I work for a small, growing software company. We just hired two more developers, which is one more than we intended to hire, but the decision on which of the two to pick was difficult and the entire hiring process is arduous and, as I mentioned, we’re growing, so we didn’t want to have to go through all this again in some small number of months, so we hired both.
Previous rounds of hiring were easy—the difference in quality between the candidates was so obvious that there was almost nothing to deliberate or decide. But we got a good number of good candidates this time. Two people remained strong through the whole process. So we combed through their code, reexamined minute details of our conversations, and interrogated their references, hoping to find some well-hidden abomination that would make the decision easier for us. We found none. In the end, the decision between the two would have been arbitrary—it was easier to hire both than to decide on one.
Both stood out from the beginning. They both did these five things.
So few people wrote a cover letter that those who did immediately provoked conversation—even those that were obviously standard-issue letters, that contained no customization or mention of our company whatsoever. But this is the easiest thing you can do to communicate your seriousness. Even better if you can relate yourself to the company or the position in some way.
Include a link to your personal site or some code repositories. Don’t worry if it’s not a world-changing project or in the language required by the job—mostly, the reviewers just want to see evidence that you can write and to gain an inkling of your work’s quality.
Unless the company only wants code monkeys, they’ll want to more or less like the person they’re hiring. So make yourself easy to like. This is especially important for small teams.
You don’t need to be like them—just do what you can to make them like you. I’ve never written off a candidate because they made an awkward joke during a phone screen.
You don’t need to absolutely ace the technical, but bullshit is fairly easy to detect even under layers of jargon.
Like the cover letter, it’s quick and easy to do and it conveys your earnestness. This five minute investment from you will help convince them of their investment in you.