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5 Ways To Land A Hot Programming Job

As more and more large enterprises outsource their IT jobs, here's how you can jostle for a programming position at a killer startup.

9 Startups To Watch In 2012
9 Startups To Watch In 2012
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Like it or not, the number of domestic IT jobs at large enterprises is shrinking. In fact, according to a March 2012 study by the Hackett Group, a management consulting firm, of the 1.8 million IT jobs represented by the companies included in the report, 270,000 jobs in the United States and Europe will be moved offshore between now and 2016. What's worse, the study reveals the U.S. portion accounts for about half of the total jobs lost, or 135,000.

No wonder a growing number of programmers are scrambling to work at today's hot startups. Not only are cash-strapped startups unlikely to outsource their IT resources, many encourage "greater creativity" from their IT workers and offer programmers "the opportunity to work on cool projects," said Eric Alterman.

Alterman would know. As a serial tech entrepreneur and founder of the current startup Flow.net, a cloud-based platform provider, Alterman has hired his fair share of skilled programmers. But forget about lucrative stock options. Alterman said today's programmers are drawn to startups' emphasis on "experimentation, the opportunity to participate across the entire IT architecture and the sense of a small team being on a mission--powerful drivers for people who want to come to work every day and be excited."

[ Stay relevant in the rapidly changing IT job market. Read IT Jobs: 6 Essential Skills For The Cloud Era . ]

So how can a programmer land a job at a hot startup in today's tough economy? Alterman offers these tips:

1. Learn everything you can about a startup. Whether it's discovering what university a startup's founder graduated from or reading up on a company's core values, Alterman said that nothing is more impressive than a job candidate who can demonstrate a working knowledge of the company and its founders in the first few minutes of a job interview.

"When you're in a job interview and you barely understand the product or what the company's about, the interviewer is going to look at you and think, 'This guy doesn't really want the job,'" warned Alterman. "But people who come in prepared can overcome deficiencies in their resume. Extensive product knowledge and the ability to come in and hit the ground running are green lights for small startups. You want people who are proactive."

2. Get a head start by using an application or platform in advance of your first interview. Startups want programmers to get their hands dirty. But why wait until you've landed the job? According to Alterman, it's critical that prospective programmers communicate their first-hand experience with a startup's product from the get-go, whether via email, phone, or in-person interview. After all, said Alterman, "There's a lot more room for invention because startups typically tackle problems that aren't already settled." By proving that you're interested enough in the product to delve through its specs on your own time, you'll earn valuable brownie points with a startup's hiring manager.

3. Build something. Many startups provide platforms or have APIs available. If that's the case, Alterman said programmers would be wise to build something with the product. "If you actually take the time to build something, and can come in and demo a little something, well, it's hard to turn someone like that away," he said.

4. Offer commentary. Gushing over a startup's product is never a good idea. But it can't hurt to arrive at your first interview with thoughtful feedback about a company's product or service. Unlike large enterprises, startups often encourage idea swapping, regardless of an individual's particular IT background, said Alterman. What better time to start than during a first interview.

5. Know the landscape. It's not enough to simply familiarize yourself with a company's products and services. Instead, Alterman recommends brushing up on competitors' strengths and weaknesses and being prepared to discuss how your target company can separate itself from the pack. Generating an intelligent conversation won't only stand as proof of your industry knowledge, but, chances are, it'll make you a more memorable candidate.

The pay-as-you go nature of the cloud makes ROI calculation seem easy. It’s not. Also in the new, all-digital Cloud Calculations InformationWeek supplement: Why infrastructure-as-a-service is a bad deal. (Free registration required.)

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