Compared to regular companies, job hunting for a startup position is beset with it’s own pitfalls and particularities.
Whatever your motivations are for wanting to work for a startup company, you need to adjust your mindset to these difficulties.
1. Be at the right time in the right place
Based on your skills, you want to focus on the right-size of a startup:
- If a startup is still in its early stages, it’ll be hiring a programmer. Initially, the focus is always on building a product.
- Once a startup has received some funding, they will be hiring generalists for all the responsibilities they previously ignored — e.g. sales, marketing, business development, etc. This is when those soft skills a non-coder can bring to the team become crucial.
- When a startup has made it past its middle stage, they’ll start hiring specialists. Finally, they can afford them and they require expertise on certain tasks.
If you’re not an engineer, your best chance to get hired at a startup is right after they’ve received funding. It doesn’t really matter whether they have any jobs posted on their website, they’ll be definitely hiring — and probably across all areas.
...your best chance to score a job at a startup is right after they’ve received funding.
To see which startups have just received money, just skim through tech blogs on a daily basis as part of your job search. If you’re based in the US, try to play around with Crunchbase until you find what you’re looking for.
2. Approach the right kind of people
When applying for any kind of job, you want to be networking both online and offline. Any kind of connection can hook you up with a useful lead. Still, according to John Gannon at The Muse, there are two kinds of people you want to get in touch with the most:
- Venture capital partners — most startups have raised money from venture capital firms. Partners at these firms often bring a wealth of connections to help their companies develop — some of which are talented people (in this case, you!). Try to make a VC partner to introduce you to one of their companies. These people are usually difficult to approach out of the blue. Try to ask your friends in the startup community if they can introduce you to them.
- Company founders — you can also approach the company founders directly. In the end, it’s them who’ll have to decide whether you’re the right fit for their startup. In this case, you want to stand out from the crowd and impress them both with your skills and personality. Not only you need to convince them you’re going to be an asset to their team, you also need to show you’ll be a great fit for the company culture.
3. Have a developed online presence
Keep in mind you’re approaching some of the most tech-savvy people in the world. They know where to look to find out more about you. Make sure that whatever they’ll find is going to play to your advantage.
- A good place to start is your favourite search engine. Switch to the “incognito” mode and type in your name. Based on these search results, curate what they’re going to find across all of your online profiles. For a quick introduction, check this infographic.
- You also want to complete your LinkedIn profile. This is where your potential employees are going to look first, sometimes even skipping your resume. In case you’re unsure how to go about improving your LinkedIn profile, check this tutorial.
- If you’re a designer or visual artist, it’s crucial that you have an online portfolio once you start job hunting. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a well thought out and exciting portfolio is worth a thousand pictures.
4. Do your homework
This should go without saying but – learn everything there is to know about a startup, the industry, and the competitors.
- First, you want to know the company’s product. Recently, during our first round of interviews for customer support, several people came in who claimed they hadn’t had time to try our resume builder. It takes about 5 minutes for anyone to create something quick and dirty. As you can probably guess, the applicants who didn’t take 5 minutes of their day to do this didn’t get hired.
- Second, knowing the competitors and the niche market is one of the main keys of success for every startup. It only takes one or two hours of research to be able to approach an interview from the position of an industry insider. Don’t pass on this opportunity.
Once you have these two things covered, you can focus on researching the LinkedIn profiles of the company’s founders, the skills and experience the company values, news about the company, etc.
5. Have the right kind of attitude
When you’re applying for a job at a startup, you’re going to work in a smaller team. This means that everyone has to pull their own weight, since you’re responsible for yourself. At the same time, founders need to delegate some of their responsibilities to someone they can trust. If you get to an interview, show that you are:
- Passionate. Entrepreneurs want to know that you are as passionate about the company’s mission and goals as they are. They want to be sure you’re not in just for the money, since startup working conditions are often far from glamorous.
- Initiative. Understand that your success is everyone’s success. If you get hired, it’s because the believe you can be an asset to their team. Never simply do what you’re told. Come up with your own solutions and improvements.
- Team player. In a startup company, there’s no time to dealing with people’s egos and petty conflicts. You’re all in the same boat, working towards a common goal.
- Confident. You will be expected to act on your responsibilities. Take ownership of your role.
- Honest. Don’t even apply if you don’t care about the company’s mission. Working in a startup is exciting but near impossible without being passionate about what your team wants to achieve. You’ll need that passion to persevere. If you’re dishonest about your passion at the interview, it will come up later.