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Ask HN: How effective have the job posts on HN been?
110 points by rrpadhy on Mar 12, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 95 comments
I do come across job posts on the home of HN. Job postings by Y Combinator alumni, which are guaranteed to appear on the front page for a period of time.

How effective has been these posts? Anyone here who has out the job post and can share some numbers? Anyone who has applied to these job posts? Others, what do you do/think when you see a job post?

We are working on a startup idea, and this question carries some value in validating our concept. However, it is not related to job openings. Our validation is primarily to understand user behavior.

I owe my writing career to HN.

I have been writing my whole life (I probably put in my 10,000 hours before I left high school). But until recently, I'd never really considered it as a serious job option. Journalism rarely pays a living wage. Trying to sell book proposals is like trying to make a career out of buying lottery tickets. Unless you are confident you're the next J.K. Rowling [1], you should leave writing where it belongs: on nights and weekends, as a hobby. Or so I'd always imagined. And so I spent the last decade of my life resisting the call to foolishness and misadventure.

I've been lurking, arguing, and mucking about on HN for the last few years. I took awhile to realize that HN had become my primary outlet for writing. Once I figured it out, I committed more time to lurking here.

I responded to my first HN jobs post in mid-2013, for a writing job with Priceonomics (YC '12). They responded rapidly (same day, if memory serves), and I got to work right away. I have done some very fun, very interesting work with those guys. (And I hope to continue; in fact, I owe them beers when I get back into town!). That work went really well. In the span of three or four months, I landed an agent, a book deal, some NPR appearances, and some columns in national publications. I have yet to make Harry Potter money, let alone my previous salary. But in the meantime, I'm paying rent in San Francisco, doing something that doesn't feel like work to me. That's pretty cool.

Lately I've picked up a lot of freelance content marketing and writing jobs through HN Freelancer threads. I get a good response rate, and the people I work with have been awesome. I hope to keep landing these gigs every month or two.

And at some point, I'll get around to writing that book.

I apologize if this post seems glib, humblebraggy, or even non-humble in its bragginess. That's not my intent. I just saw this topic and felt an overwhelming need to share my story here. My path is atypical and ill-advised. Especially if you like making money. But I know of no other path by which I could have reshaped my destiny so quickly.

[1] Or Robert Galbraith, or whoever.

Hey .... I could not have asked for more... Thanks for the detailed response. It really helps in my understanding and adds a not of value.

"not" is: ton*

I know normally corrections are frowned upon, but this should be an exception, it completely inverts the meaning!

Thanks ... yeah ... I meant ton ...

I have always been interested in turning writing into a secondary source of income, since I have been writing as a hobby for quite some time now.

What genre is your book in, and what kinds of work do you produce? Do you think you could possibly answer a few of my questions over email? Thank you!

I'd be happy to talk. Hit me up at jonfnathanson @ gmail.com

Writing any fiction? Asking as as fiction writer who has brought a few bucks in to date with their prose.

Some, here and there. Not highbrow, literary fiction per se. Have spent a bit of time on a YA series that I have yet to hammer into a shape I am comfortable with. Fiction is hard. Structure and pacing are serious PITAs for me.

any pointers on improving writing ability?

Read more. Also, write more.

That sounds really, really, ridiculously trite. But it's the best advice I can give. It's the best advice I've been given, and it's the best advice I've put into practice.

Read a lot, and expose yourself to diverse writing styles. Write enough to develop your voice, and to recognize it when you find it. Know that there is no such thing as a universally "correct" style, though there are certainly better and worse styles for any task at hand.

Another good bit of advice is to write as though you're talking to someone. Put your conversation down on paper, then go back and pretty it up as needed. First be clear, then be stylish. When in doubt, be clear.

thank you for the advice

I don't know specific numbers, but the companies we've funded say they get good people from them.

From the viewpoint of a job applicant, I have been very happy with the job postings on HN. Of the 4 jobs that I applied to over the past 3.5 years (I'm pretty selective), all 4 responded to me on the same day, and 3 resulted in phone interviews. Those numbers are very good compared to other job posting sites.

I found that job aggregation sites like Monster performed absolutely terribly. In that same category are the careers website that large companies like Microsoft and Boeing have, which are basically black holes. I can't remember ever getting a response from any of them. It's easy to spam your resume to dozens of jobs at once, but 0/1000 is still 0.

