The startup guide to engineering job descriptions.

We've tested and reviewed hundreds of engineering job descriptions, so we wrote this guide to capture our top recommendations for each aspect of the job listing.

If you fill out the guide we'll review it and give you feedback!

Let’s start with the title.

💡 Our guiding tips

For an early-stage startup, titles don't matter too much, but can be helpful in attracting more potential applicants. As a startup matures, excessively lofty titles can create friction as the team scales. Highly recommend reading Ben Horowitz's article on this topic.

We also recommend the following:

  • If you've done cold email outreach, you know how important it is to optimize the subject line. The title of a job post is no less critical!
  • Choose your prefixes thoughtfully. Prefixes to consider: "Founding", "Lead", "Head of", "Senior"
  • "Founding back-end engineer" >> "Back-end engineer" >> "Software engineer"

Compensation

💡 Our guiding tips
Salary

Salary compensation is a very deep topic and most startups haven't figured out which approach to use. If that's the case, Buffer's formula-based approach is a great default to use since it's fair, easy-to-implement, and based on the proprietary Radford global compensation database that would be expensive for you to access on your own. This is important because a principled approach to compensation will reduce the offer negotiation required when closing candidates.

📎

Buffer's salary calculator is an excellent benchmark for setting your salaries.

If you'd like to go deeper, here are a few other compensation resources you may find useful:

📎

The size of your salary range shouldn't exceed 30% of your minimum.

✅ $100k - $120k (20% difference)

✅ $120k - $150k (25% difference)

❌ $100k - $150k (50% difference)

Even if you're willing to pay far outside your range for an exceptional candidate, setting too broad of a range may impact your ability to attract the majority of candidates in your target demographic.

Equity

For your first 3 hires, 1-2% is a standard rule of thumb for how much equity to offer.

When setting equity, these are the two articles we recommend reading:

The structure

🔎

Your job description should be content-rich but easy to skim, so keep paragraphs short and use headings and bullets when you can.

Your job description should cater to different types of job seekers. Some candidates use the "spray and pray" approach of submitting their resume to any post that looks remotely interesting, while others take the "quality over quantity" approach by thoroughly researching every company they consider.

There isn't one ideal format to use, but these are the sections we recommend including:

About the company

This should be a short paragraph (3-4 sentences) that captures the most important compelling details about the company. You want to keep this relatively short because candidates are browsing and want to quickly check whether they're even qualified to apply.

⚡️ Examples
  • Playhouse is hiring a senior frontend engineer to build the next generation platform for real estate discovery. Browsing real estate has become a cultural phenomenon in the US, with more than 200M people visiting Zillow every month and even SNL spoofing them in a skit. We believe it's ripe time for a new product for consumers - one that empowers a more authentic way to discover your next home. Our solution is video driven, entertaining and geared towards the next generation of home buyers.
  • CHPTR is a platform to gather, share, and hold memories. Our vision is to honor life's purpose by sharing stories from the past to shape the future. We do this by democratizing access to memorialization with a tech-enabled platform fueled by community.
  • At Netlify, we’re building a platform to empower digital designers and developers to build better, more elaborate web projects than ever before. We’re aiming to change the landscape of modern web development. Netlify currently serves more than 1,000,000 developers worldwide.

About the opportunity

This should be another short paragraph (3-4 sentences) capturing the most important details about the opportunity. This is a good place to emphasize any hard geographic requirements.

⚡️ Examples
  • Playhouse is hiring a senior frontend engineer to build the next generation platform for real estate discovery. This is a unique role to join as a founding team member for a startup poised to make a dent in the US real estate market. You will be instrumental in bringing our first product to market and establishing the foundation for its future growth. Our team is fully distributed, but we do require ability to work in the Pacific timezone.
  • Aleph is searching for an experienced front-end engineer to join our six-person team (2 founders + 2 back-end engineers + 2 finance experts). You'll be our resident front-end expert, making sure our product delivers a great experience regardless of whether using our web, Google Sheets, or Excel interface. This is an exciting opportunity for someone to come in as an early member of the team and drive the development of the platform from the ground up.

