How to apply for a programming job on Craigslist

by phil on Thursday Jun 24, 2010 1:51 AM

I was the Hiring Manager (HM) at Mutual Mobile for six months and hired twenty mobile app developers (mostly iPhone programmers). I posted mostly to Craigslist, and I eventually saw patterns in how people apply. It got to the point, where I could, in 5 seconds, guess if a candidate was going to go far in the interview process.

Here are what the ideal candidates did:

  • In the body of the email, they pointed to past experience that was directly relevant to the job description I posted. If my post said, "I need iPhone programmers," they would say they made iPhone apps. It sounds simple, but you'd be surprised how often people focus instead on saying, "I have ten years of experience programming at a senior level, yada yada." Since my job post says, "I'm looking for X," then I need to know in 5 seconds or less that you are exactly X. So if my post says, "I run an e-commerce site and need PHP programmers," mention that you built a PHP shopping cart from scratch. That's more important than saying you have 10 years of PHP programming experience or that you have a Masters in Computer Science.

  • The ideal candidates included, also in the body of the email, links to screenshots or application downloads where I could see—and not have to imagine—how good they were. In the above examples, they'd send links to apps on the App Store. While not all programming experience lends itself easily to linkable content, you must figure out a way to extract something visually recognizable from your past work. Even if you worked on the back-end, a link (or better yet, an attachment) to the screenshot of the front-end is ten times better than saying, "I worked on such-and-such system." Purchase a video-capture tool like fraps, put together a portfolio. Whatever it is, transform your job application from an abstract list of bullet points into something tangible.

  • Finally, if a candidate wanted a near-guaranteed interview, they would go ahead and do some work specific to my job description. If my post said, "I'm looking for a VoIP programmer for mobile," the ideal candidate would say, "I did a Google search for open-source VoIP clients and found one. It took me a couple minutes to make a build that worked with such-and-such gateway. I've attached it via email. Alternatively, you can see a quick video capture of it I posted on YouTube."

All HMs have a spam folder specifically for applicants. In 5 seconds, they either dump an applicant into it, or they let it sit in their inbox because it'd hurt them too much to see an opportunity like this candidate go to waste.

Do not be afraid to respond to old posts on Craigslist. Craigslist is different from or, which are often dumping grounds for HMs to meet compliance requirements or to prove that they're working hard. Craigslist only lets job posts live for 30 days, and then you have to pay to keep it alive. So an HM usually only posts and re-ups on Craigslist when there is some actual need in their company. Even if they fill the position, HMs are apt to let the posts live for a while just in case. If the new hire doesn't work out, they want a ready pool of qualified candidates to tap into.

So I'd venture that every application you send on Craigslist has an 85% chance of being seen. Whether or not it is actually read depends on whether you produce a generic cover letter like 95% of applicants, or one that follows the tips above and stands out.


Matt M. Kaufman said on July 30, 2010 2:47 PM:

Thanks for the knowledge on Craigslist applications especially in the mobile area;

One question: How many total applications were submitted or received via Craigslist by you that resulted in 20 hires being made? 100? 50? Eg., what's the competition level between applicants being ignored vs. being actually hired.

What about the applicants or emails that the employer fizzles out and does not continue contact or conversation after initiating it in the first place with you. Eg., They just disappear. (What do you do from a employment seeking objective at that point; and Do you have any advice on gaining control over email contact ....... etc... ?) :)

Philip Dhingra said on July 31, 2010 3:57 PM:

It was usually 20 emails for every 1 hire. 10 are just junk from spammers.

Fizzling out does happen. Usually, the Hiring Manager takes a passive posture, since they're overwhelmed with applicants. So the squeaky wheel usually gets the grease. I've given second interviews to people who were persistent, especially after I lost interest.

Be persistent, not obnoxious. One guy was very close to being obnoxious, but he was persistent. I didn't like him, but the other managers liked him, and because of his persistence, he got extra interviews, and eventually we hired him. And it turns out he's one of our best hires.

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