Tailoring Your Job Application for Tech in Salt Lake City

Some people involved in Salt Lake City’s tech community regard the area as something of an “anti-Silicon Valley,” meaning that it’s less pretentious, less fixated on approaching work as something like an ironman triathlon, and filled with tech pros who take pride in their work rather than looking to “disrupt” any number of random industries.

That’s not to say such personalities don’t exist in and around the “Silicon Slopes,” but overall you shouldn’t assume employers here are looking for Northern California’s stereotypical software jock. Here’s a look at how the area’s companies approach examining tech candidates when they first connect about a job.

Professional, Not Intense

While most agree that Salt Lake City has the vibrancy you’d expect from a mid-sized city, it’s also a family town, and that plays into what organizations expect of their workers. “You won’t retain good employees—outside of those just out of college—if you require weekly or more late night-launches,” said Trent Miskin, CTO of the small-business lending platform Lendio.

To put it bluntly, don’t come across as a Super Type-A in your cover letter and résumé. Utah employers want tech pros who are on top of their skills and excited by their work, but not to the point where it rules their lives. “The culture here is very respectful and employees are looking out for more than just themselves,” Miskin summed up. “The toxicity level is very low in comparison to the coasts.”

“I find that more employers are more sensitive to the fact that, even if you’re a wizard in your craft, the likelihood that your arrogance may ‘poison the well’ often just isn’t worth the risk,” added JD Conway, head of talent acquisition for BambooHR, an HR solutions provider. “It’s a common pressure for candidates to feel like they have to show themselves off as a big cheese in interviews, but I find that it turns a lot of employers off.” His advice: Be confident in what you’ve done, and let your work speak for itself.

This may be why local tech firms like candidates with “grit,” in Conway’s words: “Many companies will take a candidate with less hard skills but greater determination to learn and persevere. Hard skills can be learned. Passion and determination are hard to teach.”

Miskin agreed. Technology changes so rapidly that candidates who can’t grasp new things quickly “will not be very valuable,” he said. Past success and experience is still very important, but Salt Lake City’s tech shops put it in the context of “[helping] you learn faster in the future.”

Another pet peeve of local tech companies: a limited point of view. Miskin, for example, avoids candidates who can’t see beyond a narrow expertise, because that often leads to difficulty working with others.

“What you do often has broad impact on the work of others and you not only need to respect that, but notice it well before you do things,” he said. “Traditionally that’s not a strength of technologists.” However, in a relatively tight-knit community like Salt Lake City and Silicon Slopes, keeping the big picture in mind can be particularly important.

Make the Right Job Approach

Actively networking is exceptionally important to a successful job search. Utah’s tech companies give a lot of weight to candidates who’ve been referred to them by someone they know. “The best way to get introduced is through someone you already know and who can vouch for you,” said Jeff Weber, senior vice president of people and places at Instructure, a learning software company. “At Instructure, we consider employee referrals very seriously.”

“Salt Lake City still feels like a very small market, and everyone knows someone that works at any given place,” Miskin added. “The best way to approach is to get a referral, or at least get someone to put in a good word for you.”

The region’s particular strengths are “strong networks, referrals and interconnectivity,” Conway said. That makes employers’ preference for referrals effective. Although more and more people “are getting better at bluffing through an interview process,” he added, your work ethic will follow you from job to job as your former co-workers talk to your prospective employers.

Know the Area

If you’re from out of town, research the market ahead of time and then make it clear that you’re willing to relocate with your eyes open. “Know your salary requirements—especially when thinking about the cost of living,” Weber said. “Have a good understanding of the local real estate market, both in your current city and where you plan to move.”

Also, he stressed, “be totally transparent with your recruiter. Tell them what you need up-front, any troubles you’re having relocating, and make sure to stay in contact through the whole process.”

“Many employers are still used to the old days when you would rarely see someone relocate here unless it was to get closer to family,” Miskin said. Employers love seeing different perspectives come in, “so in that way out-of-town candidates often have a leg up.”

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