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Have you ever dreamed about getting a job at startup? How great could it be if this dream would become a reality. In this post, you will find eleven tips to increase your chance of being noticed and then hired by the startup you would love to work at. That being said, keep in mind that some fairy tales might not be that beautiful when you look at them closely.
1. Dress to Fit Startup Culture
Let’s say you’ve got scheduled an interview in startup. One of the most important things you have to consider is what will you wear. In almost any other regular situation you should go with a nice suit to make the best first impression you can. Unfortunately, this is not a regular situation and you are not about to pitch yourself to someone from HR department. When you are going to apply for a job at startup, you should dress so you’ll fit in. Your dress should look like if you’re already on the team. Meaning, if you know the company embrace leisure culture leave suit at home.
Any startup you’d want to work for is not going to hold it against you for not dressing up. They wouldn’t expect you to wear something to an interview that they wouldn’t wear themselves into work. That being said, if you’re more comfortable wearing more formal clothes, you should go for it. You will show your best performance only if you will be comfortable in your clothes. Fidgeting and wriggling on the chair for fifteen minutes will not make the best first impression on founders.
Takeaway: Dressing to fit culture of the company is great first step to your dream job. However, always make sure to wear clothes you feel comfortable in.
2. Show Your Passion
If you’ve worked for startups before you should talk about them. Don’t be afraid to share your experience and personal feelings about what it was like to work there. When it comes to the painful parts, make sure to include them as well. In some cases, discussing the pain points can give you some additional points. However, this will only work if you will relate to these points in a sense of how you were able to cope with them. On the other hand, if one of the issues was a reason for you to leave the company, it might be a better idea to “forget” to mention it. Showing that you will back off when rubber meets the road is not the way to land a job.
Anyway, be sharing your feelings and experiences about previous positions, you will let the founders know that you know what it’s like to be on a startup team. Remember that founders are looking for people that want to take on that special kind of pain that only entrepreneurial people understand. In case you haven’t worked for a startup so far, come up with some convincing reasons as to why you want to start now. How can you find the most convincing ones? You will find the right reasons by watching for spark. If your eyes sparkle and your body is overflowing with energy, this is the reason(s) you’ve been looking for.
Small warning. Being fired from some Fortune 500 company or other startup or the fact you like to read about this subject are not reasons you should go with. Keep in mind that startups exist for the purpose of creating a value. They are not in the business for the sake of creating jobs. Sure, by jobs will be created, but only as by-product, not as the main purpose. One of the best, if not the one, is to show how you’re going to help the startup create value like nobody else can.
Takeaway: The best way to persuade founders to hire you is by showing your passion. Let your inner fire light up the room and leave them breathless.
3. Read Their Stuff
Today, it is common thing that many startups have a wide footprint on the Internet. Many startup founders or CEOs are also active on social media such as twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Do your homework and read it. If the company has a blog, take your time and read at least couple posts. Then, you can and should mention it during the interview. Don’t get me wrong here. You shouldn’t be an ass-kisser and brag about how many of their posts you skimmed or read through. This approach will get you close to nowhere. Instead, offer your opinion on the idea of the blog post.
You definitely don’t have to fall in love with everything the startup founder or CEO wrote, just get a bit familiar with their thoughts and leanings. Remember that these people as anyone else write for a reason–they want to share their ideas and thoughts with other people. To make a good impression, read that material, process it and tell them your own opinion. They will see you a) invested your time into getting to know them and b) can think for yourself.
Takeaway: Read the blog of founders, CEO and the company. Get familiar with their thoughts, form your own opinion on that topic and talk about it during the interview.
4. Build Your Network
In today’s world, chances are that the startup team is going to do a quick scan for you online presence (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Behance, Dribbble, website, blog, etc.). To increase your chances to land your dreamed job, be faster than them. Meaning, get proactive and connect with them online first. Scan their online profiles and existing work. By looking at their profiles you can get another advantage that is option to ask some of their connections and team members on what it’s like to work there. Your goal is to show that you care, you’re doing your homework and are savvy enough to make sure you want to work there first. Remember that working for startup is about mutual help. They will give a lot to you, while you will give a lot to them.
When done right, some of these connections you will create along the way may help you get the job by giving you either recommendation or intro from someone the founder or hiring person trusts. Personal recommendation will always win over hearing from a random person or reading a recommendation on LinkedIn and be much more convincing. Simply said, if someone you know knows the team or founder of that startup and is willing to recommend you, that’s a clear sign you’re worth serious consideration.
Even though you might think that your network doesn’t include anyone related to startup scene, don’t give up so fast. There is a chance that you have more connections to startup world than you would think. You can start by getting in touch with your former classmates. You should take the advantage of any opportunities to network or meet new people who might make your way to your dream job easier, but don’t get annoying or too pushy. Also, if you meet someone interesting, stay in touch with them. Don’t let this new connection vanish. And, don’t be embarrassed to ask them if they know a startup that’s looking for someone like you.
Takeaway: Don’t rely on your CV. Instead, focus on building a network of contacts by connecting with people in areas you are interested in. Remember that personal recommendation is one of the ways to land your dream job.
