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Stop Applying to Startups (quintenfarmer.com)
61 points by quintendf on Aug 6, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 50 comments

Where do all of these "unqualifieds" come from if the startup is just going to hire through friends and recommendations; was there a public job listing somewhere? If there's a job listing, people are going to apply for the job. They're applying to see where they stand, they're applying to fill a quota for unemployment, they're applying because they need a job. Can any company handle all of the applicants it receives? This seems like a weak complaint.

> In the aftermath of his first interview, he has been getting in touch with all his close engineer friends and asking them to write to the company founder recommending him.

This sounds incredibly obnoxious unless your friends are well-known engineers. Has this worked for anyone here?

Maybe my industry (consulting) is different but yes, absolutely yes, this is a tactic with nice ROI. I can't think of a single good reason not to leverage your existing contacts.

References and testimonials, LinkedIn, Zerply, Github, et al? Maybe I'm too suspicious; if after an initial interview I got a stream of emails from an applicant's buddies/colleagues that I didn't ask for, I'd wonder why he felt he needed to coerce them to do so. I also think it's a bit dangerous to latch someone's technical skills to their social aptitude. Everyone has friends, not everyone thinks it is professional to sweet-talk a founder on your friend's behalf. I'd love to hear what others think, though.

I think it comes down to discretion. I would never recommend flooding an interviewer with internal email, but one helpful nudge from a respected colleague who vouches for you won't hurt.

I can think of a good reason: it's a negative sum game, because willingness to proxy-spam a potential employer has no positive correlation with the ability to do the job; if people start doing this, everyone will be worse off. So if you're an employer and you don't want to end up on the receiving end of this kind of spam every time you hire and under pressure to send it every time one of your friends is looking for a job, you should reject anyone who tries this tactic.

According to the article, the person in question was applying for a technical recruiter role. Given that the biggest problem tech recruiters at startups face is arguably getting top-level engineering talent to give them the time of day, I'd say that a stunt involving getting a lot of talented engineers to talk about how much they like and respect you is completely justified and appropriate.

Perhaps where I'm getting tangled is in using the term "friends" instead of past recruits or former hiring managers. Regardless, I still think it's a poor practice, given that -- like rwallace said -- if everyone did it, it would just create even more emails that the OP needed to add to their laundry list.

It’s incredible to me that so many people still fail the most basic skill of “interviewing 101″. As soon as possible after the interview, send a concise thank you email.

Do people actually do this? I've always assumed it was one of those pieces of advice they teach you in Interviewing 101 only to find that it isn't as applicable to programming jobs.

I'm doing it right now as I'm applying to and interviewing with startups and more established companies in SF/SV. Even though my domain seems to be in really high demand right now (data science/network analysis) I'm trying to be gracious, quick, and communicative with potential employers because I want to indicate that I'm that kind of person in a team environment in addition to my technical assets. It seems to be working pretty well so far, especially with smaller shops that are moving quickly. In the words of one founder I spoke with today, "we have a hiring timeframe of yesterday" and I think it is important to show them you are rarin' to go.

As a side note - if you are applying to startups, write your cover letters while sitting in SF/SV coffee shops that are known startup hotbeds. If you strike up friendly conversations with random folks wearing the right t-shirts you'll often get recommendations to apply to places you've never heard of, perhaps with a friendly "in" if you can impress them by being a personable, well-balanced individual.

As a shameless plug, hit me up if you are looking for a data geek or someone who honestly loses sleep over graph algorithms.

If you are going to ask that, you should leave contact information either in the post or in your user profile. Otherwise how would people contact you?

Can I give you all my karma for pointing out this oversight? I thought my email was visible, fixed and thanks!

Seconded, especially if you're open to relocating to Denver. I know for a fact that we could use a data person where I work.

Shoot me a message if you're interested in Kaggle - ben@kaggle

When I've interviewed people, this almost always strikes me as artificial and insincere—something people only do because someone told them to when they were in college.

As a frequent interviewer, I regarded it as a sign that the interviewee had read a few articles somewhere and paid it almost no attention.

I was wondering the same thing. I've never sent one after interviewing someone, and no one has ever sent me one. I honestly don't think it could help, I've usually made up my opinion before they have a chance to do anything. Also, something feels very insecure/desperate about it, like calling someone 30 minutes after a date.

I do always personally thank the person (with a handshake) for taking the time to interview me or taking the time to let me interview them, though. But that's just common courtesy.

