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Advice / Job Search / Finding a Job

What You Need to Prove to Land a Tech Job (That You Won't Be Asked About Directly)

Want to land a tech job? Better start spending hours reading dozens of tech blogs and following hundreds of influencers, right?


Because let’s be real: No company is going to hire you simply for being addicted to the internet.

What they’re really looking for is someone knowledgeable about the handful of things that matter. And that’s a good thing, because it’ll save you from spending hours trying to be an expert on everything (which isn’t very realistic when you’re also trying to find a new job, and you know, occasionally put your phone away).

So, as with every aspect of the job search, it’s critical that you apply the 80/20 rule and focus on just the most important online resources that’ll actually get you closer to your dream job.

What Matters to Tech Companies?

The #1 rule of tech jobs is that companies in this space hire people who fit. (I even created a quiz you can take to find out your odds!)

Specifically, tech companies look for fit on three dimensions:

1. Industry Fit
2. Company Fit
3. Role Fit

And their ideal candidate exists at the intersection of each of these dimensions:

To Demonstrate Industry Fit

Because fit matters so much, a typical tech interview will often begin with a little small talk. But instead of chatting about the weather or last night’s game, you might be asked: “Hey, so what do you think about Facebook’s big acquisition last week?”

And while that might seem innocuous, what your interviewer is really getting at is: Do you fit our industry?

Now, if you’ve been working in tech forever, this question is a piece of cake. But what if you’re brand new to the space? How do you demonstrate that you belong?

While there are a million tech news sites and blogs out there, there’s only one that every single insider reads: Techmeme. It aggregates the very best content from across all the major players—TechCrunch, The Verge, Recode, and so on.

It’s the first site that my Apple colleagues turned me onto when I first broke into this industry five years ago. And it’s the only site that I still read every day to stay current on this space.

To Demonstrate Company Fit

Once you’ve artfully dissected Facebook’s big acquisition with your superior industry knowledge, what do you think the next question will be? Usually, it’s along the lines of: So, why do you want to work at this company?

Now, an amateur’s going to say: “I just love you guys so much. Your app is so cool. And I hear that you have free sushi for lunch everyday!” Which is exactly how an outsider (i.e., the person you’re not going to hire for this job) would reply.

Here’s a better answer: “I know you guys are struggling a little bit to compete with Google in the adtech space. But I think you’ve got three huge advantages that can help you win here and I’d love to be a part of making that happen.”

Total insider answer—and the trick to providing it is superior research. Instead of getting stuck playing around with their app and reading about their amazing cafeteria, you dug into their needs.

The best way to do that is through a company’s 10-K. Which, no, isn’t some kind of Fun Run that the company throws. It’s a super detailed document that every public company’s required to release every single year. For example, you can check out Google’s most recent 10-K right here.

Inside, you’ll find their:

  • Future strategy
  • Biggest risks
  • Business trends
  • Financial performance
  • Most (and least) profitable products

Yes, it looks dense and intimidating at first. But don’t let that stress you out (It’s OK if you don’t understand every single piece of information: You’re not going to be tested on it). The goal is to get insider information of what’s going on at the company, and this form will help you do just that.

Now, if a company isn't public (e.g., a startup), you can find similar information on Crunchbase—including how much money they've raised, who's on their executive team, and the latest news specific to that firm.

To Demonstrate Role Fit

OK, no matter how clever an industry newshound or company detective you are, at some point you’re going to have to explain how you can actually do the job. Which means you’re going to get a question that starts like this: “So, how would you solve this challenge…”

And whether it’s a coding problem, a marketing case, or a sales roleplay; you want to answer in a way that shows you’re ready to answer those kinds of questions each day. And as you know, practice makes perfect (or at least, improves your skills a lot):

  • If you’re on the technical side, check out CareerCup. It’s got a ridiculously large database of actual programming questions, sortable by company, role, and type.
  • If you’re on the business side, check out The PM Interview. Even though it sounds like it’s just for product managers, it’s got an awesome variety of behavioral, case, and estimation questions that could easily be asked to marketers, strategists, and business development folks.

Ultimately, insider versus outsider status isn’t simply determined by the previous roles on your resume. By consulting the right resources and strategically investing your time in building and demonstrating industry, company, and role fit, you have the power to show just how knowledgeable you are.

Want more tips for breaking into tech? Readers of The Muse get free access to Jeremy’s step-by-step course to landing a tech job, based on his experience going from teaching kindergarten to jobs at Apple, LinkedIn, and startups.

Photo of engineer courtesy of Georgijevic/Getty Images.