Reverse Resume

Most people in technology are frequently contacted by recruiters. It’s a world I know better than most, and not just because I get the notes from recruiters… For the first few years of my startup career, I worked on recruiting software. Fun fact that most non-recruiters don’t think about: The best candidates aren’t looking for a new job. It makes sense when you think about it– if you’re looking for a job, there’s a non-trivial chance that you were fired/laid-off, you’re considering quitting (or getting fired!), or that you are disgruntled to some degree with your currently position (maybe you don’t play well with others?).

This isn’t entirely fair, but if you are going to play the odds, the best candidates are people who are comfortably employed and 2-3 years into their current employer.

It’s surprising to me that people in technology don’t craft a “reverse resume” and keep it in a public place that that states their career goals and what it’d take for an opportunity to look interesting. Properly written, this doesn’t have to raise flags with their current employer. It can simply be positioned as a “here’s what makes me tick and here’s what I want my career to look like in 5-10 years”. A document like this can make a handy canned reply for any recruiting interest (pro-tip: did you know that Gmail labs has a canned response add-on for gmail?). Henceforth, it’ll take me just 10 seconds or so to reply respectfully to any recruiting interest with a link to this post (as well as a link to my bio).

I’ve been traveling non-stop for 7 months and, as I look forward to returning to my life in the states, I thought it might be interesting to write up a “reverse resume” post. Maybe other folks might find it useful as a framework to post something similar (or at least organize their thoughts). It’s organized in descending order of what I call “make-or-breakitude” – basically, how much that facet impacts the interestingness of an opportunity:

  1. Geography: Seattle.  It’d be really challenging to get me to move to the Bay Area, NYC or LA. For a really special opportunity, I’d consider interesting towns like Austin, Boulder, or someplace outside of the US.
  2. A “missionary-not-mercenary” culture.  The team has to believe– in something.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that a company has to be a non-profit, touchy-feely company.  Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook have all had clear missions/visions that their teams believed in.  On the smaller scale, you need to look no further than awesome companies like 37Signals (who are zealots for remote work and bootstrapping) or Moz (who are evangelical about TAGFEE). It’s clear that money and mission can mix nicely.
  3. Small team size.  I’d happily start a company again with the right co-founder(s).  I’d also happily join a small/medium company.
  4. Growth stage.  It’s important for me to be involved in the early stages or at a time when there is an opportunity for lots of creation/movement.  Mature products can be in the “bug-fix and extract value” phase, which is less rewarding for me.
  5. People.  Of course everyone wants to work with awesome/talented people, so I’ll try to nail down the unusual types of awesomeness beyond “I want to work with smart/driven people”:
    • The team believes in the mission (see #2).  That doesn’t mean there aren’t disagreements, but it makes them easier to resolve.
    • Plays together.  Some teams love to hang out and some people spend time with their real friends once they clock out.  I like working with people who hang out together from time to time.  It’s easy to see when this works…  Are team lunches fun or is there a lot of awkward silence?  Do holiday parties “work” or do most people make an appearance and run for the door as soon as it’s not rude to do so?  Are people other than bosses interested in team-building organize social activities?
    • Love/respect for their customers.  It’s surprising to me how often I see software organizations who have some contempt for their users.  Early in my career, I worked on recruiting software, and I was surprised to see how many people on my team hated recruiters.  People at Zynga almost certainly don’t love/respect people who play Farmville.  If you don’t have regard for your users, it’s hard to want to understand them, which makes it awfully hard to make good software.
    • Transparent, not conflict avoidant, and empathetic.  Office politics can happen with even the smallest team.  The way to avoid this is honesty, pro-active discussion, and an honest effort to understand others.  If people on the team try to “spin” news inside the company, it’s a bad sign.  If people love to argue for the sake of winning arguments, it’s a bad sign.  If people try to tell each other what they want to hear, it’s a bad sign.
  6. Type of Work.  I love product design and where it intersects with growth. I love to lead and am fascinated by the science/art of management. I’m also happy to be involved as “boots on the ground” if a company is very young/small or when attacking a new/speculative initiative.  That can include wireframing, slinging pixels in Photoshop, writing microcopy or blog posts, checking in front-end code, running marketing experiments, and more.  I love inbound marketing (SEO, viral, content-marketing, etc).  I love evangelism and am happy to do public speaking if the need arises.  I love working with programmers.
  7. Lifestyle. I like hard work.  I (sometimes) enjoy crunch time.  I don’t enjoy sustained 70-hour work weeks, nor do I believe that they  produce great results (there’s some great science that backs me up here).  I’m delighted to do business travel when the need arises, within reason.

These are the facets that matter most to me.  Are there any major ones I’ve failed to consider?


  • theyoonery

    how important is scale of impact / market opportunity in your process now ? has this changed over the recent years ?

    • Tony Wright

      That’s a really good question and I’ll give you a seriously existential answer.

      With “missionary” (vs. mercenary) style startups (see #2), there’s generally an evangelical aspect. If you have something good, you want spread it far and wide (big market). Of course, this can be frustrating if you aren’t in a big impact market (“we want to revolutionize model trains and spread it across the world!”).

      I know a lot of entrepreneurs who want to “make a dent in the world” and I personally feel there are better motivations to latch onto. We’re all throwing rocks into an ocean with our lives and the ripples will subside eventually. I’d much rather optimize for a *positive* dent than a huge dent (both are ideal!).

      If you’re in startups to make $ and enjoy the rocketship ride (I enjoy both), there’s no doubt in my mind that you want to prioritize market size (see: the only thing that matters).
      From my exposure, the rocketship companies that win in these markets often have the most missionary-style culture, too!

      • theyoonery

        awesome view. really puts great focus on companies and people that

  • Greg Linden

    Interesting post. However, in my experience, recruiters simply aren’t empowered to make the kind of offers that could pull out someone reluctant or expensive to move. My understanding is that they’re seeking easy targets, people who can be pulled out easily with a regular offer and get them their commission quickly. I think any kind of response that introduces complexity might as well be a no or even no response at all. Do you disagree?

    • Tony Wright

      I expect you’re right, especially for folks who are at the upper echelons of software development. But I do think that the best recruiters do their best to talk to the best candidates for the position they are shooting for… After all, they only make their real money if the hiring manager/team/candidate all come to an accord. Having hired a few recruiters in my day, I can say that hiring managers have very little patience for recruiters that bring them poor-fit candidates. The problem is that many of them really don’t have the skills to tell senior/expensive talent from “regular” talent.

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