    Note: While this is a remote-first opportunity, we're currently focusing on candidates within the Americas to better align with our working hours as a team.
  • We are looking for a talented back-end developer to help build the next iteration of CHPTR from the ground up. Our vision for CHPTR includes growing the product to include many technically challenging and complex features. You'll partner with a front-end engineer to develop and execute on a plan that will get us there. You will have complete autonomy to shape our back-end infrastructure from day one.

    Our ideal candidate is based in NYC and is comfortable with a hybrid working approach (50% remote, 50% in-person) once it's safe to do so. However, we're also willing to consider exceptional candidates outside of NYC who are able to work remotely.
  • We are looking for a Senior Android Engineer to join our growing tech team, working on our core Simprints ID platform. You will be responsible for the design, development, and maintenance of Simprints applications and their integrations, both with our internal back-end services and with external data collection applications. You will work on an agile, collaborative team with a commitment to clean code and robust design, along with a strong culture of continuous learning and improvement. If building technology for global health sounds exciting, we want to meet you!

    This is a remote job, with a possibility to work in our Cambridge based office for UK permit holders. We like collaboration and speak to each other several times a day - between 10am and 3pm UK time. To keep the collaborative team spirit we are looking for colleagues in GMT -2/+3 - or colleagues who are able to relocate. At the time being, we will only be considering applicants within these parameters.

What you'll do

List 4-6 of the responsibilities candidates can expect to have, in order of importance. It can be tempting to include more than 6, but a concise list will place greater emphasis on the most prominent responsibilities. If helpful, consider different levels of responsibility, from the long-term objectives candidates will own to the specific projects/tasks they'll be working on to who they'll be working together with.

⚡️ Examples

Examples grouped by type:

  • Ownership
  • Own our multiple front-end interfaces (web app, Google Sheets add-on, Excel add-in) and ensure we deliver a delightful, consistent experience to our users.
  • Design technical infrastructure to help Simprints scale to support projects all over the world.
  • Build and lead big parts of the product from scratch as one of our first engineers.
  • Projects/Tasks
  • Create specification documents that outline designed solutions and a plan of action to achieve them.
  • Help establish best practices (frameworks, testing, CI, code reviews, etc) to lay the foundation for a high-performing technology team and its culture.
  • Deliver robust, scalable, and well-tested code.
  • Example projects you'll dive into:
  • Innovating on our functions product, adding more capabilities, better observability, and handling questions of how to scale the offering (we have 1 million+ functions deployed now)
  • Expanding on our analytics product. This involves dealing with high cardinality data that is constantly streaming into the system via Kafka. Finding an efficient way to store and search the data to drive customer insights.
  • Improving our internal data collection systems for analytics and billing, and providing better visibility to the end customer.
  • Adding more capabilities to our log drains offering, exposing more sources from our system and connecting to more external outputs.
  • Collaboration
  • Work hand-in-hand with our technical CEO, CTO, and other teammates to prioritize and execute on our product roadmap.
  • Team with other Android engineers to write robust code that is easy to test and maintain, and runs reliably in challenging settings.
  • Work on cross-functional projects by collaborating with back-end engineers, data analysts and project managers.
  • Mentor junior engineers by guiding them through code reviews and making design decisions.

Your qualifications

List no more than 4 must-have qualifications for the role (any nice-to-have criteria can go in the 'Bonus points' section below). It's important to distinguish between must-haves and nice-to-haves so candidates can more easily self-select whether they are qualified to apply.

Not distinguishing between the two will result in:

  • Qualified candidates who meet all the must-haves choosing not to apply since they didn't meet the nice-to-haves
  • Underqualified candidates who meet some of the nice-to-haves applying despite not satisfying all the must-haves.

