5 Tips for Getting an Awesome Job at a Startup

6 12 2016

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So, you want to work for a startup? They can be exciting to work for, offer up tremendous learning opportunities, and really pay off if you’re working for the best ones.

But getting hired by the best can certainly be a challenge. This is partly because startups have bought into the old Steve Jobs “only hire A players” mentality. But they are also looking for a specific kind of talent.

I’ve both run and worked for startups for the last 10 years. I’ve hired for them and been hired. Here’s my advice for getting in the door.

1. Show them that you’ve got startup-like experience.

Having worked at a startup before will help you a lot in getting hired at a startup. But this of course can be a chicken and egg problem. If you don’t have startup experience, how do you get it?

First off, you don’t necessarily have to have worked at a startup. Look for any experiences you’ve had where expectations were high and supervision was low. Somewhere you got thrown in the deep end and had to sink or swim.

My most startup like-experience, before I actually worked at a startup, was at a restaurant. My first night working at a particular restaurant when I was young was supposed to be training.

But when one of the servers didn’t show, and the restaurant got packed, they asked me to just try waiting as many tables as I could. I had to figure it out as I went, make decisions in the absence of guidance, and do the best I could with what I had.

If you don’t have startup experience, see if you can tell them about a situation you were in that relates.

You can also show this in the way you apply. When I applied to work with Betterteam, part of my test for being hired was writing a long-form article. To make the article really stand out, I cold called and interviewed several influential people in our space, something no other candidate did.

2. Show a love for learning.

The only thing that doesn’t change at a startup is the constant changing. Your job won’t fit into the typical job description.

There’s a good chance that you’ll be doing something completely different on day 1, day 30 and day 90.

Successful startup founders know this, and they’ll be looking for people who can adapt, learn and grow with the startup. Of course, you don’t want to just tell them you’re willing to learn. Show them.

Do you study languages or play instruments in your spare time? Practice a martial art, or run a hobby website?

This is something I’ve seen among my colleagues that make it at startups – they all have multiple hobbies and skills that they’re at varying stages of developing.

3. Know where to look.

When startups post jobs, they don’t always do it on traditional job boards.

A lot of them like to use niche boards that are more likely to bring in the type of candidates they’re looking for. Here are a few you’ll want to check out.

  • Weworkremotely – as the name suggests, mostly focused on remote jobs.

  • AngelList – lots of startups post their jobs here, and many report having success with it.

  • Hacker News – lists jobs with Y Combinator startups.

  • Authentic Jobs – lists jobs for developers, designers and various other startup positions.

4. Know the tools.

When I hired at my startup, I always hated getting resumes sent to me as Word files. PDFs were a little better, but what really showed me that someone had the same sensibilities as our company was getting a Google Doc resume link sent.

I’m not saying you have to be in love with Google Docs, but it’s good to figure out what tools a startup uses, and show familiarity with them.

Other tools that are popular among startups include Slack, Basecamp, Calendly, Asana, Github, Skype and Google Hangouts.

I doubt anyone is going to pass on a great hire because they sent something as a Word doc, but using and knowing the same tools that they use is definitely a sign of cultural fit.

5. Be helpful.

Maybe you’re just not quite ready yet. You either don’t have experience that convinces someone you can function as a startup employee, or don’t have the right skills.

While you’re waiting, see if you can find a way to be helpful to the startups you’d most like to work for.

Automattic, the company responsible for WordPress.com, notes on their job page that if you’re looking to be one of their Happiness Engineers, you may have spent some time helping people out in their forums.

If you’re interested in working for a few particular startups, keep an eye on them with social media, and see if there are ways you can contribute outside the company before you come on, and get on their radar.

That’s what I’ve got! It’s a good time to be looking for startup jobs, skilled employees are hard to find in general, and the startup space is especially in need of great employees. Get out there and get that job!

****For this post, Campus to Career thanks Paul Peters!!****

pp1About: Paul Peters is content marketer and job ad writer with Betterteam. Before Betterteam he spent 6 years building an education startup, where he was was involved with many aspects of the business, including hiring and marketing. He lives in Whitefish, Montana.

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