My favorite technique (which got me my current job) was to apply to the company directly after finding the job opening through Craigslist or other means. Applying directly got me a response rate of 14/17, and an interview rate of 10/14.

Emailing companies directly through Craigslist was fairly poor for me, and gave me a response rate of 2/8, and an interview rate of 1/2.

I realize that my sample size is small, but I hope it helps.

Your talk about "black holes" made me realize that when I apply anywhere I should put some URLs into my cover letters to see if anyone ever reads them.

How would you use URLs in the cover letters to check they were read?

Put them on a server I control and check access logs.

Just curious... you said your best result was "applying directly" after seeing a company on CL, but that emailing the company after seeing on CL was not as successful. In this instance, does "applying directly" mean you went to each company's website and applied on their jobs page? Or did you call them/research and email someone specific/something else?

Yes, "applying directly" means that I went to the company's website, found the job opening, and applied from there. Generally that approach involved more research because I was actually able to browse their website and see exactly what they do.

When I say "emailing through Craigslist", I mean that the job listing did not have the name of the company, so my only option was to email them through CL.

My experience as job applicant:

Who is hiring, March 2014: I received three responses to my applications. One for code samples (no follow up afterward), one for quick phone conversation, and one for phone interview (Ed: three different companies).

Seeking Freelance, March 2014: No response.

Who is hiring, Feb 2014: No response.

Seeking Freelance, Feb 2014: No response.

YC Companies /jobs: No ACK or response in last two months.

Same experience here. Need to pass an online code puzzle -> a short phone interview -> No response.

Why is it considered acceptable to just cut off contact after a phone interview or an onsite interview?

If you get an onsite interview or phone interview, they should at least have the decency for a form letter "Thanks for applying, but we chose someone else." (especially after an on-site interview)

Some people don't like to reject others so they take the easy way out and just go silent.

This is a tragic mistake, because if you are running a company you need to be able to do something much worse -- cut people who are currently working for you.

It is not acceptable.

I have tried to be courteous to everyone who has applied where I am. However, keep in mind that one recruiter may be dealing with 20-50 applicants in that week.

And it is never fun rejecting people. It is easy to want to put it off.

Not sending a formal rejection email is a sign of an company that is still immature in developing its HR function.

Unfortunately, we see this more often than not at seed stage companies.

I have done hiring at a YC company and elsewhere based on HN. Especially for sales jobs I would not respond because I want closers. Not people who wait around for the other party to act. ( Relevant: https://elasticsales.com/blog/2013/01/24/how-hire-best-hustl... ) For hiring freelancers on here, and FT engineers, I don't respond a lot to get an idea of personality, communication style, ability to confront, etc. For anything outbound, I would have constant touch points since you are trying to sell the candidate the role, not the other way around.

Many people just weren't good fits culturally or technically and when you are running a startup there things get overlooked.

hn0114@boun.cr - send me your resume with a subject line that says resume feedback and i'll take a look

Random anecdote, I was walking SXSW last week and some kids came up and said hi since they noticed the YC founder I was with. One said " I applied to your company and I don't think I got a response ". I took that kids card because his attitude is one to make things happen. So if you want something, make it happen.

So, you want something (good hires), and you do nothing to get them? You are contradicting your own advice.

If somebody doesn't respond to me, I take that as an extremely loud and clear signal of "not interested" or "can't be bothered". It goes both ways.

Yep, I feel the same way. If you can't be bothered to handle being respectful of my time, your company is not one I want to work for. I have my pick of jobs, and do not appreciate wasting my time.

For sales positions, it's not unreasonable to expect the candidate to show hustle.

For the most part, though, these explicit or implicit "personality tests" are just as well-thought-out as the dating advice from an issue of Cosmo. The candidate has to guess what the employer is looking for this month and try to match it.

I know people are busy (doubly so when hiring or looking for a job), so generally I think the best policy is to not take it personally and simply move on when people don't respond. It happens on both sides of the search, and dead ends are to some extent just part of the game.

However, with the rise of the code puzzle/challenge test/work sample, I wonder if it might be time to forge a new professional ethic where it's understood that it is an important courtesy to give an applicant's work attention and useful feedback in return for investing time in completing a challenge.

