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How (not) to get a job at a startup... (getrealordie.com)
26 points by auston on Nov 11, 2008 | hide | past | favorite | 88 comments

Granted, this guy's cover letter is not going to win him the job. But "Send us your resume! We'll post it on our web site and make fun of it! And your grammar, even though ours is not completely correct either!" is not going to win this company applicants, either.

Good catch. Perhaps this article should be retitled, "How to Not Show Class when you are Recruiting."

Perhaps, or possibly "How discourage self-entitled leeches from applying to your company".

You don't seem to like this "self-entitlement" thing. Don't you think it's also a little "self-entitled" to expect great people to be excited about the opportunity to work for you, without caring about the so-so salary?

I don't see how you can label people looking for jobs to be leeches.

PS. It just hit me after staring at this post for a minute that leaches isn't even the right spelling. Wow, I need coffee.

Thanks for the correction.

They still aren't leeches.

Edit: It just hit me that I copied Alaska Miller's spelling. I need pizza.

Entitlement is only a problem if the expectation is unrealistic. Seems like the company is the one with entitlement problems in this case - expecting to find such a qualified candidate without offering the appropriate pay that is typical of someone of that caliber.

New title: How (not) to make hackers want to work for you:

1. Offer below market rates.

2. Be extremely vague about option plan.

3. Show a history of verbal abuse towards previous applicants.

I agree he was obnoxious in his email, but the "We’ll take care of you ... trust me" response doesn't inspire a ton of confidence, sorry.

Surely this is what stock options are for?

I was thinking the same thing. First off, whenever someone says "trust me," as a rule of thumb, don't. His advice sounds really self-serving. Trustworthy people are always open to committing in writing or in ways that don't require so much trust.

Now, the dude who wrote the cover letter doesn't seem all that stupid to me. Sure, the writing isn't great, but for all you know English is his second language. I'm not so sure about his hacking skills, though (CSS?). I'd still interview him.

CSS is very difficult in the sense that implementations vary so wildly, and browsers demonstrate random bugs where you least expect it. Oodles of experience counts for a lot.

CSS is a pretty badly designed language, and the implementations are terrible.

It's hard to find people who really grok it on a deep level, and also have enough real-world experience to deal with the quirks on a regular basis.

You might be surprised how hard is to find a true CSS expert. He may be exaggerating its difficulty compared to other languages though.

I had no idea. I'm happy I wasn't declarative.

I was going to say the same thing. "We'll take care of you" is simply not a promise that startups can make. You might work your ass for them for a year at a below market salary, only to see the whole thing tank.

True, or to be laid off if you're considered 'too greedy'. Let's not forget your employers had this great idea and you should be happy to be honoured to contribute to that great idea. After all, you're jut a code monkey.

If they treat candidates like that, imagine what they do to employees.

Never trust someone saying that.

I trust what gets put in writing and signed.

Contracts exist so that we can trust each other.

The line of "We’ll take care of you ... trust me", it remind me of some mafia movie, "give me the money, and I'll take care of you"

That is absolutely correct.

I don't think that guy really wanted the job. He's trying to do you a favor by pointing out that you are asking for a lot more than you are offering.

While you may not agree with the writer's suggestions, he was largely respectful. You were sarcastic, and made fun of his grammar. I'm sure he feels great reading your response on your blog.

Here's a question we should all ask ourselves: How could we have handled it better?

I would have written back to the fellow, thanking him for his interest. At least your karma points in the real world (you know, the ones that are even more important than those on HN) would do well.

Next, given that you haven't yet found a candidate, I'd either look to hire someone remotely, or hire a contractor to work on the most important stuff.

Good luck.

In a healthy company a lot of value is created. Therefore, there should be plenty money for salaries. So, simply, if salaries are low the company isn't generating enough value or the bosses are cheap.

How is that a good thing? Of course, in a startup you can't have everything - but that doesn't change the fact that in startups the employees often share a great deal of the risk (in opportunity cost) and don't get rewarded in the same scale when it all works out. Worrying about money, especially in times like these, is perfectly natural.

And quoting somebody's email verbatim, without permission? That shows a lack of class (it's really that rude), but worse, it shows a lack of -judgment- because Auston should know he can't gain anything by ridiculing somebody's cover letter and grammar mistakes.

Don't get me wrong. I do agree that a hurriedly written cover letter that only focuses on the salary should land the resume on the no-hire pile. But why attract negative publicity to your own company? I don't get it.

Right, I suppose I should have been more candid.

