How To Successfully Apply To Tech Companies

I think there is something profoundly wrong with how most of us approach the job search process.

As part of my university thesis, I asked undergraduates about the way they searched for their most recent part-time job, followed by a question on what actually worked best for them. The results of the study indicated two main problems with the job search process:

  • Even though most students looked for vacancies online (via online job boards, think Indeed, Monster, etc), none were successful at getting the job this way.
  • The most common way to receive a part-time job offer was through networking, despite a number of other ways to find a vacancy.

Now, this is hardly surprising. Utilizing your network and applying through referrals is by far the most effective way of landing a job.

But what if you just graduated from school, university and have no friends at senior positions in the companies you’re targeting? What if you just moved to a different part of the world? What if you want to change your field?

You’d use some or all of the typical ways to apply for a job (in the order of increasing desperation):

  • Applying online on the company site
  • Answering a job ad posted on a job board or LinkedIn
  • Blindly emailing companies your resume hoping for the best
  • Going through an external recruiter (not affiliated with the company) at a job agency
  • Knocking at a company’s office door as a last resort

Ironically, the last option may be the most effective, but it’s not always practical. Plus, it’s really time-consuming.

Disclaimer

I noticed there’s just a tremendous amount of noise in the process of getting an interview and it involves lots of luck. I’d like to present to you how you can get the job application process to work in your favor. This guide will help you get the foot in the door (AKA “interview”), but by no means guarantees you’ll get a job offer. Once you get the interview, your performance there will mostly determine your chances of receiving an offer.

Interviewing is Serious Business.

I’m also strongly convinced you should only apply through recruiters when all else fails. Remember, you aren’t their customer, the company is. You’re merely a product being traded. Even though their interests align with yours (the higher compensation you get, the more commission they’re paid), it is up to them to contact you about a position. This means you have little choice over what opportunities they have available, and you need to spend a lot of time explaining your situation to every one of them. I won’t go into what’s wrong with recruitment agencies, there are lots of articles discussing this issue already. Bear in mind some companies (typically more corporate organizations) hire exclusively through headhunters or internal recruiters.

The application process funnel

The easiest way to think about this is the ratio of how many people want to work at the company and how many people the company needs to hire. Let’s think of this process as a funnel.

A funnel is a popular concept in sales and marketing - a way to represent the flow of customers through different stages of interaction with a product. Let’s look through the application funnel on the employer’s side first and then through the eyes of the applicant.

The Application Process Funnel

Employer’s side

  1. Awareness - to apply to a company candidates must be aware of their existence. Companies achieve this by doing content marketing, campus recruitment, organising conference talks and meetups, etc.
  2. Consideration - it’s not sufficient for candidates to be aware of the company’s existence - they should be interested in working there. Companies typically use one of the channels listed above to convince candidates of their brand quality. Think about it - you don’t apply to all companies you’re aware of, just those that match your criteria.
  3. Interview - companies want only the best candidates to get an interview, as it is very time consuming and expensive to interview everyone that applies, given that their full-time engineers are very often part of the hiring process.
  4. Offer - it’s crucial for companies to give candidates a strong enough offer that the chance the candidate rejects it is low enough, while staying within the planned hiring budget.
  5. Hire - now the candidate becomes an employee and perhaps requires training.

Candidate’s side

  1. Awareness - since we typically don’t use any advanced software to filter job postings, we need to rely on multiple online resources. We could ask our friends, go to indeed.com, think about a great piece of content marketing we’ve read recently, etc.
  2. Consideration - let’s filter the companies by looking at Glassdoor reviews, filtering by location, salary range (if given), positions available, etc.
  3. Interview - since our time is extremely valuable, hopefully we nailed down the companies we’d like to work for and only interview with those that match our expectations. This is a good moment to evaluate staff by meeting them in person and determining if we should continue with the process.
  4. Offer - if the company provided a salary range then we’re hopefully not surprised by the offer, and we can now compare it to other offers. It is also the last opportunity to negotiate additional benefits, seeing all offers at once.
  5. Hire - opportunity to learn on the job.

Scope of this guide

This article mostly touches on the awareness and consideration sections of the funnel. Interviewing successfully and choosing the best offer is beyond the scope of what we’re talking about here. The idea is that if we do enough homework in the early stages of the funnel, we can avoid spending multiple days interviewing and receiving offers that don’t match our expectations or none at all.

Adopt the mindset

Your number one priority when applying to any job should be taking the employer’s point of view. Try answering the following questions:

  1. Why did the potential employer create this job listing? What position are they trying to fill?
  2. What technology and business problems will hiring a candidate for this listing solve?
  3. What is the cost of hiring their replacement?
  4. Which channels are the potential employer using to reach candidates (online application, LinkedIn, cold email, recruiters, career fairs)?
  5. What risk is the potential employer taking by hiring people for the specified role?
  6. What is the reputation of the company?
  7. What is the future of the company?
  8. How is the job ad structured? Is it overly vague? Is it too specific? Does it look fake?

Adopting the point of view of the potential employer is crucial if you want to make optimal decision throughout your application process (spend minimum time and money and achieve the best outcome).