With that in mind, lately I've been thinking it's important to set expectations (and figure out if you're likely to end up wasting your time) by asking at least two questions before agreeing to submit work on sample problems:

* if they have reference solutions or other rubrics that someone in-house has recently completed, and if they'll be willing to share those with candidates who submit work

* what kind of time they're planning to devote to giving attention and feedback to candidates who submit work

If they have a reference solution, that's a good sign that they have clear ideas about what their standards for success are and a good baseline of the likely time involved in completion.

And if they're willing to at least say that they'll spend real time on studying solutions and giving feedback (ideally something within an order of magnitude of the time they ask candidates to invest) -- or at least show you the rubric -- that's probably an indicator that you're not going to waste your time.

If they don't give an indication that they can do either, it may be a better use of time to move on. And if enough developers use that as a standard, I think it'll be less common to submit work with no response.

(This isn't, by the way, meant to be anti-challenge. The merits seem pretty clear to me, and I've gotten offers including my current job from submitting responses to tests. I've also, however, spent hours or even days* doing free work with nothing useful in return.)

(* One more useful question: does the sample involve working with the Facebook API? Just say no.)

However, with the rise of the code puzzle/challenge test/work sample, I wonder if it might be time to forge a new professional ethic where it's understood that it is an important courtesy to give an applicant's work attention and useful feedback in return for investing time in completing a challenge.

I agree with you on this front. I have never received feedback on such tests from any of the companies I talked to. In one instance, company asked me to prepare a decent size report before the onsite interview but it was clear during the interview that none of the interviewers looked at the report beyond the summary on the cover.

I started to address this issue by posting any presentations and reports, I prepared on the request of a company, as part of my work profile online. I believe one of the responses I received from Who is Hiring? March 2014 thread was due to one such work that I did for another company as test.

Your tips on checking who is serious are good. I will try them next time.

I have stopped responding to companies who want me to create account and/or use their API to create something. I learnt, from an angel investor acquaintance, that a lot of early-stage startups are using such tactics to inflate their user/API usage metrics for investor pitches.

Hey thanks for your response.

Some follow-on questions: 1. How often do you visit HN in day? 2. How do you generally spend your time on HN? reading new articles, reading comments, Commenting and participating, or something else? 3. Are you actively looking for a job, or you stumble across a good job posting when doing your normal browsing?

Hey thanks for your response.

Some follow-on questions:

1. How often do you visit HN in day? 2. How do you generally spend your time on HN? reading new articles, reading comments, Commenting and participating, or something else? 3. Are you actively looking for a job, or you stumble across a good job posting when doing your normal browsing?

I visit HN few times a day. It is my guilty pleasure and a quick break from the work I may be doing. If I comment, I browse often to see if anyone responded or to follow-up on my comments.

I read articles and comments if I find article title/submission interesting. I comment only if I have an opinion, experience or something new to add.

I am actively looking for job, was laid off end of Dec.

Did you contact the companies looking to hire full timers / freelancers? Or did you just post your ad and hope someone would proactively contact you? If the former, how many companies have you contacted that you got “no response” from?

I contact companies and people posting to hire FT and freelancers.

I posted only once as ad in Seeking Freelance thread, received no inquiry.

From March thread, I contacted 12 companies through email or online applications.

We get great applicants (https://circleci.com/jobs), and have hired over half the company this way (maybe 6 or 7 people).

However, we have a lot that appeals to the HN crowd: a flat organization, CircleCI is written in Clojure, the company is half remote, we make tools for developers and we're committed to private offices per dev for SF hires.

So your mileage will definitely vary.

Why do you limit remote applicants with "US-only"?

Dealing with remote employees is already something of an effort. It churlish to take the minority of companies willing to do it and complain that they aren't doing it enough because they want to stick with their native legal and social system.

(Can I let go of my remote employee in London? Do I need to "show cause"? How much will it cost me just to get a lawyer to answer that?)

Hire as a [long-term] contractor and that's it.

Timezones mostly, though actually we aren't as strict as that anymore, and I should edit it.

Until a year or so ago, they were our #1 most effective recruitment vehicle. (We got better at hiring; HN didn't get worse.)

Next step: get better at management to allow remote employment ;)

Yeah, no. Just not how we work. Sorry! :)

Speaking of which, how do y'all get most of your hires? Referrals? I've emailed your careers email address for matasano, but I've not gotten a response. I'm not sure if it's because I'm not qualified or I got filtered somehow.

