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Ilia Mikhailov
Ilia Mikhailov

Posted on • Originally published at

5 essential job application tips from a CTO

After seeing a little too many poor job applications recently I feel that I need to put my CTO hat on. Learn how you can increase your chances by 500% of getting the interview by following few simple tips.

This type of text is actually much easier for me to write than a tech article, because I don't need to do any research. I know this stuff by heart. I see it almost daily. And what I see makes me frustrated.

I've been on both sides of the table. I have interviewed lots of developers. I know what works and what doesn't and I am here to teach you.

It's not as hard to get the interview as you think.

It's not about you, it's about them

Replace all I's with You's in your application letter. Seriously. Try to write an email without a single I in it.

Companies don't care what you know or where you worked. They have problems to solve, and the only thing that matters is how you can help them.

Once I received an application where I counted 13 I's and not a single You. The person had the tech skills, but she didn't put them in context. I wrote back short feedback email where I explained the problem, because I am nice, but most often this kind of email goes straight to trash in other companies.

Also, please never send mass emails. They are so see-through. Never write "your company" in an email. Always use a company name and also include the name of a person you are writing to. People love hearing their own names.

Do your research. Learn the company and it's products and tell them why you think their company is cool, how you can help and why you would love to join the journey.

People are busy. They have problems to solve. How can you help them?

Always include a photo

A very low hanging fruit here. People often want to see the face behind the words.

No mugshots. No fake smiles. No professional shots.

Just a simple photo of you where you smile and look friendly. You don't even have to look into the camera.

Find a pic of you were you look happy and where you look like you are enjoying life. It can even be from a party, but you shouldn't look drunk of course.

Always include a photo of you. Period.

Forget tech skills, it's all about learning skills

Many developers are worried that they are not skilled enough to apply for a specific job. I used to be one of them.

If you are still green it's a valid concern, but here is the thing.

The technology wheel is spinning so fast today that your skills quickly become outdated.

The only thing that matters is how fast you can learn new stuff. You have to prove that you are a fast learner. That you can learn news things quickly.

When a company hires you, they hire you mostly for your talent and your ability to learn. Company invests in you and people don't expect you to be productive from day one.

At first the company loses money on you. They pay more than they get. After some time they expect you to become productive. They expect to get a return on their investment plus some more, so to say.

When I say more, I mean they expect you to learn new skills and also their tech stack. It's a win/win situation.

How to prove people that you are a fast learner is a topic on it's own, but if I could give one tip it would be this.

Start your own blog and include a link to it on your resume.

What are you hobbies?

This is often a neglected part of the resume and unfortunately the most underappreciated too.

What makes you unique? What makes you stand out from the rest?

Here are a few of my hobbies for example.

  • BJJ. Rolling around with sweaty people dressed in pyjamas is my thing.
  • Summer Carpenter. I prefer active vacations with good hardware.
  • Hunting. Not so much for the shooting part, as for spending time in nature.

Now, did that catch your interest? Wouldn't you like to know more?

This is the thing. You want to get people interested in you, get them curious. You want to make them say "I want to meet this person!"

And here is the best part. It doesn't even have to be work related.

What makes you you?

Bypass the gate keepers

This might be the most important tip of all. You have to bypass the job boards, application emails, recruiters and try to find your way into the company. Find the right people to email or call.

If you send your application the "recommended" way it will end up with the rest of the applications. You will be just one of many.

Even if you got the skills, people who will have to go through all applications will probably not give much attention to yours. Especially if the job offering is a popular one where you compete with hundreds of people.

You get the point, right?

You want to stand out. You need to find your way in. Do your research, find the people that you think are good contact points. Ask around with people you know. There is always someone that knows someone.

If the company is using external recruiters you will also save company money by bypassing the process. Always go straight to the source.

For example, when someone emails me directly, I often feel obliged to reply or to forward the email to the right people.

Find your way in.

In Summary

Of course there is a lot more to it than the tips above. Things like email copy, phone calls, resume format and pitch, your online presence, etc.

Remember, people often read between the lines.

But, if you do any of the things above, I guarantee that you will increase your chances of getting the interview.

In the end, it's all about psychology, timing, right message, right tone and a little luck.

Maybe I will write a book on the subject one day.

During the summer I plan to write more articles with focus on soft skills. Follow me on Twitter to stay in the loop or keep an eye on my blog.

Top comments (2)

annietaylorchen profile image
Annie Taylor Chen

Interesting... a lot of suggestion say don't use photo, because it might indicate gender and age => discrimination. But I included it anyway.

But how do we deal with recruiters looking at your resume, not your portfolio or code? Often they're just checking for your "working years" and "keywords", it's extremely hard for juniors to stand out.... and frankly I don't see any job that even wants juniors, most puts three years of experiences as "entry level".

codechips profile image
Ilia Mikhailov

You should try to avoid recruiters by any means, for the reasons you mention, and somehow find your own way into the company.

That's not true that companies don't want juniors. Sure, they all put 3+ years of experience, but that's their best case scenario. They most often end up hiring juniors anyway. And if you don't have any official work experience maybe you already have 2 years of experience - school projects, personal projects, etc. It all counts.

When it comes to personal photo, my opinion is that a photo gives more context. When you hear a person's name you will most likely google to see what she looks like, to get a face of a person. Why not provide it up-front? Plus, you are in control here. Maybe you don't want them to stumble on some "out of context" embarrassing party photo that search engines indexed.