A concise list forces you to prioritize which skills candidates truly need to have on Day 1.

⚡️ Examples

Examples grouped by category:

  • Culture fit
  • Have strong opinions but are not ideologically tied to specific technologies
  • Curiosity and openness to learning new technologies and best practices.
  • Passion for working in a collaborative environment, where you enjoy working with a diverse group of people with different expertise working across distributed locations around the world.
  • A history of mentoring and helping other engineers grow.
  • You want ownership over your work and can function independently. You want more responsibility, and accountability doesn't scare you. You want to drive impact in your particular area of expertise on the product.
  • You've effectively worked on small and close-knit teams. You're comfortable having little support structure but know what it looks like and feel empowered to build it.
  • Technical expertise
  • 4+ years of front-end or full-stack dev experience. If necessary, you have the skills to single-handedly take a concept from zero to launch (backend, frontend, data, infra, etc).
  • Deep understanding of the Android SDK with at least 5 years of experience building, integrating, testing, and supporting Android applications for mobile and tablet devices.
  • Experience with back-end development using Node.js and TypeScript, and with containerization using Docker.
  • A breadth of experience in Go or other compiled programming languages. Our main language is Go, but we also have projects span across multiple languages. We believe in picking the right language for the right problem.

Bonus points

List 4-6 nice-to-have criteria for the role. These are skills that wouldn't eliminate a candidate from the running, but would describe the ideal profile for the role. These can include industry background, startup experience, culture fit, or additional technical expertise (including non-engineering skills like design).

⭐️

Highly recommend including this line at the bottom of the section:

"Not sure you meet 100% of our qualifications? Please apply anyway - we look forward to hearing from you!"

⚡️ Examples

Examples grouped by category:

  • Industry background
  • Experience with a B2B SaaS product or building tools for Finance teams
  • Startup experience
  • Startup experience, or experience thriving in an unstructured, ambiguous environment
  • Familiarity in working within a culture that incorporates radical candor, 360 feedback, and other techniques to build a high-trust team
  • Culture fit
  • Desire for leadership and growth
  • Technical expertise
  • Experience building applications for offline or low-connectivity settings.
  • Experience developing add-ins for Microsoft Office / Google Workspace products.
  • Experience building video-heavy applications.
  • A good sense of how to work with web & CDN technologies, with some experience around systems performance.
  • Experience with low-code backend technologies such as Hasura or KeystoneJS.
  • Have some experience with design software like Figma.

Why you should join us

It's time to make your sales pitch! Why should candidates be excited by this opportunity? Even if you can't pay top-of-market, remember that compensation is only one aspect of the employee value proposition. Highlight the caliber of the team (including advisors and investors), company culture, ownership, growth opportunities, tech stack, impact, and perks. The more unique, the better!