I've frequently done this, usually bringing up something I remembered later, clarifying something or asking additional questions. It's particularly useful if you can reference something that will associate the email with the person.. I usually go for 3 to 7 days after the interview. It's the "i'm still interested in working for YOU" email that also keeps you fresh in their minds.

[this is obviously just my personal opinion]

When I'm hiring programmers, I don't care about thank you notes. I don't care because how good a programmer is has nothing to do with being skilled at social niceties, networking, and so on.

For a business side role, however, these things are a must, and thank you notes can be good indicators.

a 'thank you' note, a generic one means nothing... but a follow up is a very good idea, if you can convey you are excited about the job. (but you have to be excited about /that/ job for some reason; not excited about a job in general.)

I mean, a follow up until you get a firm 'no' is standard in most sales, and make no mistake about it, interviewing for a job is sales.

I agree.

I've always thought it was a combination: a thank you that the person took time to talk to you and with you about the position (especially a non-HR employee), a follow up to the interview if there were other questions or to send a work sample as discussed during the interview, and to state again something that marks you as a fit for the position.

I usually thank each interviewer after the interview. They say thanks for coming in and I say thanks for spending the time on me. Basic courtesy.

But everywhere I've interviewed at has used a loop of interviewers, so a thank-you note doesn't really make much sense unless I spam their loop... and that still doesn't make any sense.

I think being polite and coming across an intelligent person and speaker is almost irrelevant in programming interviews. If you botch the BST problem, you're probably not getting the job...

Seems insincere to me, really. Unless they're the only candidate and you know you want to hire them and it's meant to start some kind of dialogue or relationship. Otherwise, it's just awkward because it's not as if you can tell them anything until you make a decision. And yes, there's the added "every interview advice column" tells you to do this.

It might have mattered back in the days of hand-typed letters and I'm sure some stickler curmudgeons still want to see it as some rite of passage/hazing thing.

People actually do it. It's not universal. It won't hurt, and if it manages to emphasize a candidate's interest/attentiveness at the right time, can help a little.

I've been known to follow up a couple days later with a concise report on some issue they mentioned having in-house.

It seems to be better received than null-content pings.

I only send them when I actually enjoyed the interview, which as it turns out has had a correlation of 1 to job offers received.

I always do it; never sure if it actually had any impact.

I'm an average programmer, right in the middle of the bell-curve. I know developers who are a great deal more intelligent than I am.

The market is such now that even little old me doesn't go two days without a few emails from startup HR departments, networkers and recruiters. If I ever find myself in an interview for a full-time job at a startup, it's going to be be me interviewing them.

That's not quite right. Most of the time, the people inundating you with emails are not the ones doing the screening. In other words, just because demand for programmers is very high, most companies haven't lowered their standards but have just put more resources into hiring (including getting more people to cast a wide net and contact as many potential candidates as possible).

I'm curious how these people know your email, and that you're a programmer.

Did you contact some recruiters at some point? Where are they farming your email address from?

Usually, emails come through Linkedin. People mostly see my name in a Meetup group, or on my github page, and I guess they check with Linkedin for the profile.

I get a few messages even though I have zero interesting projects or distinctive characteristics out there, apart from a basic "I'm a backend developer" presentation profile.

> Did you contact some recruiters at some point?

Yes, and I've had mixed experiences with them. Some of them are great, others not so much.

> Where are they farming your email address from?

I make my email address publicly available, so possibly from my LinkedIn profile or portfolio site.

I regularly get generic emails from recruiters saying they came across my profile on Github, or they'll just send me an email via LinkedIn's messaging system.

The author mentions that 90% of resumes are probably not qualified for a position and suggests that many of those rejections are be due to a lack of relevant experience.

This sounds like a horrible idea. There's a well-established history of inexperienced people doing amazing things that their more experienced counterparts couldn't do. This often includes founders (also true in other disciplines like the arts and science)

Obviously this is a much more nuanced topic (personally, for most roles, I would not consider random resumes on general principle because I don't think it's a great way to make an impression) but if you're going to have hard rules to weed out resumes, I would not recommend using experience.

It's a bit pedantic because this is not the article's main point, but it stood out for me and I think discouraging inexperienced people from doing anything is generally a bad idea.

(OP Here)

I think it is important to note that there is a big difference between weeding out resumes due to a heuristic like experience, and weeding out candidates based on experience.

Take the oft-quoted Tristan Walker/Foursquare example. If Tristan had simply sent his resume to "jobs@foursquare.com", It's likely that Dennis and Naveen would have hardly looked past the first lines of his resume. However, because Tristan worked his ass off to reach out directly, he was given a chance to do amazing things despite his inexperience.