We are in the final stages of the development of the product. So there is no revenue; we're paying market (45-60k) plus options, but we're not ready to just dish that out to anyone.

It's kind of like finding a girlfriend. If you're filthy rich (and its obvious) than the playing field becomes uneven. We want people who are motivated by long-term opportunity, not taking a salary and clock punching from 10-5.

OK you may have a point here, but surely, if this post were to discourage people who are only looking for a salary haven't the "ends justified the means" ?

45-60k is market? :/ ouch.

Maybe in the Idaho market.

Now I feel undervalued making 60k in SF bay area three years ago :(

It really depends on what you're doing, where you're doing it and who you're doing it for. If you were a writer 3 years ago, you were banking it.

I made websites at a big corp. I thought it was pretty decent for a kid like me that dropped out of school and didn't want to go back. I worked extra too just to try to impress my bosses because the name and reference on my resume was well worth it.

It probably was then.

It is in Broward and Palm Beach county, Florida.

after cross-referencing salary.com and payscale for boca raton, the average pay for someone with 2 years experience (just to approximate the skills required for the position) is about $58k. $45k is off the bottom end of the chart, approaching the 0th percentile.

to pay above market, you'd need to be paying $60k minimum, not maximum.

all of this is, of course, assuming benefits (health/dental/etc).

For an entry-level, fresh out of a mid-tier school graduate, perhaps. (based on my experience as a programmer in NW Broward)

That's definitely a valid point. Even if you had the money to pay above market rates, you still wouldn't because you know people exist who are willing to work really hard for less than market rates, if that gives them the opportunity to make a difference and build something great. In your case, you have to pick between extra runway and salary. That's a no brainer: 2 months of runway can be the difference between profitability followed by success and failing.

About the end justifying the means: Scaring off people you don't want to hire in the first place is easy. The problem is that by doing so, you're bound to give off bad vibes to people who would otherwise consider your company. Bear in mind that the people you want to hire are -by definition- in high demand. That means that they can (and should) demand a lot from you.

Just like in dating, people need only one reason to dismiss you as a qualified employer/so. Don't give them that reason.

I hope you're giving a LOT of stock because for 45K you're gonna get high school kids or part-time college students.

There's an attitude of putting people down going round HN.

The applicant in the story put down the other applicants. LeadLog put down him, publicly. And now, HN is putting down auston. Everyone is criticising everyone else's spelling and grammar - and therefore becoming more self-conscious of their own.

If you are truly capable of creating value for others, putting others down is pointless for you. But it's worse: focusing on other's mistakes can and will erode your ability to create value for others. You will end as a destroyer of value.

Pride comes before a fall, and you won't be the first. Not by a long way.


I largely agree with you, but to play devil's advocate: a little hostility helps people to check themselves. It forces you to think before you speak and before you post, which means there's a good chance you check yourself before you submit thing. It ensures a degree of quality control, and that's something that I think Hacker News benefits rather than suffers from.

The first forum I joined was one of people who enjoyed ripping on people who said stupid things and who wasted space. I joined there at a pretty young age: I still credit it for teaching me to think about and revise things that I post online. I still remember it fondly, in part because it was a tight community: it scared most people away, but that was good, because it was a site for a niche audience. (Similar, I'd say, to the niche audience that ought to be in Hacker News.)

I've also worked with forums that aimed towards nice: they tended to have a less fanatic userbase, and the people who remained were of wildly varying quality. Nice in excess leads to a downfall.

(I also haven't noticed much unfair hostility until the last month: the election polarized a lot of people, and brought in a lot of attitudes that seem less concerned with new information and interesting articles. Hopefully it will pass.)


I think you've combined two meanings in the word hostility: one is to argue and debate, i.e. antagonistic or Socratic; the other is to be disrespectful and insulting - aggressive domination, to win by making the other lose. The same with nice as its opposite: one meaning is to approve of anything with no objectivity or truth; the other is to respect others. I agree that challenging people is a good thing (even though it can feel uncomfortable and "not nice"), provided it is done is in a respectful way.

I think the key is whether one's goal is to get to the truth and learn and build; or whether one's goal is humiliation to show your superiority. However, it's fraught with danger to evaluate what someone else's goal is, because your interpretation of their intention is necessarily a step distant from the truth about them. But I see many comments on HN that are clearly seem way or the other (the remainder I'm not sure of).

