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I’ll fill this out more today as I wrest some time from the rest of my responsibilities, but wanted to get this out post started. I this post I want to focus on large numbers. What I’ll touch on is the brute force method most recruiters and employers employ, and why resumes are an awful conduit for examining a large number of candidates.

There’s a large number of unfilled tech jobs. Here’s a list of 25 companies with the most open jobs in the US. I pulled this from a Forbes article. 

Amazon 1784

Lockheed Martin 1568

General Dynamics 1114

Northrup Grumman 1099

Diverse Lynx 985

IBM 889

CSC 878

JP Morgan Chase 866

Applabs 787

Microsoft 772

HP 707

Technosoft 660

GM 643

Chico’s FAS 572

Apple 551

Dell 535

Leidos 530

PWC 528

CareWorks Tech 494

Cognizant 488

Booz Allen Hamilton 486

BAE Systems 477

Caci International 463

Axius Technologies 442

Mantech International 375

From Forbes

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Going back to CompanyX’s job posting, the skills section is so confusing as to guarantee only the very desperate will apply. Software coders want a likely benefit for expended effort. Anybody who’s a good hire won’t waste time applying since there’s no good indication of a payoff. Also, if a company does this poor of a job describing its software needs it doesn’t portend well for the future work environment. 

  • Creating an agile SW development environment that facilitates innovative software delivery
  • Driving the SW architecture to deliver a solution that is robust and scalable, and agile enough to handle a growing list of feature/functionality requests.

How CompanyX uses the agile tells everybody it has a poor understanding of this methodology.

For a long time waterfall has dominated how software is produced. Because of dissatisfaction with the results, software professionals have searched for alternate methods to drive project management of software development. Agile has been promulgated as a lightweight form of developing software. It’s a method that if we were talking about a ship’s journey, allows for course corrections. Contrast this to a waterfall approach that’s more like a North Korean missile launch that doesn’t allow for course corrections. 

This posting’s use of the term in “agile SW development environment” scans as a proper use of the term. The following assertion in the job posting that an agile software development environment should result in an innovative software product is tenuous. Agile was designed to give product owners better visibility of a software project as it is in process. Also agile was designed to reflect feedback from market or the product owners during build to reflect changes as the software is written and deployed. Some may argue that the agile process is innovative compared to prior forms of managing a software project. But to expect a resulting product to be innovative for using this process makes as much sense as expecting a gold shovel I dig with to turn the dirt I shovel into gold dust.

The same problem continues in the second bullet point I’ve highlighted. Expecting that an agile process will result in agile software doesn’t make sense. All of what I discussed in the posting’s case that this process will result in an innovative product applies for this statement.

Anybody who responds to this job posting should be held suspect, because the only the most desperate applicants will tolerate this confusing posting to apply. Any discerning software developer who’s proud of the craft of software development would run from this company. 

My startup that’s attacking technical recruiting has at its core messaging as a necessary feature. Our thesis is that anonymous messaging between applicants and potential employers will result in a better experience for everybody and that applicants and employers can examine more opportunities if it’s done online. I often am interested in messaging startups, particularly any messaging startups that target businesses as customers. I found ChatID when I was reviewing Techstars roster of companies. They connect brands to consumers using a messaging tool. I liked what I saw from their job posting for a Front-end Engineer. 

Join a rapidly growing, post Series A-funded company founded by leaders in Jabber/XMPP - the technology powering chat on Facebook, Google and Whatsapp. ChatID’s mission is to make brands as accessible as your friends via chat. Today we are pleased to work with the world’s largest brands and retailers.

We are looking for sharp, detail-oriented engineers to help us build and ship great product. You’re great at HTML, CSS, and Javascript, willing to learn from us, and anxious to work on interesting projects. You’re excited to learn about our entire stack and from some of the world’s top engineers. You should have a strong computer science background with experience building real products from both the server and client sides.

