Hiring Tech Talent for Startups in One Sprint: Part 3

Jafar (Aladdin)

The journey of a thousand commits begins with a job application. The first hiring step from a company’s perspective is making and putting out a job description. From the candidate’s perspective, it is reading this description and applying for the job. Apart from Javascript jokes, I haven’t come across a more trolled tech topic than job descriptions, and this makes sense going by the kind of descriptions startups tend to put out there. Sometimes it feels like someone threw in tech buzzwords, random technologies, random numbers, and the terms “mentor, team, culture, develop, stack, infrastructure, agile” into a randomiser to come up with a job description. The best job descriptions contain what the company is about, what the tech stack is, the negotiable and non-negotiable expectations of the ideal candidate, bits on the company culture, and how to apply. This way, candidates can objectively assess themselves against the expectations and decide to apply or not. These days, candidates are advised to apply to a job even if they don’t meet every requirement. While this makes sense from the perspective of employers using job descriptions as a wish-list rather than a hard set of requirements, it would do all parties a lot of good if there was a distinction on hard and soft requirements. There’ll be less ambiguity and a more relevant and streamlined candidate pool.

Job applications are brutal. It’s like a dating site where only the other person gets to see your pictures and bio, but you only get to chat with them and not see them until they agree to meet you. If that sounds stupid and/or unfair, then you should seriously consider including a salary range in your job descriptions.

Candidates are asked to bare themselves out there, present the best and worst of themselves, write a cover letter, provide a github profile, have an almost 100% experience overlap with the tech stack, each with minimum years you must have used, fill out silly questionnaires on the last tough problems they faced, how their colleagues would describe them, why they decided to apply to the company specifically, their experience on each of the tech stack, why they are passionate about revolutionising the sauerkraut delivery industry, and at what age they lost their virginity amongst others. These same companies tend to dedicate no more than a short paragraph and a link to the website [or the CEO’s medium post] when talking about themselves. They do not talk about the budget for the role, the peculiarities of the company setup and culture, things that have been known to stand out over time, both good and bad, their high employee turnover, the fact that they don’t have normal working hours and tend to overwork without pay, or even that they aren’t profitable and are desperately fighting bankruptcy at the moment, or that they have just 6 months runway left. They have the privilege of being the ones to establish first communication in the form of a job description, so they tend to put just the best things about them, which is also why most job descriptions are short if you take away the Rema lyrics, or as you may know it: the “wish-list for an ideal candidate” section. All that is left is a very vague statement or two about company events, flat hierarchy, fruits and drinks in the fridge, fußball and, of course, the education budget. My personal favourite is when companies put their vacation days — often the legally required minimum — as a benefit. Congrats Ewedu, you are obeying the law! It seems to me like it’s already a rigged process from the start. If companies feel the need to know the candidate as much as possible at the application stage, then it’s only fair that they also put themselves out there as much as possible. Some companies even give an ambiguous message about what they do. Talking about stealth mode and industry changing. Well, to be fair, a sauerkraut delivery startup should probably be run [and kept] in stealth mode. It also definitely changes the way people look at the food delivery industry. They lose trust in it!

The current status quo is that companies place way too much emphasis on the applicant and job descriptions are heavily skewed in the direction of what the candidate should be and a not so subtle indication that the candidate needs to impress the company. I know this sounds like I’m complaining that a job description sounds like a job description, but the truth is that a job description should really be a formal introduction and call for a working relationship with qualified matches. Very much like a dating site, but professional. The tone set by a job description gets the entire process rolling in that direction so it’s very important that it projects one of a mutual need. Personally, I enjoy seeing the phrases: “we need you in our team”, “join us in building….”, “if this sounds like you, we want to meet you” as opposed to phrases like: “apply only if….”, “we are only considering candidates who….”, “if we don’t get back to you in 2 months, it means…..”. These are subtle differences, or in the case of the last example, not so subtle, but the latter phrases project an unnecessarily elevated sense of self importance. Job applicants aren’t parasites. Companies need them as much as they need companies, sometimes more, considering the fact that they’re probably going to work more than they are paid for, if hired.