I really love being shown I'm wrong by someone who sees more than I do. For the supernatural sense of expanding one's world, it's second only to experience. :-)

Hacker News has turned nasty very recently. I mean, there have always been people who get into furious discussions, but now those are starting to become front-and-center of the site. I think it's in response to the noise the site is getting, but it's annoying nonetheless.

I've always defined hostility in a kind of weird way. For me, it's absolute intolerance to new ideas until a good reason is given for them. Which is to say, if somebody suggests something new, the burden of proof is entirely on them to explain themselves, before I'll consider the idea. In return, I assume everybody else works similarly, and post accordingly. It's a policy that leads to people contributing lots of fleshed-out ideas, and it keeps noise way down.

Of course, by that definition it's possible to be both hostile and polite. I just see hostility as being a slight notch above debate: in debate, there are two well-defined sides that play off each other. On a site where there can be a wide variety of opinions and ideas, the barrier for entry should be set a wee bit higher.

I can see that would work well for when you're posting.

For when you are reading, I guess it keeps your own personal attention uncluttered by noise. It also implies you wouldn't challenge poorly presented ideas, but just ignore them as noise. Interesting.

Yeah, I was mainly thinking hostile as opposed to polite.

Depending on how a bad idea is presented, I either downvote (if it's presented without any backup whatsoever, like "Mac users suck") or I ignore. If it's making a case with faulty information, I try to at least correct the information in the post. But I try only to focus on the really relevant threads of conversation, the ones that I have a chance of learning from.

About us:

We are LeadLog, a small startup company in South Florida building lead management software. We're two biz dev guys, a ux guru and a hacker with solid business experience.

Hmm...something seems wrong about this equation...

Yeah. They're going to sink like a lead log.

Telling that the blog domain name is "get real or die".

The job request and the response to criticism are anything but realistic.

So I wonder which one Dashboard is going to do?

So what is the rate offered? I admit the attitude is a bit high brow, but he may have an extremely valid point.

Maybe, but he sounds self-entitled. Those are the worst type of people.

I don't like either of the attitudes in the post. I would never work for the poster and I would never hire the applicant.

If my potential employer has a problem with money being my motivation, scratch my name from the interview list. IF I really wanted to work for slave wages, there is a McDonalds on every street corner

Money for motivation and "slave wages" are two very different things.

And if you live in the States, you're more than likely living like a King (compared to people in poor countries).

Hell, I worked solely for money at my first job out of college, but I would have never told them that before even interviewing.

To be clear: We don't care if money is your motivation, it is ours as well, we simply don't want money to be your ONLY motivation.

From looking at their job posting and their website it sure gave me a good impression of how great they are...

Wait, no, see they (I'm assuming it's you now) didn't. They didn't explain why it is they offer something beyond money as an incentive to work for them. They don't talk about their passion, office situation, their work ethic, or what it is they're working on.

The job posting itself was just bland and generic, akin to the kind of cattle call you find on craigslist. It sounds more like the LeadLog is the one exhibiting self-entitlement here. How dare they get people that only cares about being paid!

Ha. Everyone here encourages thinking that differs from ours.

I suppose we are generic in the job posting (I really appreciate the feedback) and again, as I stated, we're trying to find someone who is looking for more than just money, someone looking for place to work where they fit in and feel at home.

If you were trying to meet a decent girl with values, would you go around waving $100 bills and wearing diamond pendants?

We're not trying to flash around our new funding and put emphasis on our fancy office and wii and ping pong table and couch and full kitchen. We're trying to find someone who would be looking at this as an opportunity, someone with ambition and not just a need for an inflated paycheck until the start up dies.

Something you have to understand: as a startup without a product, without users, and without revenue, your bargaining position sucks. It's incredibly easy to start a company; it's incredibly difficult to finish one successfully. If you're Google or Twitter or are funded by YC, you can attract applicants based on the strength of the opportunity. If not, you don't have much to offer besides the money.

Put yourself in a candidate's shoes and ask yourself: what do you have to offer that they can't get on their own? What's to stop a candidate from taking your idea and competing with you?

A pre-traction startup is riskier for employees than it is for founders. If it fails, they get to put "Software Engineer at Company Nobody Has Heard Of" on their resume, while you at least have a founder title. They probably will learn fewer skills. And they don't get the feeling of being in control of their own destiny, because you're calling the shots.

The only thing they do get is a salary, as well as not having the responsibility for success or failure fall on their shoulders. But here you say you want someone who's not really interested in the money, and you want them to take a passionate, active role in the startup. If they don't care about the salary, and the responsibility falls upon their shoulders anyways, why should they work for you instead of starting their own startup?

