How to get hired as a developer at a startup in like, 5 minutes

If there was one piece of advice I could give to software developers looking for work at a startup, it would be to care.

If you’re anything like me, you spent the majority of your young life listening to other people tell you what to do to get a good job. People told you you had to go to a good college. They told you you needed to do internships during your summers and join leadership organizations and wear a suit to your interviews and have a resumé perfectly formatted to fit on a single page.

I played that game for a long time. But after founding CityGrows last year I, for the first time in my life, found myself on the employer side of the table rather than the employee, and now I’m realizing just how bad all that advice was.

Having now spent hours pouring over resumés looking for the perfect person to join our team, I’ve noticed pattern in the things I look for. Surprise: it has nothing to do with what college you went to or what clothes you’re wearing.

You know how they say it takes 10 compliments to make up for the damage done by one insult? Well, it turns out that expression rings true here too. Colleges, volunteering, clubs, internships, those are all just compliments. It’s not that they don’t matter at all, it’s just that they don’t do much to compensate for huge, glaring mistakes, and given the number of people making huge, glaring mistakes, simply avoiding those mistakes will pretty much put you in the top 5% of applicants.

So what are these mistakes? For the most part, we’re talking basic stuff like not making spelling errors and using proper grammar. That said, there’s one mistake in particular that will sentence your resumé to the trash faster than anything else, and that is not caring about the company.

If you do not care about the company you’re applying to, you will not get hired. Period.

I am absolutely blown away by the number of applications that come in, bloated with skills and experience, but which do not contain even a single sentence explaining why they’re interested in our company. (Worth mentioning: “I want to work for you because you’re a tech company and I do tech.” is not good enough. Most companies have tech. What made you pick this one?)

I, like almost all other startup founders, started my company because I’m deeply interested in the space I’m in. Employees are people who spend a huge portion of their lives together. They collaborate, they ideate, they inspire each other — the thought of spending that much time with someone who has no interest in the space other than raw technology and no interest in solving the problems we set out to solve as a company gives me anxiety. And even beyond that, from a purely pragmatic standpoint, employers want to hire people they know will do great work; caring about what they’re working on is arguably the most important part of the formula.


If you’re applying for a job and you’re worried your resumé doesn’t stand out, don’t fret. Simply include a paragraph or two about what inspired you to apply, why you’re passionate about what the company does, and what you think you can get out of working there, and you will come out far ahead of 95% of applicants who, unbelievably, don’t do this.

Stephen Corwin is the founder of CityGrows, a GovTech company based in Los Angeles. Send him a tweet, or subscribe. And also, we’re hiring!

Co-founder CityGrows | Eventual proprietor Alpaca Hot Spring Rave Farm | Regretful non-architect, non-filmmaker | Fountain of unqualified opinions

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