Here in Portland, OR, we have a problem. That problem is the interaction between companies and the people they want to hire, specifically IT and developers. They’ve got several reasons for doing it the way they do, and I’ll tell you about those, but first let’s talk about why it sucks for you.
You’re looking for a job, just moved here; maybe you’re just looking for an upgrade. You start poring over the job listings on a thousand different sites. The first one you find that sounds promising: Entry level .NET developer, six years experience required, bachelor’s degree required, must have experience in a wheelbarrow of libraries and utilities. “Are you a rockstar/ninja/wizard programmer that goes above and beyond/performs miracles?” they ask.
Each of those on their own is no big deal, right? What makes it terrible for you is that by specifying obviously non-entry level requirements for entry level (i.e. poorly paid, get all the grunt work) positions, they trick you into competing for a lesser job. They trick you into overvaluing what they actually have on offer.
The reasons startups (and other companies!) do this makes perfect business sense. Firstly, if you can get someone overqualified, but pay them less than the work is theoretically worth, that’s instant profit. This is especially true if you can convince them that it isn’t a lesser position at all. That they are, in fact, a rockstar, a ninja, a wizard, just by virtue of having been hired to a position described as such. You now have a well-trained person who can handle more than the job requires, and that makes your product(s) shine.
Secondly, it allows for already-employed developers and their managers to, theoretically at least, fine tune the interview process to address concerns specific for that position. Maybe it’s an unusually high stress job, and they need someone who can work under pressure. Maybe their clients are flaky, and they need to know that you can think on your feet. Including those traits into their interviews directly informs them of your ability to do those things without having to take the risk of waiting to find out. With pay what it can sometimes be around here, that can be a pretty hefty risk to take.
So what can we do about this? It sucks for us as hirees, but it would proportionally suck more for companies who need reliable workers.
I believe the answer is for both sides to be honest. Here at Tiger Sheep we have a very open and honest hiring procedure. We list exactly what is required in a position, and then we tack on the nice-to-haves. The interviews are conversational, and we try to come to a mutual understanding of what being hired by us would be like. It’s pleasant, it’s open, and it’s honest.
Hirees, be honest. Obviously if you’re in a bind, don’t risk not being hired. But the only way we can change how we’re interacted with is to provide feedback. There is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know how to do that,” or “Is six years and a bachelor’s degree really necessary for the position you just described to me?” You’re an adult, they’re adults. Ask questions, be honest. If you’re already in the system, think about how stressful your interview process was. What did you hate then? Is your current position at all what the interview prepared you for? If not, fix it.
Companies, be honest. Obviously, you need to hire great workers, and don’t want to pay everyone six figures for the pleasure of their company. Decide on a basic daily or weekly task list that represents that position’s workload. Compare that to other positions using Glassdoor or some other review service. Is it a job that could be done by a high schooler or recently-schooled developer? Is it a job that does actually require some experience, decision making skills, or advanced topical knowledge? Once you know that, advertise the position that way. Believe me, you don’t need to dress it up for our sake. People are always looking for jobs, especially around here where the average workspan for a developer is two years or less.
All of us, hiring or hiree, are programmers, developers, designers, and sysadmins. There’s no outside force making this happen, so let’s come together and make the whole thing better for everyone.