Are start-ups more likely to take a chance on someone with less experience?

2020-02-27 Nick Larsen

Dear Nick

I have a couple more job related questions.

From reading articles written by self-taught devs, I get the impression that quite a few manage to get hired by startups for their first role. This is perhaps not a particularly great data sample though, haha. Do you have any insight into whether startups are more likely to take a chance on someone with less experience? From some reading, it sounds like established companies often have more support and more people to learn from though. Would you suggest prioritizing either of these over the other? Or perhaps just sending out as many applications as possible is more the way to go.

I was reminded today, during an interview for another possible AmeriCorps position, that I get horribly nervous during phone interviews, to the point of having trouble speaking at all sometimes. I'm in the midst of setting up some practice interviews, but I half expect that I'll have to bomb several real interviews before my nerves settle down (if they ever do), which is a little bit disheartening. Do you have any tips for anxious interviewees? I imagine it may just come down to practice...

As far as job postings; how important is it to have everything they are asking for? I was reading a twitter post that said it often wasn't important to have every requirement, as they are more describing a dream candidate. Since I'm willing to move just about anywhere though, there are so many listings that I could be applying for. I guess I'm not sure how much time I should be spending trying to find jobs that fit- perhaps it's a balance of finding the ones that are close enough.

I had forgotten how daunting and unpleasant the job search is. I've been warned that getting your first programming job (without a programming background) is quite a challenge, but I'm glad I know that going in so that I'm semi-prepared for it.

Talk to you soon! Cameron


Dear Cameron

These are all amazing questions.

Working for startups

The culture of every company comes down to the people at the company. The only common difference I see with start ups is that most of them pay less than market rate for the trade off of giving you substantial equity. There are some intangibles that differ, like start ups make less money and are more dependent on a smaller number of products, there are fewer coworkers, etc but culturally its always the people. Do you get support? Depends if the people there value mentorship and care about your input as much as their own. Are they more likely to take on someone with less experience? Depends if the people doing the hiring believe that they can do the work or whether they value experience more. Are they going to treat you well and provide you with the tools you need to get your job done effectively? Depends whether they see devs as a cost center or a profit center. And so on. When deciding what to prioritize, just think about the key factors for your own success, then seek out companies that provide as many of those needs as possible.

Getting nervous during phone interviews

Wanna know a secret, I get horribly nervous during phone interviews too. Every time, no matter how much I practice or study or whatever, every single time I get extremely anxious. This happens to me when I take recruiting calls, it also happens to me right before I press that "start streaming" button every time I stream (and I did 100 of them last year). The best advice I can give you here is to try to figure out why you're having the anxiety. For most people that I've worked with it's because they don't know what to expect and they are afraid of messing up when they dont even know the rules. This is a really deep topic, but on the surface I'll just say that honesty is the best policy, there's no point in not trying but there's also no point in trying to represent that you know something you don't. Just say you're not sure but based on the evidence you have you would guess XYZ. And then of course try not to be a jerk. Outside of that you get into specifics about each question, and you never really know exactly what they are looking for.

Quick story on this, I recently was interviewing for a company that was looking for someone experienced in creating search systems. I made it through all the interviews and due to some wonky events that happened between my last 2 interviews, my headspace got all out of whack and I essentially rambled my way through the last interview. It felt awful even as I was doing it, but I couldn't make myself stop. Naturally, I failed to get an offer, as I expected, and as you should always do, I asked for feedback. This is where they get to clear up your guesses about what happened, and in fact, they told me they felt like I was a "been there, done that" kinda person who was just going to come in and tell them how to do it, but not teach them why we were doing the things we were doing. So in fact, whatever happened in that last interview had very little to do with me not getting that job after all and somehow my wording from the earlier interviews must have come off arrogant to them. You just never know what they are thinking, always ask for feedback.

How important is it to have all the requirements in the job listing

In general it's not very important at all, but it always comes down to the company. They use those things to try to reduce the number of resumes they receive and to give themselves a quick way to disqualify someone with reason. Most jobs that list those things are not going to check every single one of those requirements for each candidate, they are hoping you self select. The reality is that it's always the company's job to decide if you can do the work, not yours, so apply away. Hell go ahead and apply for those senior positions as well because if you make it through the interviews you'll start your career with a nice pay bump. It's just about selling yourself and your ability compared to the other people applying for the same job and that's it. You'll handcuff yourself if you explicitly search for junior positions, so I'd urge you to not do that, just search for the roles you want to work in and give it a shot. Don't be discouraged by companies that say no, just keep rolling.

Please keep the questions coming, I can help with technical stuff as well.

If you are currently looking for a mentor I'd be happy to help! Please reach out to me by email with your specific questions and I'll get back to you as soon as possible!