⚡️ Examples
  • Team
  • Netlify is a diverse group of incredible talent from all over the world. We’re ~44% woman or non-binary, and are composed of about half as many nationalities as we are team members.
  • Work closely with an experienced founding team with support from a roster of impressive investors/advisors, including Animal Capital, On Deck, and even Christina Aguilera.
  • We recently raised a $6m seed round led by a16z and with participation from Li Jin, Naval Ravikant, The Chainsmokers, Night Media, and a bunch of other great investors — see the TechCrunch article or our own blog post.
  • We recently raised $63M in Series C funding to bring forward the next generation of tooling for a more accessible web. This round was led by the EQT Ventures with participation from existing investors Andreessen Horowitz & Kleiner Perkins. This brings Netlify’s funding raised in total to $107M to date. Other past investors include Bloomberg Beta, Designer Fund, and Tank Hill Ventures, as well as the founders of Figma, GitHub, Slack and Yelp.
  • Impact
  • Make a positive impact on millions of the most vulnerable people in the world. Having reached over 1.3 million beneficiaries, we are contracted to double that number in the coming two years through our projects in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Perks
  • Flexible hours. More efficient late at night? Better before the sun rises? That’s fine by us. We are looking for people who get the job done, not for people who work between 9am and 5pm. We only require you to attend meetings that are scheduled to accommodate the times of all colleagues in the company, other than that, you have full autonomy over your schedule.
  • Unlimited paid time off. We set high quarterly goals, but give people the freedom to choose when and how to recharge. Join a team that trusts you with the job. And unlike some teams, we really mean it. Last year, the average Simprints employee took a total of 31 days off (annual leave plus UK bank holidays), an increase from 26 days two years ago.
  • Opportunities to see our tech in action by joining our deployments around the world: Bangladesh, Ethiopia, or Zimbabwe, just to name a few.
  • $2,000/year Family, Health x Wellness stipend that you can use this on Calm or TalkSpace subscriptions, a Citibike membership, monthly apartment cleaning, Barry's Bootcamp, childcare services, or anything else that helps you bring your best self to work each day.
  • $2,000/year Professional Development stipend that you can put toward a Udacity nanodegree, attend a LeadDev conference (once it's safe), or order all the books you want. You can also take advantage of our partnership with On Deck to participate in any one of their fellowship programs.
  • Occasional tickets to in-demand live events, one of the unique perks of working with a former music festival organizer!
  • Two 'LEGO Days' each quarter where you can work on any project you want. Past projects have ranged from exploring image processing techniques to building a LEGO train to deliver beer around the office.

Optional

💾 Current tech stack

Unless you've listed it elsewhere, you need to include the tech stack that your product is built with. If you have flexibility in which technologies to use, you should absolutely indicate that.

Example:

  • JavaScript, React, Node.js, MongoDB, BigQuery. We like to keep our stack simple, but we are open to fresh ideas that can help us move faster.
📈 Within 1/3/6 months, you'll

See Netlify's job listing for a great example

👋 How to apply

Necessary if you want to include specific instructions on how to apply.

Examples:

  • Get in touch at apply@playhouse.so! Please share:
  • Why you're interested in this role.
  • What was the most impressive project you've done.
  • Your resume or LinkedIn URL.
⚙️ What to expect during the hiring process

Example:

  • Take-home hiring challenge (1 hour)
    We designed a custom hiring challenge to mimic the type of work you can expect to do after being hired. This take-home test is designed to gauge two-way fit (do you find the work interesting? do you have the skills to succeed in the role?) and we'll be giving personalized feedback to everyone who submits.
  • Meet the founders
    You'll meet with Albert (CEO) and Santi (CTO) for 45 minutes. There's no need to prepare anything in advance. Our discussion will be focused mostly on what brings out the best in you and what's next. We want to be confident Aleph can offer the environment (culture, responsibility, org structure, etc...) that's led you to the most professional success so far. We want to build conviction you'll succeed in this job the same way you've succeeded in the past.

    Finally, you'll have time to ask us anything! (I mean, mostly anything.)
  • References
    With your help, we'll reach out to folks you've worked with in the past. This is mostly about learning from outside perspectives on how to manage and empower you to do your best work at Aleph.
  • Paid 10-15 hour work trial
    As the final step of our hiring process, we'll run a short, paid work trial as a final check to make sure everyone is excited to move forward together. We know you're busy, so we're happy to accommodate you by running this over the course of a weekend or spread out over 1-2 weeks.
  • Offer
    If you've made to this point, congrats on your offer! Accepting a new role is a big decision, so by now you should have a clear sense of what it will be like to work with us at Aleph. We can't wait to welcome you to the team 🙂
A few well-written job descriptions for inspiration

Final review

⭐️

Run your JD through a gender decoder to avoid deterring women from applying.

Studies have shown that masculine-coded language (e.g. "ambitious", "driven") reduces the appeal of job listings for women, while the reverse is significantly less pronounced. Since 92% of developers are men (according to Stack Overflow's Developer Survey), it's important to open up the funnel as wide as possible.

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