Responsibilities:

  • Launch features and build new products atop the ChatID platform and APIs
  • You will have immediate ownership of various parts of our product and will be expected to rapidly build out new functions and core features
  • Collaborate with our (awesome) design and UX team
  • Work with coffeescript and a variety of Javascript frameworks

Requirements:

  • BS in Computer Science or related field preferred
  • Experience with modern web libraries and frameworks (jQuery, Backbone, Angular, React, etc)
  • Strong command of front end languages (HTML, CSS, Javascript, Coffeescript)
  • Comfortable in a small, intense and high-growth start-up environment
  • Qualified applicants should be self-starting and comfortable working in a fast paced environment with limited direction

Perks:

  • Meaningful equity in the company and competitive salaries
  • Downtown Manhattan office location steps from the best restaurants, shops and parks
  • Whatever equipment you need
  • Healthy snacking and hydrating to your heart’s content
  • 100% Medical/Dental/Vision Coverage
  • Education allowances, conference passes, hotel and travel

The pitch of the company to a prospective applicant is good. It’s to the point. “Post Series-A company” may be wonky, but if they’re only interested in developers interested in working including this language is appropriate. Citing that the company is founded by leaders of Jabber/XMPP is very good. Steve Jobs said that A players hire A players and B players hire C players. For a good coder, working with productive and creative people who’ve spearheaded good technology is at the top of the list for a job. Citing the tech chops of the founder will help them improve the quality of the applicants for this position. 

In the second paragraph of the job posting ChatID gets right to the requirements for the position. It’s short enough to read in 39 seconds a job applicants allots to reading a posting as TheLadders found in its eye-tracking study. The following bullet points are clear and generally pertinent. My only quibble is information in the perks section should come first. A startup that’s paying competitive salaries should broadcast this fact to counteract perception that startups cannot or will not pay market salaries. 

The difference in these two postings leads me to believe that in ChatID’s case the leaders of the company are actively involved with hiring. I’m assuming that they’re actually following through on the premise that innovative companies need the best talent. In the case of CompanyX, I believe it’s probably a solid biology innovator but lost when it comes to hiring a software developer outside of its core focus. In the case of CompanyX, I’d be shocked if the leaders of the company are involved in hiring a software developer. It’ll be delegated to admin@companyX.com till they become desperate enough to hire a contractor of dubious motivation, or pay a premium fee for an effective recruiter’s services. 

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A quick interruption of my examination of job postings. Something just reminded me of a pet peeve of mine with tech companies, it’s how hard most companies make it for fan developers to know what technology a service or application is built with. For example I’m active with PyCon the annual conference for the Python programming language. You can read this recap for what I did for PyCon in Montreal in association with Startup Row where we provide twelve booth spots for early stage startups using Python. 

Actually it was while searching for pitch candidates for my Seattle event that a glaring fact stared me in the face. Fast growing startups need every tool available to hire, but many fail at simple things that can help. One is advertising the startup’s technology stack. In my search for pitch candidates I visited Techstars Seattle’s website to review portfolio companies that may pitch at my event for startups using Python. Of the 290 companies listed on this roster of all of Techstars portfolio companies none list tech stacks. It’d be easy to add a column in this table to add each companies tech stack.

Y Combinator is the world’s most successful incubator. Paul Graham made a famous blog post about why he thought companies should hire Python programmers. Surely Y Combinator’s website lists the tech stacks of Y Combinator companies to help each in hiring developers. Nope. Don’t even publish a roster of companies. 

500 Startups in my opinion has the most robust publicity machine of all accelerators. I was certain 500 Startups got this simple task right. Nope. On 500 Startups website the page about startups lists logos of portfolio companies in a waterfall layout and has a drop down search tool to seek specific companies. 

Why not give a fan developer and opportunity to work on a product the developer loves?

I recently met Ruben Ortega the former head of A9 for Amazon. He’s now in charge of technology for Nordstrom. I often ask leaders in charge of organizations and likely hiring engineers how that task is progressing. He’d replied he was enjoying hiring for Nordstrom. He’d described how much he loves hiring for Nordstrom because he meets so many developers who are in love with the company and want to build the tools he’s designing for the company to improve fashion commerce through apps and websites. 

I loved reading Scott Berkun’s book Year Without Pants, about his experience working for Automattic the creators of Wordpress. In it he described how many employees at Automattic started as open source contributors to the Wordpress project and joined the company as employees because of a deep fans’ appreciation for the product. 