No, you should get a response and, if you're interested, a phone call from us, no matter what. Our process is pretty much resume-blind. So if you didn't get a response, you fell through the cracks somehow (actual humans read all those mails, we get a lot of them, and we have spam filters).

Send directly to me? thomas at mycompany.

I'd wondered why you read six sets of crypto challenges, but chose not to send a form letter..

What's a form letter?

A form-letter rejection; I got no response, and assumed that itself was a response.

Why would I ever form-reject someone?

You can shoot me an email and I can figure out when this happened and maybe, if it's helpful for you to know, give you an idea what we did wrong on our side. Obviously, if you're still interested, we're happy to talk to you.

It's funny, one of the things I tell every person I talk to in our first-call process is "we won't go dark on you if we think it's not going to work out; we'll tell you ASAP --- but I don't promise not to go dark on you by accident". Everyone in our company is billable, which is good, but we're always hammered with stuff.

Thanks for this; I've shot you an email.

Will do, I'll just resend what I sent to careers. Thanks!

Note that there are two types of job posts on HN:

1) Who is Hiring threads, which are posted on the first of every month

2) Job postings by Y Combinator alumni, which are guaranteed to appear on the front page for a period of time.

I meant the second type.

Was not able to frame it correctly. So I have copy pasted your definition and updated the description. :)

We've posted two and received a total of about 50 applications.

of those 50 I'd say 65-75% of them are high quality candidates at least at first glance that are writing emails specifically about the postings we put up and referencing the things we say in the post vs just spamming everyone in the list with a generic cover letter and resume.

So far HN is the best source of high quality candidates for us as a startup working on hard technical challenges.

I regularly (twice a month?) check https://news.ycombinator.com/jobs just to see what's out there. I'm not even looking for a job, just more interested in what startups are doing and what kind of employees they're looking for.

Applied to 4 front end positions with a dash of Rails work, 2 of them had uninteresting work so I declined, 1 wanted me to jump through hoops answering some silly puzzles - "Lol no... I'm not 21 anymore, you want to hire me look at my credentials and open source code".

The last one was a great fit and I'm loving the work we're doing.

If you guys want to hire good people who actually respect themselves and will present your business well inside and outside, don't make candidates jump through your silly college-level puzzles. I'm too old for this shit.

We posted on HN in November and it was very effective (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6653752). The volume of candidates that came from the HN post was much smaller than other channels, but the quality of candidates was much higher than all the other channels.

Here are the numbers we saw:

HN - 12 candidates total, 7 made it to the initial phone interview and 3 made it to a full interview....we made one offer and he accepted (and he's awesome).

Stackoverflow - 28 candidates, 9 initial phone interviews, 2 full interviews, no offers.

Indeed - 40 candidates, 6 phone interviews, none of them made it to a full interview.

Craigslist - 6 candidates, 2 phone interviews, neither of them made it to a full interview.

Two other thoughts...

I think the reason that HN worked so well for us is that we we took a very targeted approach...before posting, we spent a lot of time thinking through exactly what we were looking for and what we thought made working at BuzzStream a unique opportunity for the right person. We wrote a positioning statement for the job that we used as the starting point for our post. Getting the message right was critical.

The fact that we don't mind bringing on remote people makes things a lot easier.

If you go through the whoishiring posts, you'll see some people actually do give numbers. For example, scribd:

> We've hired SIX full-time people and TONS of interns from these "Who is Hiring" threads ... it really works!


"who is hiring" thread is great...

My specific question is regarding the https://news.ycombinator.com/jobs

Also, some of the jobs show up on the homepage, how do they fare?

I got a great job through the the Who's Hiring thread. The company that hired me said the signal:noise ratio from HN was about 50:50, much higher than any other method.

Multiple hires for Khan Academy. One of our best recruiting networks.

I once applied to a job post in the one of the monthly "Who's Hiring" threads. I got a callback and we discussed the my experience, the company, and the position.

They were interested in conducting a further interview, but, based on the what I learned in the phone conversation, I decided we wouldn't be a good fit together and so declined to move forward.

I do enjoy reading the threads each month to see what the industry is up to from a hiring perspective.

Just one data point:

I replied to every NYC posting one month. I got zero on-site interviews. (I do get interviews when I send resumes via other methods.)

