Lessons for Software Developers Applying for Jobs

I had the interesting experience of recruiting three software developers for my blockchain startup tender.buzz. I received about 150 applications for each position and realised that there is quite some competition out there. I want to share my conclusions that hopefully will help you stick out from the crowd and land your dream job. I will share some things that you don’t find in the usual how-to-apply articles.

1. Understand the recruiter’s position

I dealt with 450 applications in total. This number makes it clear that I have to create a process that streamlines recruiting. I can’t spend too much time with an applicant before I receive the necessary documents. It is ok to ask for clarification to unclear issues in the job description. But I am already losing time when applicants just tell me that they are interested and they would like to speak to me. I can’t handle that. I have to decline 85% before a talk.

Make sure to be among those promising enough for a talk.

2. The CV comes last

CV’s are not what will get you the position or even an invitation to talk. I only look closely at the CVs of those applicants who comply with a few other things first.

3. Reading is King

Since I don’t value CVs that much, I asked the developers instead to describe two of their projects, what was their role there and why they are proud of it. I even said (in bold letters) that I don’t respond if this criterium is not met. More than half of the applicants just sent me their CV and took themselves out of the race. I specified that the job is fulltime remote (written in capital letters) and there were still enough dev’s who asked for part-time or if they had to relocate. That is not a deal-breaker but not a good start.

If the recruiter sees that you didn’t read closely she will think that you don’t care.

4. The Cover Letter

I get it, you probably apply to many jobs and you don’t want to spend the time to understand what the company is doing and write a cover letter specifically for that case. (Although that gives you a big advantage since only 5% did that). The cover letter is what makes you stand out. It makes the recruiter either curious or bored. Take the time to write a compelling one. Tell the recruiter something about yourself. Touch the recruiter on an emotional level.

Use the word “I” often because it shows self-confidence. Don’t try to sound professional by using standard phrases. You can be funny and even a little provocative. Be colorful but never grey, never mainstream. The cover letter defines if the recruiter looks at your CV with interest or not. 95% of all applications look alike. Stand out by showing that you are a unique human.

Ideally, your self-description is about 10 lines of text in two paragraphs.

Here are a few examples I used as self-descriptions in cover letters:

First sentence in the cover letter as a content marketing specialist: I am the Ethan Hunt of content marketing and accept every Mission Impossible.

For a marketing position in a blockchain company, thus knowing that it is tech-heavy:

I am a trained software engineer. Finding out that I am the world’s worst coder I switched to communications. Being fascinated by the points where technology and communication meet I learned — both in University and in life — how to change people’s behavior and create impact.

I applied for a job as a blockchain reporter and web marketer and started my cover letter like this:

Sometimes a link says more than a thousand words:

www.bitcoinblase.at. That is me. I publish three articles on Blockchain on a weekly basis. I made the website, I do the marketing reaching 20.000 users per month. My style is: “explain it to me like I am five.” I just finished a 300-page book on Blockchain that is published in Croatia in March.

5. Cover Letter part 2

If you want to go the extra mile and write something specific about the job or company, research if the recipient is an HR person (which means big company) or something else (small company). If it is something else, you can be more personal, more direct and more specific to the task at hand.

6. Nice-to haves

Usually a job post has the “must haves” and the “nice to haves”. Recruiters expect you to be perfect for the must haves, so it is often in the nice to haves where you can shine. Pick one where you are good at and include it in the cover letter.

7. Skills in the first round

Your actual skills are only important in and after the first talk. Since you can’t prove your skills in writing (and while I ask I don’t look at your github-repo at that stage). I just check if you have mentioned them. A software developer should be a person that is precise and scrupulous on the details in her work. Being precise in the recruiting process is the next best thing to a coding test for a recruiter. If you fail there, you probably don’t get to the code test.

8. CV

The average CV is three pages long. I can’t study 1,500 pages of info thoroughly. I can only browse them to see the keywords I am looking for. I hired for native Java on Android. I often lost interest when the first two job experiences had .NET as a technology. If recruiters don’t specify degrees in the job description, then they usually don’t care about them. In that case don’t list them at the beginning of the CV (except if you are a newb). My ideal CV is one where the first page gives me enough to be interested in you or to discard the application. Choose every single piece of info accordingly.

Examples: A recruiter doesn’t need to read your address or your marital status or d.o.b. on the first page. Never use a picture where you look like a serial killer (happens more often than you think!). Put the picture in unused space but don’t block a paragraph for it. Put your contact details and linkedin link and github repo link in the footer in small. Leaves more space for the important stuff.

9. Format

There are no rules as to how a CV should be formatted. What we have learned in school (if at all) is usually at least partly wrong. Make a CV that helps the recruiter. This helps the recruiter:

  • Name the cv file: familyname-company-job.pdf. This shows the recruiter that you care about them, even if you don’t.
  • Never ever send a word doc, always a pdf
  • Either put the cover letter in the pdf as page 1 and have the same text in the email text or just say that you apply for this job and the cover letter is in the pdf.
  • If you can, only send one pdf. These tips help the recruiter save a lot of time (multiplied by 100 applications). Since so many don’t do that, you stand out immediately.
  • If you find it difficult to get invited to a talk, hire a layouter on fiverrr and get yourself an excellent looking cv. Recruiters are humans and can be tricked into liking you.
  • Have somebody spellcheck. Not important to me personally, but to many recruiters
  • No large file-sizes. 3–4mb max.

10. Recruiter spamming

Naturally, recruiters hate it if applicants don’t have the necessary experience or skillset. Most discard your application immediately. But you should not care about that. Still apply if you feel like it. Tell the recruiter in your cover letter that you are missing a key variable but “here are the reasons why considering me is worth it!” In the end, you only care for how the recruiter feels if it helps you get that invitation to talk.

11. That Stupid Salary Question

Many job posts don’t give a salary range but ask you for your salary expectation. Naturally every recruiter knows what they want to pay. They ask to either test you or to get lucky when you ask less than they are willing to pay. Them having the information advantage makes it a game you can hardly win. I liked the applicants who told me what they earned in their previous job (doesn’t have to be the exact truth, the recruiter can’t check that and if she does, you don’t want to work there). You can then add that you’d either want to increase that number or to work in a super thrilling and rewarding environment. And that you needed a talk to find that out.

With that being said I wish you the best for your job hunt!

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