At PyCon 2013 in Santa Clara, many conference attendees expressed surprise that Facebook and Twitter were present with booths. Fact is both use a lot of Python. Why not make this open knowledge? Why are companies failing so hard at reaching developers who could be fans and hires?

Seems easy enough. As a coach for writers I urge my targets to think of very simple visceral sentences like, “St. George killed the dragon.” It’s as easy as CompanyX uses Python to build Xproduct. VCs, incubators, accelerators, and coworking spaces, do your constituent companies a favor and publish a roster table that includes technology stacks. 

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I’m continuing my examination of this random company’s job posting. Take a look at my earlier post for orientation to set the table for this post. I’d mentioned in the earlier post I’d like more information on the posting. Towards gathering more information I messaged my fellow alumnus through the list. My fellow alumnus didn’t respond to me. I’ll follow-up with a separate post on prioritizing hiring and cultivating sources because this fellow alumnus if he’s serious about hiring should be trying to cultivate me as an asset to assist his hiring need. Seems nobody’s good at this aspect of hiring, follow-up with or cultivation of likely allies.

Since I don’t have my fellow alumnus’s help, I browsed the company’s website and located the job posting I’m assuming the fellow alumnus was referring to when he posted to the alumni mailing list.

Keep in mind that nobody reads job postings. According to a TheLadders study using eye tracking, a job applicant skips requirements and goes straight to compensation information. An applicant spends as little as 39 seconds reading a job posting. I argue that’s because job postings are mostly inundated with garbage language that’s meaningless. 

Read through this example job posting with this data in mind. 

Software Development Lead
Location: Boston
MADepartment: Engineering
Type: Full Time 
Min. Experience: Experience

At [CompanyX], we are on a mission to revolutionize food safety through science, software and passion.  We are on the cusp of launching two powerful tools to the food industry, [CompanyX] DETECT and Sample6 CONTROL.  [CompanyX] DETECT is an on-site, in-shift pathogen diagnostic. This advancement paired with powerful analytics from [CompanyX] Control will shift food safety from reaction to prevention.  Food processors from meat, dairy, produce, and dry goods have already partnered with Sample6 in order to integrate these revolutionary products into their plants.  We are powered by a creative, innovative and hardworking team. Together, we can make food safer.

We are looking for a talented, highly motivated person with a positive attitude and desire to make an impact on the food industry by leading the development and delivering an innovative and reliable software solution that will compliment our diagnostic test.

The Software Development Lead will be a champion for the introduction of health and safety data management into food production. He/she will take a hands-on approach and will be responsible for:

  • Providing strategic direction for the SW solutions team – mapping customer feedback/market requirements/competitive considerations to compelling solution designs that strike the right balance between cutting-edge technical excellence, robustness and time-to-market requirements
  • Creating an agile SW development environment that facilitates innovative software delivery
  • Driving the SW architecture to deliver a solution that is robust and scalable, and agile enough to handle a growing list of feature/functionality requests.
  • Guiding the design of user interfaces that are intuitive, easy to use and mindful of the target end-user’s expectation
  • Demonstrating proficiency in tracking projects to schedule and meeting all product release requirements/deadlines
  • Building a team that is well balanced to meet both SW creation and support requirements


SKILLS AND REQUIREMENTS:

  • B.S degree in a technical discipline (preferably computer science) or equivalent experience
  • 5-10 yrs years software development experience, with technical development management experience
  • Expertise in agile software development
  • ‪Proven ability in delivering on-time SW products of high quality
  • Take ownership of the codebase/product technologies and make it yours.
  • Experience working with mobile devices and other hardware devices a plus.
  • Excellent Communication and customer-facing skills

Benefits

We offer an array of perks which include but are not limited to the following: competitive salaries, a 401K plan, generous vacation time, equity for qualified hires, subsidized parking and commuter benefits.

In today’s post I’ll concentrate on the pitch the company is making to a potential hire. This posting is full of self-serving nomenclature that’s full of terms with slippery meanings. At the Cathedral of St. John Divine near Columbia’s campus in Manhattan there’s a corner titled Poet’s Corner where the cathedral’s builders inscribed a William Carlos Williams quote in the stone floor, “a reply to the Greek and Latin with the bare hands.” This job posting by [CompanyX] can use some raw Anglo Saxon language rather than the noise that pollutes it currently.

