How to build a great team with better job descriptions

How do you build and grow a successful software startup? It’s a billion-dollar question, answered by thousands of blog posts and hundreds of books every year, with complex propositions and hypothetical strategies.

Many of the suggestions are inaccurate or limited to a particular type of company, but there is one simple answer that is applicable to every software startup: build a great team. While the success of other industries may hinge on external factors like raw materials or complex logistical problems, a software company is almost entirely defined by the people in it. If you’re tackling the wrong problem, good people will uncover a better one. If you can’t reach your market, good people will find a way. If you’re searching for a technical solution, good people will create it. A great team solves nearly every problem.

So it’s surprising that we don’t talk more about how to attract the best people to our teams. The humble job description may not be a sexy topic like big data or growth hacking, but it’s incredibly valuable. It’s often the first and only thing that a candidate reads about your company, and is the critical conversion point where you can capture or lose their interest.

Our startup intends to double in size during the next few months, from 12 to 24 people. We’re hiring for completely new roles and adding more people to fill existing positions. We’re also hiring for roles in new locations, such as our first engineers in New York.

So we’ve put a lot of thought into the best way to write and structure our new job descriptions. Have a look at what we’ve come up with along with some of our rationale, and let us know what you think.

You can see the full job description here.

The Job Title

Senior Software Engineer (Cardiff, UK) in VC-Funded, Fast-Growing Software Startup

Though it may be a single sentence, the title is a crucial part of the job description. It’s the first and often only piece of information displayed in search engine results and job board listings. If an applicant quickly scans hundreds of titles, we need ours to fulfill two requirements:

  1. Include a job title that they identify with.
  2. Garner enough interest to warrant a click-through.

It’s more difficult than it sounds to choose a good job title, with synonyms like engineer, programmer and developer often used for the same position. For this UK role, we searched a number of UK job boards and UK startup career pages to identify the most commonly used term, which in this case was Senior Software Engineer. It’s not a perfect solution as employers and applicants may not necessarily use the same language, so I wonder if this is a part of the process we can improve, for example by A/B testing adverts.

As for adding some words to pique the interest of the applicant, it’s a fine line between saying the right thing versus off-putting clichéd marketing speak. Rockstar, ninja, and the like are certainly out of the question, as is the new fad that Y Combinator startups like to use about “disrupting industries”. I recently saw one such startup ask applicants to “Come help change the future of logistics“, but all they did was deliver fast food in a couple of local towns. It’s a little disingenuous to give the role a headline based on where you hope to be in five years or more.

So we opted for more of a blunt, factual approach, hoping that this would also appeal to the straight-talking east-coasters. Each part of “VC-Funded, Fast-Growing Software Startup” tries to get across some meaning. Working backwards:

  • Startup. I think this is an important indicator of the style, pace and potential of the role/company. It’s not a corporate job.
  • Software. There are many types of startup that may require technical support, this makes it obvious which kind we are.
  • Fast-Growing. This demonstrates that we have been successful, and hints at getting on-board early with lots of potential.
  • VC-Funded. This is a counter-balance to “startup” and “fast-growing” which could both be associated with risk. The fact that we generate decent revenue and also have substantial venture backing, helps to mitigate the risk associated with working for a startup.

The Sub-Title

Up to £50,000, plus stock options, flexible working and travel opportunities.

Salary is clearly an important consideration for all applicants, and we don’t want to waste their or our time by dancing around the subject, so this information goes at the top. Plus, unlike many startups who use the equity package as an excuse for sub-par salary, we offer at least market-rate together with equity and some genuine perks, so hopefully this information encourages them to read on.

Having said that, we have a slight concern about publishing the salary range. In the past, when we’ve offered well above market salary to attract the best candidates, we’ve seen evidence that qualified candidates won’t apply because they think they’re “not good or experienced enough” for the role. This is why we now prepend “Up to” before the salary figure, but there may be more we could do here.

Dates

Published: May 11, 2016.
Deadline for applicants: May 27, 2016.

The published date shows that this is a current opening.

