Picking the Best Startup Job ReferencesBy Chris Muir
Picking a good reference for any job deserves some careful thought, but it's extra important when you're up for a job at a startup.
This post originally appeared on Paysa’s blog.
Joshua Goldstein is co-founder of Underdog.io, a talent platform that helps thousands of top candidates connect with hundreds of the best technology companies.
We recently checked in with Joshua to get his insight on what tech companies are looking for in new hires today and how job seekers can better position themselves to land the jobs in tech. Here’s what he had to say:
Can you tell us the story behind Underdog? What sets you apart from other job platforms?
We started Underdog.io as a side project back in April 2014. At the time we were working on a different business, but we weren’t close to making any money with it and started brainstorming other products that would help us pay the bills. Underdog.io was one of those ideas; it was the one that we felt the strongest about. After getting some early traction, we decided to go all in.
We’re building a recruiting company with heart. The recruiting industry is very transactional, but finding a job can be such a personal experience. Our goal is build something that looks and feels different than the typical recruiting experience.
We work with companies that share this similar notion. It’s one of the reasons we turn down one of every two companies that attempt to join the platform. We’re also less expensive than most job platforms. Because we’re still bootstrapped, we don’t have to be as dead-set focused on revenue — instead, we attempt to focus on the candidate experience above all else. When the two are at odds, we will always side with the latter.
What is the current job climate for tech jobs? What are companies looking for in their tech talent?
No surprise, the climate for tech jobs is hot, but it’s also always evolving. There aren’t enough good software engineers when compared to open roles, and that’s something we expect to continue in the near term. Coding bootcamps, among other players, have attempted to fill this void but the problem is they are filling the market with junior developers, and the need is typically for more mid-level and senior talent.
We’ve noticed a few interesting differences between what SF companies look for in software engineers and NYC companies. SF is much more focused on education as an initial screen for a candidate, whereas NYC companies are more likely to look past education and focus on side-projects and public-facing code. This could be due to the maturity of the SF market (or lack-thereof in NYC). Or, it could be due to a lack of experience in junior recruiters in the SF market. What we see is that education is the easiest screen to perform for even the least experienced recruiter.
What are the challenges facing tech professionals in landing jobs at competitive companies?
At the moment, software engineers have quite an advantage relative to the overall job market. The biggest challenge for the best professionals is that they are often asked to run through multiple rounds of intense interviews that are merely duplicates of each other. It’s not exactly the worst thing in the world, and it’s something we have to remind software engineers when they complain about interviewing.
For tech-focused business candidates, the laws of supply and demand are different. Tech is trendy, which means many that would have considered finance or consulting after graduation are now more apt to go into tech. It’s a much more competitive landscape for business candidates.
What can these individuals do to make themselves stand out to IT companies?
Software engineers don’t have to do too much. It always helps to have some public-facing code on GitHub or possibly BitBucket, but the reality is, as of now, software engineers are in high demand.
Designers and technical product managers should have a portfolio and/or website that has been updated with the latest work.
Business-focused candidates will need to spend more time networking, understanding the market, and proving to the hiring managers that he/she is capable. It takes a certain individual to work at a fast-moving technology company – the smaller the company, the higher the need will be for a generalist.
What types of skills or training is essential for tech workers today? What will make them more competitive?
No matter what type of role, tech workers should know tech. We encourage our business candidates to learn the basics of coding, design, and sales & marketing. That doesn’t mean he/she has to take an expensive coding class – there are enough relatively inexpensive tools to learn the basics.
For software engineers, it’s important they are up-to-speed with current trends in tech. Proficient knowledge of certain languages and frameworks will make a software engineer more appealing – Ruby and Python, for example. The same idea goes for designers. And, if a designer wants to make a good first impression, he/she should have some experience designing for mobile.
What are the most common mistakes you see IT job seekers making when launching a job search?
Looking for a new job can sometimes feel like a job in-and-of-itself. It’s important that job seekers put forth the necessary effort.
It’s also important the job seeker does some due diligence on the industry, company, and possibly even interviewee.
What can job seekers do to better prepare for interviews with IT companies? What type of research should they do before hand?
Know the company! Check its LinkedIn page, Crunchbase page, AngelList page, Paysa page, etc. Come to the interview with questions.
If the job seeker is a software engineer, he/she should expect to be tested on his/her coding skills. Unfortunately, coding tests are not always a good representation of someone’s skills, but it’s almost a must in today’s world. Prepare beforehand (if possible), and try not to get too flustered. I could probably write a lot more on this subject, but I’ll save it. There are plenty of smarter people out there that have addressed the concept and often-times misuse of the coding test.
What tends to turn companies off? What are the most common mistakes you see job seekers making in the interview process?
Hiring managers and recruiters want to find people who appear to be passionate about the problems the company is attempting to solve.
Coming into an interview unprepared is a common mistake. Candidates should do some research and be ready to ask questions.
If you’re interviewing at a startup, try to understand the persona and culture before you get to the interview. The last thing you want to do is show up in a suit when everyone in the office wears t-shirts and sandals. You should try to mimic the culture as much as possible when interviewing, without going overboard. This is also a good way opportunity to ask oneself what he/she wants in his/her next company’s culture.
Why should job seekers use online tools like Paysa to improve the quality of their job searches?
It’s always helpful to have more information. Remember, job seekers are almost always going to have incomplete information about their opportunities. Using a tool like Paysa gives candidates a leg up when it comes to negotiation.
Obviously, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our product, Underdog.io. We improve the job search by making it fast and painless to your information in front of as many founders, internal recruiters, and hiring managers at the best technology companies in SF, LA and NYC. One 60-second application, and you could be contacted directly by email by them the following Monday.
What piece of advice do you find yourself repeating over and over to those seeking tech work?
It depends on the candidate. For software engineers, as I’ve said, the market is different. Mistakes can be made, and someone can still get a job. Of course, if someone wants to work at Google, we’d suggest they don’t make mistakes. 😉
For business candidates, finding a job can take time. Put in the work, and know the industries. If you’re looking to work at a startup, you should be paying attention to recent funding rounds, and possibly befriending VC’s, when possible. Be patient and strategic, and you’ll be fine.
They say that in fundraising if you ask for money, you get advice, and if you ask for advice, you get money. I think the same could be said for job-searching. When networking, if you ask for a job, you get advice. If you ask for advice, you might just get a job.
Every week we send out a newsletter called Ruff Notes with our personal thoughts on something interesting we’ve read, as well as product updates and news from our community.