How to get a job at a top-notch software company

If what you’re doing now has come to its natural end or you’re otherwise not happy with what you’re doing right now, you might think it’s a good time to apply for some of those open positions you find on top-notch software companies’ job sites.

For the top 0.5% programmers, chances are this is going to work fine. But for most of us, I’d like to utter a bit of advice: Refrain!

Applying for jobs online is almost never going to thrive. The skilled recruiting staff of large companies like Microsoft, Google, Oracle, Sun, Novell or SAP has anything to do but weeding out the résumé database. Smaller companies have a small recruiting department, are hiring headhunters to fill their openings or have GMs, VPs or the CEO do it.

They all think they’re so special. And you know what? They are.

№1 job seeking advice: Know why you of all people would fit into that company

Microsoft for example is all about tough technical problems, puzzles, brainteasers and the like. They may not do them during interviews anymore but if you’re not comfortable with making tradeoffs or “Thinking it through”, you’re not going to fit easily into a technical position in Redmond.

Google has also been known to try attracting top-notch engineers using quizzes. Recently, they managed to remove quite a couple of folks from Microsoft and Firefox.

Try to find out as much about the company and whom they are hiring. They may have different hiring policies on college graduates, seasoned developers and foreign nationals. Know about visas and relocation.

Listen their employees, how they think and what they value. Read their blogs and question their opinions. Ask yourself if that’s really the pack you want to run with. High-tech software companies have an attitude that they are cultivating very carefully.

For them, the actual position and what it requires does not matter as much as your fitness for the companies’ culture, your ability and willingness to adapt and learn and your passion for excellence.

However, if you’re able to convince an insider that in fact you are capable, you’re almost there.

№2 job seeking advice: Know someone in good standing at the target company who knows and trusts your skills enough to refer you

It doesn’t necessarily have to be the final interviewer, though. Getting in contact with anybody in the company is a good strategy, especially during your research for №1.

Here, it is the good relationship that counts. Leaving a couple of offensive blog comments is an excellent counterexample.

Good contacts need to grow over time. Internships, user groups, forums and blogs are a great way to communicate your skills to the public eye and employees of the company of your dreams.

Maybe you can also use your school as a link. Professors usually have an interesting set of business contacts that might be very interested in what your mentor has to say about your talent and aptitude.

A good contact is priceless, but nevertheless it is only a channel.

Still, it’s the message that counts. Your message.

№3 job seeking advice: Get your story straight

So let’s say, now you have your channel set up. Your insider is willing to refer you or you easily dismissed my advice and are preparing to send in your resume.

Try to make your message as perfectly clear as humanly possible. Focus. Be short. Be precise. Use keywords judiciously. And if nothing else, be honest!

Don’t embarrass your channel. Trust me on this one. Your message has to fit the company, the position and the way it’s conveyed and stored. If you really want to apply online, remember to check their recommended format and, for this one time: conform.

Gold-plate the content, not the style. Most applicant tracking systems will allow for nothing but plain text.

State your goals. Let your recent activities relate to them. Think about how you later can reasonably explain gaps in your résumé.

Find out what you can leave out and what is necessary. This is not as easy as it sounds. In the US, a photo is unexpected and considered too personal. In Germany it used to be required. Smaller, serious and well-established companies will still expect a carefully taken portrait of you as your best sales representative.

Review your message. Then, again. Grammar, spelling, typography. Try Google on the phrases you use. Question those that produce few or no results or do not originate from native speakers.

Let somebody review. Then, somebody else. What do your insider friends think about it?

Learn to rate your skills.

№4 job seeking advice: Actively match your skill levels to requirements in listed positions

If they don’t fit, do your homework, learn, recheck, refrain or proceed at your own risk. In at least one particular field you need to be more knowledgeable than a representative sample of your classmates or coworkers. Can you proof it?

Large companies may have loads of poor descriptions of open positions. Although it is very, very tempting to generously apply for all of them, don’t get fooled into this behavior.

№5 job seeking advice: If at all necessary, carefully decide for one position only

There is such a thing as résumé spam. Don’t be that guy. You’re not helping.

It’s the receiving recruiter’s talent and responsibility to match your message to the companies’ openings. This may or may not be the position you’re applying for.

I consider it acceptable to send one unsolicited but nevertheless well-targeted résumé to a high-tech software company in a one to two years timeframe, depending on your achievements.

For the average guy, it’s usually not a one-shot endeavor anyway.

Final job seeking advice: Review, readjust, retry

Developing your career is a process that mainly consists of learning and adapting.

Know what you want and why and what you can do about it.

Excel.

And use all means to get the word out.

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