As someone who has managed technical teams for several years, at large and small companies, I’ve received and read hundreds, maybe thousands, of emails from applicants. You certainly learn some heuristics to help identify the good ones quickly, but you also spot frustratingly common mistakes. In my experience, the most common mistake for people applying to startups, the one that has undermined the chances of some otherwise qualified candidates at my company, and certainly others as well, is as follows:

You didn’t tell us why you want the job. THIS job.

If you haven’t spent any time to learn about us, and what we need, then why should we do the same for you?

Every candidate that gets to an interview stage requires us to do hours of preparation, interviews, and discussion. If your introduction is generic, then I’m led to believe you’ve contacted dozens of other companies as well. If we’re going to invest our time in getting to know you, we’d like to know you’re serious about us.

It’s different for bigger companies, where hiring processes involve more people, and put your information through some normalization (a huge hiring database) anyway. But at a startup, every hiring decision is so important that it takes careful consideration.

Here are some specific manifestations of this problem, which you should avoid in your own communications.

DON’T

Send an introduction or letter that has no information specific to the company or position

Write “let me know if you have any good opportunities for me” — you should be explaining that to us

Apply for a position that clearly does not match your background, without any explanation why

By, contrast here’s how you can stand out.

DO

Tell us why you want this job, specifically

Demonstrate that you’re interested in our company and products

Explain how you would be able to do the job, to the best of your ability

Describe examples of past work that would apply

And always include an up-to-date resume. I hope this helps some job-seekers out there!