Best feedback here.

I kind of wish you would stop using that girlfriend analogy. If I wanted a decent nice girl to take home to mama I wouldn't be using okcupid or match.com or eharmony or even craigslist.

You're looking for an employee -- since you're not going to give them founder status -- and as such you simply want someone that exhibits more passion so that you can feel good about paying them. Or, in my cynical view, you want to exploit somebody that's willing to work more for what you're paying them for,hence the "options".

There's nothing wrong with that kind of behavior, as a business you do have to look for ways to maximize your cash and people like that do exist. The young-gogetters that are extremely talented and looking to work hard to impress and too inexperienced to know their true market value.

But the chances of finding someone like that is so rare, and considering other companies pay premium for something like that you would be lucky. And in your process you're going to end up with a lot of submissions from a wide variety of people. That's just how the cookies crumbles. This post doesn't really help with anything though...

"If I wanted a decent nice girl to take home to mama I wouldn't be using okcupid or match.com or eharmony or even craigslist."

Do you realize that these sights encompass 10s of millions of people? What is your bar for "decent"?

I can only assume you would choose to use http://flowmingle.com instead.

True, but the facilitation of a relationship occurs much better in real life, no? As in, I meet girls and chat them up in real life before making the judgment call to date them or to continue a relationship with them.

And despite having advanced so far, there's a stigma with people using online dating services. Kind of the same with job hiring sites. Let's not forget that a lot of positions in companies are filled through connections and networking rather than applying blindly to job sites.

My point is that equating finding employees with finding a girlfriend is odd on so many levels. Most of which being that I really really really don't want to be caught playing third base with my hires.

"sights". Are we all going for the "Most grammar/spelling mistakes in a comments page" world record here?

Today's bizzaro day.

He probably just prefers the real life/in person thing. Me too.

We're trying to find someone who would be looking at this as an opportunity

The onus is on you to show that this job is an opportunity - that's what a job advert is for. Sorry, but your ad fails to do that.

If you're a startup, you don't need to emphasize wii and ping pong. You need to show that the candidate has a chance to be an important part of a successful company, and might make some fairly significant money if that happens.

Exactly. The job posting gives the feeling that a memo will be sent out the first week you are there:

Wii and ping pong are provided for use only during lunch, 12:00->12:30. Please adhere to the rules.

Maybe I am being a bit too cynical.

I think you're overrating your new funding. It's cool, but mainly because it means someone believes in you. Money is just money - not important in itself. Get over it as quick as you can.

The great appeal of a startup is that early employees often end up being a VP or something. They get into a higher position than they would in a conventional company, and faster, provided: (A) the company takes off and (B) they are basically capable of it.

For this, people will accept less money initially. They know you're a startup. This is the kind of motivation you want; and this is the kind of person who wants you.

Thinking that this temporary funding makes you a target for gold-diggers suggests you've lost sight of what you are - a startup. Imagining you are flat broke, desperately needing to make and sell cool stuff, might help. It's the truth.

So you need someone who has lots of ambition AND doesn't object to put in a lot of work AND get a low paycheck AND is SOL when your startup dies. Good luck in finding that person.

No, but I think there's a happy medium.

I'd _show_ her how great my family & friends are, how hard I work and how well I'd treat her.

Unless it was just a random bar hook up.

On one hand, money isn't everything, but on the other it's naive to think that people don't have bills to pay, so I can't agree completely with the "don't mind the salary" song. It is important, we like it or not.

That aside, I couldn't find any indicators about the offered salary. But unless I'm missing something, the requirements are really standard, nothing out of the ordinary (complexities of PHP? With CodeIgniter? Right!), and being a startup I wouldn't expect it to be high.

So, maybe a decent rant, but probably out of place.

This should be titled: How to post a startup story on a site that loves startups and get down modded in to oblivion.

Impressive Auston.

lol, thanks.

So asking for fair pay will eliminate you from consideration? Count me out.

Y'all are missing the point. Start-up offers totally unrealistic salary, and gets some script kiddie who couldn't hack his or her way out of a paper bag. Said script kiddie builds the app using toothpicks and glue. App actually gets users and completely s*s the bed. Founders realize they have a great idea and a loyal audience, but now have to spend a HUGE amount of money completely rebuilding the app because the existing codebase is useless.

What's worth more? Scaling your app at the outset and then rolling in profit? Or saving bucks at the outset and then blowing 10x more later on trying to fix the mistakes. Let's ask Twitter.