I'm not wasting time responding again.

We hired our frontend engineer, and he's been nothing short of awesome.

To put this in context:

We are an enterprise SaaS company (www.treasuredata.com). In other words, this is not something a lot of frontend folks are aware of let alone interested in by default. Still, we managed to find someone who was really good. He and another frontend engineer made a worlds of difference in our webapp and boosted customer engagement.

Very interesting company. Thanks for making me aware of it. I wasn't aware of an enterprise data storage, management and analytics SaaS company. This is my area of interest. I noticed you have couple of opportunities that I may be a good fit. Sending my application.

Great but terrible. Lots of initial contact with people I am offering them jobs with WordPress development and rails but very little followup.

You had posted a job opening and got great by terrible response, or you applied to jobs, but no follow-ups?

I think it's supposed to read, "Lots of initial contact with people. I am offering them jobs with WordPress development and rails, but very little followup."

I think he's the one actually offering the jobs: "with people I am offering them jobs" .

Might be that WordPress development is "unsexy".

I only looked briefly at the code and it seems Wordpress is a popular but poorly written app. I understand why many talented developers would pass.

WordPress is the worst blogging and content management system out there, except for all of the others.

1. I don't work in a technical domain

2. I don't look at job offers on HN

3. I never applied to job offers on HN

I hope this gives you a great insight!

Got a few interesting nibbles after posting on the who's hiring posts, but specific hiring submission didn't get far. We're based in Cape Town, so perhaps reader geography plays some part.

If you're in our part of the world, have skills in frontend development, java, or python, and you want to work at a fast growing mobile payments company, send me a mail (email on profile)

This is something I would like to discuss a bit more.(not the job opportunity, but the responses) no email on profile. :) Please share if you don't mind me asking a few follow-up questions.

Checking my profile beforehand might have helped :)

Feel free to get in touch - hans@zoona.co.za

> We're based in Cape Town, so perhaps reader geography plays some part.

I did a bit of geographic canvassing of HN, and while I only went through the "top 100" posters due to it being a pretty manual process, it does indeed seem pretty concentrated, with US/UK/Canada accounting for >80% of those I looked at. Summary at the bottom of this page: http://www.kmjn.org/notes/hacker_news_posters.html

Perhaps its time for another HN Poll: Where are you located?

One was conducted about 5 months ago:


Same as the other commenter, I'm interested. Canadian but I'd like to work in Africa. HN doesn't display your email address, you have to post it in your bio.

I you can find it in his previous comments, he's posted in the "Who's Hiring" before. I would repost but I assume it's something about avoiding spammers?

Hi, send me an email on hans@zoona.co.za. I'm a Canadian working in Africa, so would be great to chat

As an applicant https://news.ycombinator.com/jobs was always a fun way to read the pulse of the YC crowd. I saw something interesting, I applied, and now I'll be starting my new position in a few weeks! In a word; useful. :)

I'd be curious to hear about how effective the ones that end up on the weekends are. I can imagine they are quite a bit less effective, but I could be wrong. Seems like it would be worth just delaying those to the next Monday, but that isn't exactly a new opinion.

Myself and 2 other ZenPayroll engineers found and applied to ZenPayroll through the job posts on HN.

I didn't find my current job directly through the monthly job post but, over a year ago, I found a link to AngelList and then from there I was able to find my full-time job, junior and all.

I got my current gig at Monetate in December 2013 after seeing a post on Who's Hiring November 2013.

It turns out we've hired 7 our ~20 software engineers like this over the last few years.

Seeking freelancer has netted me a 3 to 1 rate for new clients on average every time I've posted. Far better then posting on elance or similar sites.

High quality candidates and also great discussions even with people we end up not hiring (Some we forwarded to other startups we knew were looking).

I've posted many UI programmer job openings I have in my team, never even received a resume. Good programmers are hard to find.

I know this is a shameless plug, but my company, Mighty Spring (http://www.mightyspring.com/getstarted) has a ton of front end people who would be interested in working at your startup ;)

Did you post as in hn/jobs or in "who is hiring"

I was hired from a regular HN post. But know of people hired through the job posts themselves. It works well.

My current job I got through HN, in addition to a number of interviews. Not a YC Co though.

I think this post should be a poll instead of just an 'open question'.

Got my current job on here

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