Startup tech jobs go begging -- how to get yours

More than 14,000 jobs are waiting to be filled at startups, including thousands for software engineers and developers

Looking for a job as software engineer or developer? Think startup. A national job board that advertises positions in startups lists approximately 14,000 openings. Engineering and other technical jobs account for more than 36 percent of the positions posted on StartUpHire.com, but the number of qualified applicants registered with the service would fill only half of those spots.

Overall, the picture is very bright. Jobs at startups, as measured by the service, increased by 23 percent over the last year. The market is so strong that 500 executive-level jobs have been posted, a rarity in an industry that usually relies on headhunters and the old boys' network to fill top slots. Indeed, after a long, painful slump, jobs for skilled IT employees are growing steadily throughout the economy and not just in startups.

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There is a caveat. Though the raw numbers make it look like jobs at startups are yours for the asking, that's not entirely true, says Steve Roberson, CEO of StartUpHire.com. "Are people getting rejected when they apply for these positions? Absolutely. If you're a 20-person company and you make just a few bad hires, you have a serious problem. So the bar is very high," he tells me.

Also, if you're seeking work in administration, finance, or HR, you'll have a tough time, at least in the startup world. Applicants for those jobs outnumber openings by more than three to one, an unsurprising mismatch since startups look for technical people long before they hire support personnel.

Clearing the startup hiring bar

What can you do to move to the head of the line at a startup's door? "It's not enough to know how to program," says Roberson, a veteran programmer who's been around the block more than once before launching the job board. "They want to see that you're an expert."

Contribute to open source. One thing you can do to bolster your cred is to participate in open source projects. "If you make contributions, it says that you have passion and so much dedication you're willing to do it on your own time," he says. What's more, code you contribute to an open source project is there for all to see, unlike the proprietary work you've done for an employer.

Use the company's APIs. Walking into an interview with something you built using the company's APIs will get you noticed because it shows a level of commitment, interest, and ingenuity that's attractive to startups. "Of course, you need to have an understanding of which are the up-and-coming technologies," Roberson says. What's in demand? As you'd expect, he mentions Python, Ruby, Node.js, JavaScript, and PHP, even though they're hardly new.  

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