothing at all, but the Google article has just the facts ma'am and leaves you the better for it.
That line stuck out for me. Writing is window into the minds of the people you might hire as well as the company doing the hiring though.
I was thinking the other day about the tests companies give prospective employees to do pre-interview. One idea I came up with in addition to giving them the usual fizzbuzz programming problems was to test their writing ability by:
(1) Giving them a page of simple code with comments removed and asking them to add comment headers to each function, and
(2) Asking them to write a description in plain english of how a moderately complex function works (make it a function that implements an algorithm rather than something that processes data).
I'm not in a position to do any hiring and try this myself but I think it would add a lot of value for the employer in filtering applicants. If I were looking for a job seeing an employer doing this would give me a lot more confidence in them also.
The elevator pitch for cars that drive themselves is: "These cars drive themselves."
Need help with an iOS project? Let's talk, I'm great with both UX and code.
If I can help you out with a project you’re working on, let’s talk.
Danilo, I hope you get the chance to work with these guys, but stop speaking bullshit.
Please, though -- my name is Danilo, not Dan.
In other words, I think the Google Car thing is an unusual and extreme example. Most tech products, including smart phones and including almost every web app I use, don't have a "killer sentence" which will make everyone understand why it's good.
“Apple Reinvents the Phone with iPhone”
So you can easily convey the goal. Then:
"Apple® today introduced iPhone, combining three products—a revolutionary mobile phone, a widescreen iPod® with touch controls, and a breakthrough Internet communications device with desktop-class email, web browsing, searching and maps—into one small and lightweight handheld device."
Some puffery but reasonably clear what's going on.
Really, you don't need to say more than that. You don't want to get into the details of what touch is and how it works The point is that it's the first phone that anyone can pick up and just have fun with.
And the paragraph, while reasonably clear to me and you, probably means nothing to "most people". The idea of "touch controls" was practically unheard-of before the iPhone.
It seems like acknowledging the shitty past would be a huge gamble, because you would be reminding customers of how bad Windows Mobile was in general, which makes the customer question how much it really could have improved. Granted, everyone appreciates straight talk in theory, but they also have to weigh how many people will correctly interpret a straight message versus how many would be sucked in by the BS. Of course it would have been much easier if they had something truly interesting to offer, but let's face it, most products are not world-changing, and for a company with the kind of political overhead Microsoft has, it's already a major success to ship something that brings them up to par with other market players.
Unfortunately many people think that bullshitting is required and it is the secret to marketing and making money.
Cliches are uttered as if they were abstract nuggets of knowledge/feeling we use with precision and understand.
But when I look at myself they're actually vague scabs covering topics I haven't actually thought about, am scared to think about, or am purposefully trying to avoid.
When you're synergizing your core competencies dynamically, nobody understands what you meant and nobody is going to challenge you. You have the power. You must be important, people are paying attention to you, or at least doing a good job of faking it.
Besides baffling them with bullshit is what makes meetings work, and meetings are where things get done! (aren't they?)
//Gur nobir jnf fngver
Managers just tell HR they need X,Y and Z to meet the their needs and HR pad out the description with stuff they vaguely understand.
She recently had two columns praising Apple and Steve Jobs for being straightforward.
1) Regarding Apple's plain-spoken iPhone app guidelines
2) Regarding Steve Jobs' curt response to the college girl seeking a response for a school paper story
It's like job hunting, or dating. Every so often there's instant chemistry, but most people fall back on the laundry list.
> "we’re looking to hire a smart all-around programmer"
Looks like I'm gonna have to be a jack-of-all trades rather than a master of one. That's good, definitely my style.
> "as our first hire."
A lot will be expected of me. I'll have to be self-motivated and self-organized. No slacking. Long hours. This is a legitimate startup job.
> "It’s a cliche, but we want people who like tackling complicated problems."
