Simon Willison’s Weblog

It doesn’t take much public creativity to stand out as a job candidate

I’ve spent nearly twenty years blogging, giving talks and releasing open source code. It’s been fantastic for my career, and a huge amount of work. But here’s a useful secret: you don’t have to put very much work at all into public creativity in order to stand out as a job candidate.

I’ve interviewed hundreds of people, and screened hundreds more resumes—mostly for tech roles in San Francisco, an extremely competitive job market.

The vast majority of candidates have little to no evidence of creativity in public at all. The same is true for many of the best engineers I have worked with.

As a hiring manager, this means you have to learn how to source candidates and interview effectively: you don’t want to miss out on a great engineer just because they spent all of their energy making great products for prior employers rather than blogging, speaking and coding in public.

But as a candidate, this means you can give yourself a big advantage in terms of standing out from the crowd with a relatively small amount of work.

Start a blog. Post an interesting technical article to it once or twice a year—something you’ve learned, or a bug you’ve fixed, or a problem you’ve solved. After a few years stop bothering entirely, but leave the blog online somewhere.

Build a small personal project and put the code on GitHub. Accompany it with a README with a detailed description of the project and screenshots of it in action—almost no-one does this, it only takes a few hours extra and it massively increases the impact your project will have on hiring managers who are checking you out.

That’s it. One or two blog posts. Maybe a GitHub repository. Believe it or not, if you are up against a bunch of other candidates (especially earlier on in your career) they likely won’t have anything like that. You will jump straight to the top of the hiring manager’s mental list, maybe without them even noticing.

There’s plenty more you can do if you want to put the effort in: build an audience on Twitter, start a newsletter, make videos, give talks (ideally that get recorded and published online), release open source packages, publish TILs—but honestly if your goal is to get through the interview process more easily you will very quickly hit the law of diminishing returns.

If you’re going to do that stuff do it because you want to develop those skills and share with and learn from the world—don’t just do it because you think it’s a critical path to being hired.

This post started out as a Twitter thread:

This is It doesn’t take much public creativity to stand out as a job candidate by Simon Willison, posted on 17th July 2021.

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