I’m presuming that the introductory paragraph of this job posting is understandable by somebody working in the domain of food safety. However this company’s trying to hire a software developer who may not know anything about what this company does. There needs to be an Usain Bolt time headline to capture the attention of a potential hire. What this means is when Usain Bolt runs a world record time in a sprint, it’s a very clear measure of performance. Towards this purpose, I’d suggest this company highlight what a big concern food safety is for the public.

According to the CDC’s website, food borne illness kills as many as 3000 annually. This year 48 million people will get sick because of food. An attention grabbing headline would be “Join [CompanyX] and save 3000 lives a year”. Then follow in with the huge numbers. People naturally incline to pay attention to big numbers and 48 million sick annually because of food is a big number. Sell a compelling story to a potential hire to reach the most mission driven employees.

Our job posting under examination then tries to make a case for the company’s likely success. This section is full of empty words like revolutionary, creative, innovative, and hardworking. Read a number of job postings and you’ll understand how empty these words are because they’re used in so many job postings. The punchline in this job posting is “we can make food safer”. Saving lives is a more compelling message as I stated earlier for a similar message. But a better pitch to state the company’s prospects for success would be highlight the proprietary biology innovation that makes this company unique. Make a claim for the company’s fortress. Highlight why it’s hard for a likely competitor to duplicate and the uniqueness of the founder’s discovery. Then explain what’s at stake for companies involved in our food infrastructure. For example when children die of a e coli outbreak there’s dollars at risk due to liability for a company.

A suspect company in a food borne illness outbreak may care about its customers and children globally, but universally everybody understands that all companies care about cost. Explain that [CompanyX] will be successful because it’ll contribute to a company’s success. I performed one Google search and turned-up a USA Today article that claims food borne illness in the US causes $152B of damage to the economy annually. That’s a big Usain Bolt number that’s palpable. Why isn’t this data included in this job description? It’d make a memorable impression in a potential hire.

Job postings seem designed to bore a potential applicant into a mental lull to provide a potential employer with opportunity to surprise an applicant with trick questions. Perhaps it’s not a trick and rather an honest foreshadowing of how boring the job environment will be if an applicant is hired. If holding back compelling information is a trick to test an applicant’s research skills, anybody writing these incomplete job postings should look at Google’s abandonment of quizzes and puzzles in its hiring practice. Prepare your job applicant for success in the hiring process as you would prepare an employee for success. 

The preceding sentence assumes that most employers foster prudent management practices. Workplace culture is beyond the scope of my blog. I won’t delve any deeper into that salacious topic. 

I’ll follow-on with a post to discuss this job posting’s requirements for the position.

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I’m going to pick on this random post that popped-up on an alumni mailing list I participate in — no hard feelings:

CompanyX is an agile Boston biotech company with key software components. We need a great software architect to drive our data system.”

In the first line there’s no meaningful information for a prospective hire other than the company is located in Boston. At least the first line does provide location of the job right away. Though and explicit mention of if the position is remote or onsite would be an improvement.

Biotech can mean a whole slew of things. But why should a prospective hire care about this company’s biotech? For example a prospective hire who may have family members suffering from a specific ailment might be more interested if the posting explained what this firm really does.

"Key software components" doesn’t say much. It appears an attempt to emphasize the value of software in a non-software focus company. This bridges to the ask for a "great software architect" where there’s no meaningful information in this phrase at all. There’s no mention of the company’s technology stack. What kind of architect? Architect in the context of software is a slippery term that can mean at times a senior coder to a hands-off manager who designs a product. 

Job description ends with “data system” a completely open and nebulous term. 

I’ll try to solicit more information from the poster and try a rewritten job post. Perhaps we can test the two and see what’s more effective and generating applicant interest. 

In the meantime here’s a facetious take:

"CompanyX cures your momma of awful shit. We do it with computer magic. Need a BAMF who can perform Harry Potter crap with ‘puters"