A Review of 3 Hacker News Jobs Listings

Posted: February 16th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Startups | 7 Comments »

Hacker News is an interesting lab for job postings.

It’s a target rich environment, so you know the right people are reading. Unlike many sites, you can’t pay to rank higher or show your headline in blue.  There’s no category search.  The rules are simple: if Y Combinator invested in you, you get your dozen words.  If they didn’t, you don’t get to post at all.  Best of all for our investigation, there are a lot of great minds tackling the problem (the problem being: how to get more great minds).

So I was surprised when I did a quick survey of the postings on news.ycombinator.com/jobs. Here were three representative samples of what I found.

Grouper seeks Product Engineer

Wheeee! There’s a company called Grouper! They’re seeking a Product Engineer! And… um, who’s Grouper? And why on earth would I click on this, unless I click on everything, because I am desperate?

It’s a shame the title’s so terrible, because if you do click through it, the job post is actually quite well written.

Come join FarmLogs in bringing the world’s farms online

Better! If you read their job description, they really want someone with passion around farming. While I don’t have demographic data, I’m going to guess that this is pretty unusual trait among the typical Hacker News clientele.

Now, they have an obvious omission – they didn’t mention who they were looking to bring onboard. From this title, it’s unclear if they’re hiring Ruby devs or door-to-door wormbed management software sales representatives.

But that’s OK. Because the goal of the title is not to inform, or promote, or educate: it’s to get the perfect person to click on it. And FarmLogs’ perfect person is going to say, “holy crap, a farm tech startup?” and click on the link out of outright curiosity if nothing else.

Android Hacker? Come take on the Telecom Giants

This is my favorite of the bunch. Given limited real estate, they prioritized wisely.  They tell the reader what kind of person will be a good fit.  They explain why the job is going to be different and interesting.  And they make it sound like an invitation to go on Gulliver’s Travels.  Of course, you can’t do that in a few dozen characters without cutting something.  So what did they cut?  Their company name.


Their perfect candidate’s gonna smirk, imagine themselves as Jack/David/Sophie/Ender for a second, then click and find out the company anyway.

The Results

As of this moment, there are 22 jobs posted on the board.  I’m scoring them as follows:

List only your company and the title of the job you’re hiring for: 0 points

Do anything else at all: 1 point

Total score: 7/22



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  • Whereas I am sympathetic, I think you might be missing a point.

    A lot of these companies, as startups, only want engineers who already know who they are and what they do, so that they can quickly dove-tail into the mesh. Grouper, for example, puts a group of three guys and three gals, all strangers, into a social situation together for introducing each other. They’re a small-ish team, and they’re going to want people who are already up to speed with what the company is about.

    So not explaining yourself, to them, is an active filter that they _want_.

  • TiberianSun

    “And they make it sound like an invitation to go on Gulliver’s Travels.”
    Hahaha! Awesome post. I agree that HN titles need to be more descriptive. I feel this to be true not only of job postings but all HN articles.

  • pontifexa

    I just read your comment, and I’m already 100% more up to speed on Grouper than I was a minute ago.

    Getting good engineers is _really_ hard! Limiting your potential candidate pool seems weird to me. Everyone needs some kind of onboarding anyway, and engineers learn quickly.

  • “I don’t have demographic data, I’m going to guess that this is pretty unusual trait among the typical Hacker News clientele.” — admit it, you’re all farmville addicts!

  • I don’t doubt that some of the startups are making this mistake. It’s the same kind of foolish arrogance that leads companies (startups and otherwise) to lead off interviews with, “tell me why you want to work here”.

    Some people will be falling all over themselves to work for your company. You know who they are, because they’ve been sending emails ever week to you at jobs@yourcompany.com begging for you to interview them. For the rest of the world, it’s *your* job to tell them who you are and why you matter, and why they should stake their future to yours.

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