Whenever some one tells you "Its not about the money..." that's how you know its about the money.

I lived in south Florida for years before coming out to San Francisco. Working in IT down there was horrible. I will guarantee they aren't paying more than $35k-$40k per year. Here in SF I make nearly 3x as much as before doing the job they are advertising.

Yeah, thanks for proving my point. All of you people in South Florida need to sink into the ocean. I was the IT admin for a mid-sized real estate company for 2 years and while I liked my job and loved the people I worked for, the pay was crap. I looked for 6 months for a job after leaving there and jobs like yours were the only ones that kept popping up. You expect to get the most skilled person in the world, yet only want to pay them in packing peanuts. There's a reason that skilled people like me(I consider myself skilled) leave South Florida, and its because of people like you.

Right, so in an area where water front condos are $1000 a month (http://tinyurl.com/64hphe) 3 - 5 times that each month is definitely NOT reasonable.

If you pay average, you'll get average. The job description is WAY above the average.

Frankly, "we're paying market" in this case is an insult, and it says a lot about your company.

I had to say basically the same thing to a CEO just a couple weeks ago.

Of course I did after I was offered the job for what I can only describe as a joke. I asked for twice as much and though he offered me more, I had to say no and wish him the best of luck finding any developer at that price, let alone one who knew fizz-buzz. Needless to say, I couldn't have worked for him even if he met my demands. Truly the "we'll take care of you, trust us" makes no difference once you know how you're valued.

"We’ll take care of you if you are dedicated to your work, trust me." - Trust? How about no...

Hrm... because startups are not about making money right?

good developers may be "interested in working on something innovative", but no one is gonna work for long without proper compensation.

Actually, if you're looking to "make money in a start-up", you'd join a start-up that you believe has growth potential and ask for an appropriate equity stake. As a trade off, you yourself accept a below market rate as a form of an investment.

If one is not seeking money in a start-up, but rather experience, environment and personal growth it would make sense for them to ask for a market rate salary (which is a valid concern if they've got a a family to feed or a mortgage to pay). Before you say "but isn't the experience/environment worth something" - yes it is, and the trade offs they make to gain that experience would be working longer hours, less job stability as well as lack of chances/challenges/opportunities/perks that only a big company could provide (e.g. if you're looking for a great UX/UI person you are probably competing with Yahoo, who has a really strong UX/UI organization; Yahoo offers its developers the challenge to scale a web application to thousand node deployments and billions of page views, you would never be able to do that).

For an employee applying to your start-up, taking a higher salary may as well be a smart thing to do, as judging by your posting (again, I may be wildly off track here and I mean no offense) you're building yet another LAMP webapp - not anything that's going to be wildly different from what there is on the market - in other words, you aren't building the next flickr/delicious/twitter much less youtube/facebook (and of course not the next google/yahoo). That's fine and there are always the above mentioned reasons to join your start-up (experience, environment) but the equity may not end up amounting to much (you could build a viable small business, but you wouldn't have a spectacular exit, especially for employees holding 0.25-2% equity which would be typical for a lead engineer).

Another point: if an employee sells themselves short to you (e.g. less options, less salary) how do you know they won't sell your product short (e.g. write worse code to save time; or purchase inferior hardware/hosting services to save money -- or even literally, sell your product for less than it's worth if they're a sales person).

So in short, your choices are either to expect an employee that matches the compensation you give them (below average comp. - below average employee, "market comp" - average employee, great comp - great employee) or convince the employees that their equity will amount to something. That's not always the wrong way to go: if building customer facing web applications isn't your company's core competency you don't need a great UI hacker - but that clearly isn't your case.

Paying people what they used to get paid +1 is such a yes-man brigade.

"Oh so & so gave you that, we should do that too".

I understand why companies do it, but there has to be a better way. More incentives? More equity? Back end performance driven pay?

One data point does not equal market rate. And other factors: work hours, environment, benefits, perks, etc are just as important.

Has anyone else dealt with this at their company?

It's a good rule of thumb. If I'm going to work for less what I'm getting now, there should be a well articulated reason for it.

Now, that might be that I'm currently overpaid, but still looking to leave my job, or that the job is very very cool, or that I'm getting stock options that I'm really confident in - and of course, if I'm relocating to an area with a significantly different cost of living.

It's the fast and dirty way to establish the value of a person. If HR actually did their jobs, it wouldn't be happening or matter. A good HR staff would pinpoint the right candidates, fit them into the right group, and be able to negotiate them to maximize the company's budget.

But then, I only worked at big corps.

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