Applying to Jobs

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A business is no more than a group of imperfect people.

N o one has it all figured out. Taxes, health insurance, and dry cleaning are symbols of adulthood. Added responsibilities make us feel like adults but I have never met an honest person without insecurities about “doing it right.” Adulting is no joke. Behind our polished personas are average people making it up as we go.

The job hunt reflects this reality. While the nature of job hunting forces you to confront imposter syndrome over and over again, the people on the other side of the table are likely combating doubts and uncertainties of their own. It may appear you are interviewing with businesses, but a business is no more than a group of imperfect people. Behind every decision is a person with doubts and insecurities. You are not alone.

Playing the Numbers Game

Job descriptions are flawed.

Most job descriptions are not written by the person who has actually done the work. More commonly, job listings are borrowed from random places online, modified templates, or outdated versions used for previous roles. A quick google search of “job description for” reveals many of the top options. It is unrealistic to assume the requirements and expectations were carefully crafted, representative examples of the exact role. It is possible, but it is hardly the norm.

I realized this early in my career. I was reading a job description for a Senior Ruby on Rails Developer. Skimming down to the requirements section, I noticed the employer wanted eight years using the language. At the time, eight years of experience was impossible considering Ruby on Rails was only six years old. David Hanamier Hanson, the language’s founder, would not have qualified for the position. Another example is when Apple announced the Swift language. Companies realized the value and wanted to start migrating their codebases, so they put up job descriptions. Many of those descriptions required two or more years of experience, for a tool that was released earlier that day! These were more than innocent typos. Today, the tech industry is flooded with similar examples. Details as fundamental as years of programming experience and similar “requirements” are not as precise as you would expect.

Why does this matter as you hunt for your first tech job? Job descriptions are flawed. They are written and published by regular people. They are subject to the same biases, imperfections, and misconceptions as anyone. Do not expect perfect alignment. The most thorough job descriptions I’ve written were at New Story. There, weeks are spent evaluating a role’s requirements. I appreciate the care and desire for clarity it represents, but frankly, this is my least favorite part of a maturing organization. Despite how hard we try, we still never really know. Most job descriptions, especially when not replacing an existing role, are some mix of needs, desires, assumptions, and premature anticipation. It’s slightly better than guessing.

When a candidate is hired, their experience and what they will actually do rarely looks exactly like the original job description. While the candidate is hired for their skillset, they are also hired for who they are and what they bring to the table. A few years ago, I put a job role up for a senior software engineer. In my mind, I was expecting something around five or more years of experience. We ended up hiring someone straight from code school and instead chose to modify the title attached to the role. Why? Because we believe what the individual lacked in years of experience, they made up for in drive and passion for the role. They ended up being one of the best hires we’ve ever made.

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CTO at Fast Company’s World Most Innovative Company (x4). Author of “Code School”, a book to help more people transition into tech.

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Morgan J. Lopes

Morgan J. Lopes

CTO at Fast Company’s World Most Innovative Company (x4). Author of “Code School”, a book to help more people transition into tech.

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