It’s the first time we’ve included a deadline, because they’re not particularly relevant to startups like ours, where it takes as long as it takes to find the right person. However, applicants have emailed us in the past to ask about the deadline, so we thought setting one up-front would save their time. Plus, we do genuinely need people as soon as possible, so implying a sense of urgency is accurate. And surely it’s not a bad idea to give applicants a reason to send their application in sooner rather than later.

The Summary

  • Bipsync is a fast growing, venture-funded SaaS startup with a product obsessively designed to help financial organizations manage their research. Most of our customers are multi-billion dollar hedge funds based in New York.
  • You will join our experienced product engineering team, working out of our modern and spacious Cardiff office in Stadium Plaza, a stone’s throw from Cardiff Central train station. We also have an office in New York with the potential for international travel.
  • As a Senior Software Engineer you’ll define and develop the core product features on a range of platforms, including web, desktop and mobile.
  • You need experience with Javascript and web technologies in general, with advanced knowledge of at least one server-side language like PHP, Python or Ruby. Our full tech stack includes many modern technologies and learning opportunities.
  • We offer a competitive salary and significant benefits in an exciting, friendly and flexible work environment. We are an equal-opportunities company that values diversity, and welcome all qualified applicants.

Too many job descriptions force you to read multiple long sections before you get a feeling for what the company does, what the role is, and whether you’d be a good match.

Our summary, at the very top of the description, tries to answer these questions immediately. Our industry is a little opaque, but we try our best to give a high-level overview in the first bullet point. As with the title, we have specifically chosen phrases in the description:

  • a product obsessively designed” – we care deeply about the user experience of our product, which is a critical factor that differentiates us from our competition, so we’ve tried to imply that in as few words as possible.
  • help financial organizations manage their research” – this is the essence of what our product does. The actual category of software has a specific name, Research Management System, but the majority of applicants won’t recognize it, so we avoided using it in the summary.
  • our customers are multi-billion dollar hedge funds based in New York” – this adds detail about the kinds of customers we serve.

The second bullet point gives a specific location for our office, which happens to be conveniently located for most commuter routes. For many applicants, this is an important piece of information for assessing a job opportunity. It’s important to put yourself in the mind frame of potential applicants so that you can understand their priorities and respond to them.

The third bullet point describes the scope of the role as succinctly as possible, in terms of what is expected.

The fourth bullet point gives a high-level description of the skills that an applicant needs to apply, which are clearly important.

Finally, we’re all too aware of how job specifications can be written with unintended “coded” words that can dissuade an applicant of a particular gender, race, age or ability from applying. We’ve tried to avoid the obvious ones (e.g. “culture fit” can imply “people who look like the team we already have”), but it’s a difficult task to completely remove all biased words. To address this, we thought we’d explicitly state our goal of building a diverse team in the summary. As a tech company in finance – two traditionally homogeneous industries – we have to be conscious and proactive about building a well-rounded team as we grow.

About Bipsync

Bipsync was founded in Silicon Valley in 2012 by experienced investors and software developers at Stanford University.

We develop a Research Management System (RMS) for professional investors, available on the web, mobile and desktop. The majority of our customers are multi-billion dollar US hedge funds who perform in-depth research on investment opportunities to get an edge in their investments. The RMS market is worth billions of dollars, but until now has been served by old-fashioned, legacy software companies. Our modern, mobile-friendly, design-focused product has quickly established a foothold and reputation, and now wins over most clients when we’re up against the competition. The opportunity is massive.

We’re a fast growing pre-IPO startup with solid investment, a proven product strategy and a lucrative target market. This brings a number of benefits, including a high level of autonomy, a flat and intimate team structure, and a lack of bureaucracy. The Bipsync team is small but experienced, driven by creative people who want to build extraordinary products for an underserved market.

You can sign up now and try Bipsync for free.

Now that we’re past the summary, it’s time to dive into some specifics for those who are still interested. We include some images of the product because, well, “show don’t tell”. There’s also a link to our free trial at the end of the section for the same purpose.