What are your goals?

Do you want to make the most money? Do you want to learn hot new tech skills? Lead a team of developers? Build a brand? Earn bragging rights? Your 5- or 10-year goal(s) should determine which companies and positions you prioritize and how flexible you’re willing to be.

Where to apply?

A market is where you exchange goods or services. In the case of a job market, companies ask for your time and creative output and in return compensate you, usually with a salary. From the point of view of the business owner, the salary they pay you is equivalent to the cost of replacing you. A straightforward law of supply and demand applies. There are two ways you can benefit from knowing this:

  • you can choose a field where the supply is relatively low and the demand is high, or
  • you can choose companies for which the supply of applicants is relatively low and that have a high demand for workers or
  • a mix of both.

If you don’t intend to change your career path (which is a perfectly reasonable decision), then you’re left with the second option.

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Be flexible. This is your advantage over candidates that want to stick to specific roles, tasks or even the company brand (I’ll discuss why company “brand” or “reputation” may be irrelevant to you in the next post).
  2. Target companies that are rapidly scaling, have the means to do so and don’t (yet) have a strong brand.

Let’s break apart the properties of the company:

are rapidly scaling

I seriously can’t stress this enough. If a company needs to replace one, two, maybe five employees (out of tens or hundreds) and they’re getting a pile of resumes, then your chances are pretty minimal. On the other hand, if the company needs to hire 10, 20, 50 people then they want to make sure the process is as quick and smooth as possible to sustain operations and allow them to scale.

have the means to do so

It’s really crucial that the business either has external funding or such good cash flow that they can pay market rates. You really don’t want to work for a company that can’t afford to pay bills.

don’t (yet) have a strong brand

This is the most tricky part. Many people can list all the hottest startups right now that got funded and need to scale. I believe you will spare your time and effort by looking for and applying to companies that don’t get the PR, are not (over)hyped and do not advertise themselves that much. Yes, you will need to first spend some time and effort finding these businesses so that you can later spare the bother of attending multiple interviews which yield mostly rejections.

How to apply?

So now you have an idea of the type of company you should apply to. The last step is the method. We already determined most of the traditional methods are more or less useless. You sure as hell want to understand why employers receiving resumes using traditional methods don’t care, right? Well, they don’t care, because typically by using the traditional methods you yourself show that you don’t care about them enough. Finding listings online is fairly easy. Applying? Sometimes even easier, just click “Login with LinkedIn” and voila! You’re sorted… Well, not quite.

Meet your potential employer in person

Hiring is all about reducing risk. You probably noticed many companies are reluctant to hire without testing the candidate extensively. This is because the cost of hiring a developer with poor skills or bad culture fit is higher than keeping the position open for months.

There is no better way to do reduce risk than to establish trust between you and the prospective employer. The best way is to use a referral, but not all is lost if we don’t have access to one. The second best solution is to meet them at various events; either those organised by them or just general tech meetups or conferences. It’s not only a great way to show you’re more interested in working for them and an opportunity to showcase your appreciation for their product. It enables you to learn more about their work culture in a more relaxed atmosphere.

If you can’t meet them

In my personal experience (and it was echoed by some of my friends as well), you vastly improve your chance of succeeding by sending a personalised email to the person responsible for recruiting for your position. In general, it pays off to have experience and be able to imagine the mindset of the other side of the table during the application process.

This email must contain your resume and a few sentences on why you think you would be a perfect candidate for the position and for the company; why this company would be a good fit for your career and why you’d be excited to take this opportunity. Keep it short, but as personal as possible. Make sure the resume is tailored to the specific job listing. Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing if they ever read the email. If they don’t get back to you within a few days, it’s worth following up — some people are just really busy and may miss your email one day and get back to you when you follow up.

During my spring job hunt I applied to 6 companies through email; heard back from 3 of them and got 2 offers. I also applied to 11 companies through an online form on the company website and heard from 1 (one!) and got to the final stage (receiving no offer). In the former case, I had a 50% chance of getting an interview; in the latter — 9%…

My job application experience

You’ll probably ask: fine, but how do I find the person responsible for recruitment? You need to look on LinkedIn for that, filtering employees by office location, position, etc. You need to email your resume to their personal inbox. Typically the email addresses follow either of these patterns: [email protected]; [email protected]; [email protected] The last pattern especially applies to early stage, small companies. Anyway, if you’re unsure about what the email may be, you can use various tools online, though I typically found the process to be quite straightforward.

Lesson learnt

Look for companies that are rapidly scaling, have the means to do so and don’t yet have a strong brand. Ideally, meet them at an event, be it a conference or just a meetup. If you don’t think there’s an opportunity to do so, email them your resume with a personalised “cover letter” in the email body. You will have a much higher chance of getting an interview and the interviewer will greatly appreciate your interest in their business. Try adopting the mindset of the potential employer in order to evaluate your chances of getting a great offer. In comparison, applications going through the online form don’t stand a chance.


If you found this inspiring or would like to have a chat, leave a comment below and check out my other articles on alordev.com

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