Candidates tend to have a cover letter handy, sometimes in a combination of different formats for different roles, level, and company type and tend to just change the company name when needed. How’s that for authenticity. Considering the fact that a lot of times, candidates don’t even get a feedback in the end after applying for a job they’re convinced they qualify for, the cover letter requirement is rather bogus and, dare I say, redundant. A company wants to know the motivation of a candidate, what drives them, that one incident in 1996 that changed their life forever. So they ask for a cover letter. Fair enough, but a candidate probably also wants to know who the investors are, their portfolio, other companies they’re invested in, you know, for moral reasons, the balance sheet of the company, profit and loss statements, how many criminal convictions the CEO has had in the past, the company’s revenue and how it’s grown over time. The USP of the product, the clients and partners and the nature of the partnerships. I guess it’s only fair to provide a cover letter as well, detailing why a candidate should pick a company. If a company wouldn’t do this, then they shouldn’t ask for the same. Mutual respect, you know. Interestingly enough, these are things that’ll be demanded by a potential investor and best believe Ewedu companies would provide these in a heartbeat, so if you are asking candidates for a cover letter, please send them your pitch decks as well, because a potential employee doesn’t deserve to be taken less seriously than a potential investor. In terms of practicality, there are multiple candidates applying to a company, and a candidate is applying to multiple companies, so I’m not sure about the feasibility of reading through the same things you could simply discuss in one of the interviews, but if you must demand it, then candidates should have an opportunity to demand the same.

I don’t know if it is a subtle way employers say they use github, but requiring candidates to have a github account with code in it is a pretty bold move. I hope employers realise that in order to have a github profile with actual code “showing your skills”, candidates must have either had a few open source personal projects or previous employers that allow employees to keep the company’s code in their private github after leaving the company. Given that some developers spend their free time coding and working on personal projects, it’s still a bit bogus to assume they are publicly available projects and that they even have projects to show at all. Imagine having: “code for a company during the day and code also for yourself during your free time” as a requirement to get a job, often by a company that does not allow employees to retain the code they’ve written for them in the period of their employment. So as a candidate, I’ve written a lot of code in the last X years, all for companies that keep their code behind private accounts, but this company, also with a private git setup, is asking me to show a github account proving that I’ve done the same in the past. Make it make sense. I think people who code in their spare time deserve to get some points for their code when it comes to getting a job, it just doesn’t have to be a requirement to have written code in your spare time. This might sound strange, but some people have different hobbies aside from their jobs. Github is a decent way of seeing how someone codes, but then again it’s not the only way. As an optional replacement for a technical screening, I can imagine it’s a very interesting option for a lot of candidates, but most times, it’s just asked for the sake of it, then companies go ahead to conduct a technical interview anyway. Yes, you took the words from my head. It’s redundant! Also, if a company isn’t in the business of making open source software, then open source experience from a candidate is irrelevant to the company. It feels like new requirements are coming up for no evident reason asides discriminatory reasons, and even then, I can’t make any sense of why a company, which itself has no open source code out there, would prefer a candidate who has written open source code to one who has written non open source code. It’s just code, get over yourselves. It’s mostly done to sound cool, modern and hip, but there are real life consequences and potentially decent candidates who don’t apply because the job description seems to take github and open source contributions seriously. Let’s play a game: everytime you put a job description out there that shows an unnecessary preference for open source contribution history even when there’s no clear need for that in the company, you’ll match with a person whose bio says: “sapiosexual” on Tinder. Deal?

Everyone is taking a swing at making candidates more prepared for bad industry hiring practices. There are even startups dedicated to candidate success. Lots of hot takes on preparing a cover letter, github profile building, forcing open source on yourself just to be an ideal candidate, or, appear to be an ideal candidate, making your CV look one way or another, trying to impress the gods. Not enough emphasis is placed on the irrelevance of most of these bits. In the end, there’s a job to be done and someone is needed to do that job. All focus should be placed on finding someone who has what it takes to succeed in that job, while also contextually assessing other non-job specific details that it takes to succeed in the company’s environment altogether. Nothing more, nothing less. As an employer, If you must make any such vain demands, the least you could do is not be hypocritical about it and just send out a cover letter to candidates, make your company code open source and allow employees to keep your code in their github when they leave the company. Otherwise, you can’t meet your own standards. A combination of all these petty requirements, make a simple MEAN stack developer job post turn into a mean stack requirement.

<<<Part 2 | Part 4>>>

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It’s all BS and I’m sick of it.

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It’s all BS and I’m sick of it.

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