This section is really just expanding on the information in the summary: more details on who our customers are, what our product does for them, how we’ve been successful, and the size of the opportunity. We’re essentially trying to sell the idea of the company and product to the applicant so that they continue to read on.

About the Role

You will join the product development team, which is responsible for all aspects of the Bipsync product. This includes web, desktop and iOS apps, a browser extension and a suite of plugins. As a senior software engineer, you will help define and develop new features and iterate existing ones, always taking into account end-user needs and product vision.

Responsibilities:

  • Plan, prototype, build and deploy software features in collaboration with the product team.
  • Create efficient, maintainable, testable code.
  • Collaborate with peers on interface design, code reviews and testing.
  • Coordinate with the New York business team to achieve product and company goals.
  • Learn from your team members and teach when you can.
  • Pragmatically analyse customer feedback and usage data to improve and iterate features.
  • Evaluate and identify new technologies for implementation.
  • This is a senior position. You must be confident – but not egotistical – in your experience and able to make and justify technology and feature design choices.

Hopefully anyone who has read this far is interested in the company and the role, so this section gets down to the nitty gritty of what’s involved. It’s fairly standard, with an attempt to clearly describe responsibilities while still highlighting future opportunities associated with the role.

About You

You are an experienced web developer with an intuitive feel for what makes great software. You enjoy seeing code and feature development through the full lifecycle: from requirements gathering, specification and prototyping through to deployment and ongoing iteration. You’re a fast learner who will thrive in a rapidly evolving startup with continuous delivery and weekly product releases.

Qualifications:

  • A relevant technical/computing degree is preferred, or an equivalent technical background. Essentially we need to see some examples or documented experience that demonstrates your technical skills.
  • Experience with Javascript and other web technologies, with advanced knowledge of at least one server-side language like PHP, Python or Ruby.
  • Experience developing RESTful APIs, MVC-based applications, and other standard web architectures.
  • Experience with database systems; MongoDB would be beneficial.
  • Proven experience with source control, unit tests, continuous integration and other software development best practices.
  • In-depth knowledge of web security issues.
  • Knowledge of some of the following technologies would be a plus: Backbone.js, Objective-C/Swift, Windows development, Electron, Ansible, AWS and Elasticsearch.

Similarly, in this standard section we’re in to the details of who we’re looking for. Like many startups, we realize that great people applying for software engineering jobs might come from any number of non-traditional routes and backgrounds, so we try to be honest and not too prescriptive about exactly what we’re look for: some kind of evidence that proves you could do this job.

As with every other section, we’re still trying to sell this role to the applicant, so we mention some of the interesting modern technologies and learning opportunities associated with it. We realize that good applicants have their pick of startups, so we have to use every opportunity to highlight ours.

Perks and Benefits

  • Competitive salary
  • Stock options
  • Flexible working
  • Unlimited vacation
  • Optional travel to the US

Another standard section. The only thing worth pointing out here is that we used to say something along the lines of “Travel opportunities to the US” (or vice versa to the UK for US-based positions). On reflection, that might have implied that travel was a required part of the role, which it isn’t. Some people don’t enjoy or can’t easily travel, so we added the word “Optional” to try to make it clear that it was not a required part of the job.

How to Apply

  • Please submit your CV and cover letter, together with optional code samples or GitHub URL, to jobs@bipsync.com.
  • Feel free to send us an email with any questions.

The final section, with typical, straightforward instructions. We just need to remember to use resumé for US roles and CV for UK roles…


And that’s it. What do you think?

  • Is it obvious what we’re looking for?
  • Are there details we’ve missed out, or superfluous details we’ve included that we shouldn’t have?
  • Have we said something that makes the company or role less appealing?
  • Are we selling the idea of the role and company enough?
  • Could the structure and wording of the job description be improved?
  • Will relevant people be able to find this job description and identify with it?
  • Have we said anything that could dissuade certain types of people from applying?

Let us know on Twitter by tweeting at @bipsyncapp – we’ll retweet the best insights.

And of course don’t forget to check out our current career openings in our New York (US) and Cardiff (UK) offices.