Lessons for Software Developers Applying for Jobs

Marcell Nimfuehr
Jun 24, 2019 · 6 min read
Source: Unsplash / Andrei Lazarev

I had the exciting experience of recruiting three software developers for my blockchain startup tender.buzz. I received about 150 applications for each position and realized that there is quite some competition out there. I want to share my conclusions to 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 of unclear issues in the job description. But I am already losing time when applicants just tell me that they are interested and like to speak to me. I can’t handle that. I have to decline 85% before 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, their role, and why they are proud of it. I even said (in bold letters) that I don’t respond if they don’t meet this criterium. 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.

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 significant 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.

5. Cover Letter part 2

Suppose 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 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 primary skills are only critical in and after the first talk. Since you can’t prove your writing skills (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 accurate 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 for my essential keywords. 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, 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 where the first page gives me enough to be interested in you or discard the application. Choose every single piece of info accordingly.

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:

  • Never, ever send a word file, 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 graphics designer on Fiverr and get yourself an excellent looking cv. Recruiters are humans and can be tricked into liking you.
  • Have somebody spellcheck. Not necessary to me personally, but to many recruiters
  • No large file-sizes. 3–4 Mb 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 work in a super stimulating 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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