I entirely agree that inexperienced people shouldn't be discouraged from trying to punch above their weight. I just believe that the bar for them to gain entry is a bit higher than submitting a resume.

Given the risks and costs involved, I think this is a stupid article.

1) It's cheap to apply to a startup. The worst that can happen is that you get your ego bruised with a rejection

2) Interviewing at a startup will help you interview elsewhere. You will learn something.

3) Startups complain about a lack of talent. Maybe you're the one to prove them wrong.

A.K.A. the reasons why there aren't many women working in startups? (Ask your friendly neighbourhood feminist about old-boy networks today!)

The article is sad but true. However, #3 is gives the most ROI from an interviewee perspective. It is not scalable for an interviewee to try going to lots of tech meetups or conferences just to network with as many potential hiring managers. One does not even know if they are hiring or not and if there is an open position.

Also if one has a current job and looking to switch it is even more less scalable as there is not enough time to do all these shenanigans.

Of course if you have the connection go leverage it...

I think for the better good we should encourage #3 as that is the right fair approach where talent and skill set is at stake and not whether one had the time and money to go to a conference/tech meetup.

when i was seeking i cold emailed maybe a dozen startups at various stages over a couple months, almost all of them responded. My typical cover letter is about 3 sentences mentioning functional programming, link to a simple github sample, and link to a recent technical blog post.

that said, intuitively you will get better offers when you are being recruited, which means establishing a history of interacting with them, participating in meetups, anything you can do to reduce their perception of hiring risk.

obviously, once you decide where you want to work, you obsess over nailing every piece of communication because your offer directly reflects their perception of you, but this is self-evident.

Im curious, what is the point of the job listing on the website at all then?

Interesting. I'd say though that if you're a very good engineer, you can demonstrate that rather easily. And then social proof and all those other factors don't matter that much. Founders spend some time trying to recruit their friends away, but that's a very hard thing to do. Basically, if you're qualified, you'll probably get a good shot.

I've got two conflicting viewpoints on this article.

On the one hand, I got my current job (as one of the first 10 employees at a startup) by "traditional" means--I saw a job ad, responded to it, interviewed, and accepted the offer. It worked great.

On the other hand, I am now on the other side of the process, and I really wish more people would follow your advice. Enthusiasm goes a really long way--if you're competent and likable, I will likely vote to hire you if you seem enthusiastic. Sending individual emails and doing company-specific prep for your interview should be a no-brainer. Have enough confidence in your technical chops (or non-technical jobs, I guess, if you're non-technical) to put effort into the other aspects of your job search.

I don't think this is just limited to startups, most of the stuff here could apply to any company.

Maybe the advice should be, don't "apply" for jobs period.

I always imagine that being an employer advertising a genuine job on a job board (in this economy) is probably a similar experience to being a supermodel and signing up for a dating website.

I wonder how well the networking approach will scale, I imagine it could get annoying very quickly being a company CEO or whatever and getting hundreds of emails every day from people who want to "have a chat about X".

I wonder if this applies more for non-technical roles. In my most-recent jobhunt, I applied at a number of startups people here will have heard of using approach 3, and got a good number of callbacks and some fun interviews. I certainly didn't have to suck up to anyone, do any spec work, or mass spam the founders with unsolicited recommendations.


Then stop whining that "ohmahgawdz I can't find talent!!!11!!1"

What they are really whining about is not being able to find talent at a cheap price. That is a problem not just for startups but for everyone.

Pesky minimum wage laws.

Early stage startups are really not worth it from a risk/rewards perspective.

That's a sweeping and unqualified statement. I'm very happy as employee #1 at a very early-stage startup. I'm learning more, and faster, here than I could hope to anywhere else. And not just engineering know-how. I'm getting a de-facto business-school education. On top of it all, I'm having a lot of fun.

The risk is "maybe didn't maximize earnings over n years". The reward, regardless of the startup's success is "learned a lot, enjoyed myself a lot". That's reward I get no matter what.

EDIT: Additionally, I applied in the fashion of #3 (from the article).

Some startups will be worth it (eg: Google, Facebook), but if you average them all, the risk/reward ratio is not worth it in general. There are a lot of crap startup out there, and you only have so many years.

Also, if you are a VC or a co-founder, then the risk/rewards ratio totally changes, and it's most definitely worth it. But if you are like the rest of us, then it's a big NO.

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