The company I work for is in the process of hiring. Hiring in a small company (we’re 12 people) has a number of challenges and quirks that are different from hiring at a larger company. Not least is the fact that there isn’t an actual department or dedicated staff to manage this stuff. All hands on deck.

This week we’ll look at the broader considerations when applying for jobs, including your comprehension of the job posting, your actual qualifications and motivations, and making a first impression. Next week we’ll get more into the nuts and bolts of your application.

These thoughts are based on having been a hirer and hiree in tech for a couple of decades. Some of these things, it has occurred to me, are completely opposite to what we’ve often been told to do when applying for jobs. I’m not an HR expert and don’t speak for every company. YMMV. But if you can break those rules in any industry, it’s tech, especially startups.

First commandment, and I cannot overstate the importance of this: You don’t know who’s on the other end. Maybe you sorted out who the hiring manager/HR person/etc. is. But especially in a small company, you don’t know for sure who’s first opening applications, who’s vetting them, who’s deciding on interviews… Or which combination of someones. Proceed with caution.

I’ll get more into the specifics of what that means, particularly in the next column, but understand that you can’t try to pull a fast one, ignore advice, etc. and not have the people on the other end know. Also, the internets are full of information that tends to be really easy to find for most of us. Remember that.

If you have a friend at the company, they may or may not be involved in the hiring process. They may have some influence, or not. They may be well thought of by their colleagues, or not. Hitching your wagon to someone else’s reputation is always a gamble.

If you have an internal reference at a company, that’s great. If you’re given insider advice, awesome. But don’t make assumptions; don’t presume you’re a shoo-in, or that you know best about a company or culture of which you’re not yet a part.

Remember: getting that job is up to you, not anyone else.

More broadly, understand that applicants are not doing the company a favour. No matter how amazing you consider yourself to be, or how perfect for the role. Especially in a small company that doesn’t have dedicated staff for recruiting and HR, hiring is a big drain on resources.

It requires time and bodies to post ads, review applications, book interviews, hold interviews, make hiring decisions, onboard new people, complete training, etc. Big investment. And getting it wrong can have major consequences.

Further to that, we appreciate that you think our company, job, and ad are really cool, but please don’t just apply because of that. You actually need to have relevant skills and experience. Even admitting in your introduction that you’re not really qualified but got excited about us doesn’t help. You’re wasting our time, which completely cancels out flattery.

As a side note, lacking relevant skills and experience can mean you don’t have much career experience yet at all, or it can mean you’ve had a solid and illustrious career… doing something else entirely. Our applicants included a veterinarian, a journalist, a former CEO, and an entrepreneur with 11 failed startups (true story).

Small companies don’t usually have the luxury of training up an awesome – though totally unqualified – person. Even if we wanted to.

While we do our best to be as friendly as possible and communicate as much as we can, understand that while we’re doing this, we also have a business to run and lives to lead. You, personally, are not our biggest priority. Neither are the 299 other people whose applications I processed.

I know that one of the key things you’re told to do is to follow up after applying, but honestly, please don’t. If we’ve acknowledged that we’ve received your application, we’re good. We’ll review everyone, and if we want to interview you, you’ll hear from us. Otherwise, like we said, you won’t.

Additional emails, tweets, phone calls, etc. just clutter things up and take more time. And probably make us grouchy.

That includes contacting our staff individually. It’s not appropriate, especially if you don’t already know us. Even if you just want to introduce yourself, ask how we like specifics of our jobs, or invite us to connect on LinkedIn. Don’t. We know what you’re trying to do. Ask questions if you get an interview. Connect on LinkedIn after you’re hired, if you’re hired.

Don’t send Application 2.0 a few days later based on a new interpretation of the job post, something you left out that you decided was critical, or some other reason. As the old saying goes, you have one chance to make a first impression. It’s unlikely we’ll bother to read it, and more likely our impression will become more negative.

If we do reply to you and let you know that you weren’t selected, or we’ve closed applications, or we won’t be inviting you back for another interview, accept it gracefully. Don’t beg, don’t wheedle us about “sneaking in one more.” It’s annoying, and frankly arrogant of you to assume that if we did sneak in one more, it would be you.

So, food for thought once you’ve seen an amazing job or company that you’re just dying to join. Next time around, we’ll look at what to do (or not) when you actually start writing that intro and formatting that resume. Stay tuned.

Photo: Scrabble – Hiring by Flazingo Photos is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

M-Theory is an opinion column by Melanie Baker. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Communitech. Melle can be reached @melle or