Yep, cliche. I like that you point it out though, makes me take this requirement more seriously. I happen to enjoy working through complicated problems, no reservations here.
Great, specifics. Once again, focusing on the jack-of-all trades thing. They're clearly at a point where they can't (and probably shouldn't) hire specialists.
> "we like people who don’t put themselves in a box. You should be comfortable thinking about the product as a whole, and how changes are going to impact the hundreds of thousands of people who use it regularly."
In other words, this is a startup, we don't want stereotypical big company guys. I can't just blend in. I'll have a lot of responsibility, and I'll be making a lot of real decisions. I'm basically a co-founder who's a little late to the game.
> "make the lives of hundreds of thousands of people better every month"
Hmmm, they seem to care about the social impact of their product. Probably a good thing, but could be a bad/annoying thing if taken to an extreme.
> "napping is an encouraged part of our corporate culture."
Probably bullshit. I don't have any real desire to nap on the job, but I'll definitely ask for details out of curiosity.
> We’re profitable ... have a rapidly expanding user base
That's cool, but I'd like to know more. Ramen profitable or Rolls Royce profitable? 500 new users a day or 5000 users a day? They seem to be trying to sell me on this point, so if I get an interview I'm going to find out more specifics. It's good that they care about profits though, I do too.
> Basically, you’ll get to be the first employee of a small successful startup, while getting a paycheck and equity
Cool. Always good to list what I'll be getting. Will ask about benefits, not expecting any though.
> and feeling good about the impact you’re having on the world.
Another reference to social impact. I have to ask myself, am I the kind of person who would consider "being a do-gooder" more than a negligible part of the recompense for the long, stressful hours of startup life? Not a lot of people will stay up coding til 3AM Saturday night and say, "Hey, at least I did some good for someone out there."
Napping at work is something that people get nervous about, so we want to lead by example by napping mid-day to show it's cool.
Social impact is pretty important, not just in the doing good sense, but also in the making the economy more efficient sense. This is taking a huge market and shrinking it.
I sort of locked up and thought for about 10 minutes before I just mailed off my resume and a link to some stuff I've done without a really good letter.
I guess the author of this blog post is right: it was a rare job posting and I discovered I didn't know how to react.
The second job description is written by a manager-type that only vaguely understands the technology. Actually, a place like that would be okay to work if they gave you high enough levels of authority. If you were to inquire about the position, you could say something like, "Hi, I'm interested in your posting, I fit your desired qualifications and skills quite well, but I was wondering who I'd directly report to and how much experience they have with technology?" Interview them a little. Then if (when) they say not much, you explain you'd be interested in the position so long as you get to do things your way. They give you the broad overview of what they want to achieve, you give them the timetable, resources required, and method you propose to achieve it. Working for a non-technical boss isn't actually always the horror it's made out to be, so long as he respects your talent and stays out of the way.
I've managed people with various skills I don't have, and it's actually not that hard - I explain what the high level objectives we want to achieve are, have those objectives repeated back to me in the person's own words, and then let them build a plan to get there from here and execute it. I'll do enough research into the field that I can ask a smart question or two and generally know what's going on, but then I try to just get good people and stay out of the way. If you can set that sort of thing up, it can be quite satisfying if you like self starting and autonomy.
Customers who understand a bit about technology (because they've programmed a small Visual Basic software to help them before) are the most micro-managing people I've had and are a hell to work with...
So, the simple thing is that in any working relationships, you need to respect the other otherwise you're not going to go anywhere. The same goes with business and technical cofounders (and way too many tecnical cofounders don't respect enough the amount of work needed on the business side of things).
I know, I know!
Let's say we have a car named 'app'. Now, what we need is someone with a driver license who can drive it in a new way (e.g. stoned). The car also needs to consume large quantities of gasoline, so perhaps it will be a bus or a truck.
So what they need is a stoned truck driver. How can they be more clearer?
Those who can *recommend* to hire
Those who can *actually* hire