5. Connect Locally
Following the previous tip about networking, I also want to mention that you shouldn’t limit yourself only to online networks. Contrary to what some people might advise you to do, you should prioritize local (offline) meetups and events prior to online. No matter what you think about this, meeting someone in-person have much bigger effect than just tweeting him or sending him a message. Find out where people from the startup you want to work at are hanging out join the conversation. By doing that, you will get to know some of the faces and names and find out the tone of the conversations happening around the startup you’re looking to work for.
Takeaway: No matter how much connected the world is, nothing will beat meeting people and building relationships in-person.
6. Show “Get Shit Done” Mindset
Ask any startup founder for the most important attribute he is looking for and the answer will be the same. He is on the look for people that get stuff done. He wants to hire people who can take it from the initial idea to shipping. Understand, you can be the most brilliant programmer, designer or whatever you want, but if you don’t have the will and grit to get a shit done, you’re not an attractive enough (if at all) to hire. The reason is simple. Startups are constantly working with small amount of resource and under big tension. There’s always too much work and not enough people. If the startup hires you, they want to know that you’re going to drop dead to finish your work. Remember, ideas are cheap. It is execution that matters.
Takeaway: Startups are looking for people who can get shit done and ship. That’s it. Only doers and hustlers will get somewhere. There is no place for schmoozers.
7. Have Side Projects
What is one of the best way to show your expertise, get shit done mindset and passion for your work? The answer is variety of side projects. Portfolio full of side projects, whether for clients or for yourself, is a million times more impressive than a shiny resume. In the startup world, nobody reads resumes anyway. The problem with resumes is that you can write there anything you want to make it look better than the reality. On the other hand, it is much harder to fake your real skill on side projects. For those of you with technical skills, invest your time in filling your portfolio and GitHub account with side projects. Also, think about contributing to other open source projects.
However, if you’re non-technical person and you’re looking for some more creative role such as design or marketing. Don’t give up. You still have huge opportunity to show off your skills, personality, and ability to execute. Remember that the side projects can be anything that requires a commitment from you on a regular basis. From this point of view, side project can be anything from blog or YouTube channel, to podcast. Don’t get discouraged that you don’t have thousands of views or fans. Your goal is to show that you’re willing to stick to a project and finish it.
Takeaway: Having a range of side project, personal or for clients, can be a golden ticket for your dream job. Don’t just talk about your commitment, show it!
8. Try the Product
One thing that will spark interest in the startup founder is the fact that you are already using their product. However, if this is not truth, you should try it out before meeting with the founder and team. I don’t mean just downloading an app or whatever the product is and giving it one shot. Go deeper that that and take notes about the user onboarding process. Write down what your experience and first impressions are. Next, create a list of things you’d do differently. Remember that user feedback is priceless for startups. Just showing your interest by trying the product on your own and having some ideas will make you stand out.
Takeaway: To stand out find out what product the startup is working on and try it on your own. Examine closely every detail. Take notes and share your experience, ideas and suggestions.
9. Spend Some Time Learning
Whether you are technically based or not, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be at least familiar with startup basics. Remember that startups are running lean. They are trying to save any available resources. This, in turn, means that people with any extra skills are very handy. These skills don’t have to be directly related to your core expertise or even the industry. Just the fact that you have a broader range of skills and knowledge will make you a much more interesting adept to be hired.
Next thing is that thanks to the internet, learning some skills like the basics of coding, design and so on by yourself is incredibly easy, and many cases even free. Exploit this advantage to its full potential and immerse yourself in studying material. This doesn’t have to twelve-hour marathon. Just one hour a day on Udemy, Coursera or YouTube will help you brush your current skills and learn new ones. Other things being equal, having some technical knowledge might be what tips the scale in your favor.
Takeaway: Being a specialist can work for a regular job. In the world of startups, however, they are people with broader range of skills are the ones who have a better chances to get the job.
10. Stay Humble
Let me be clear. Despite what you might see on TV startups aren’t charming or glamorous place to work. The pay is low and the work hours are long. It’s very stressful and energy draining environment with big demands. What’s more you will also fail. In a fact, you will a lot and often. Don’t try to soften this cold harsh truth by telling yourself fairy tale about that great work you will do and how will you help the company change the world.
Well, yes you might add your part and change the world. However, you should also understand that there will be a LOT of less appealing, even menial, work to get done. For early-stage startups this is sure thing. Forget the pretty picture media are trying to force you. Joining a startup is not a way to get free food, stock options worth millions of dollars and awesome perks and bonuses. It is hard work and no matter how great you are you should stay humble. Giving the impression that you aren’t willing to do all the menial and boring stuff coming along with working at a startup is not a good idea. If you want to get big shiny office, you had better look elsewhere.
Takeaway: The smaller the startup, the more likely you’ll have to do things that aren’t as interesting and cool as you would like. If you want to work at startup, accept it, get used to it and in all times stay humble.
11. Go Small
You are probably almost bored by hearing that you should go BIG and aim high. Well, this applying for a job at startup might be an exception to this rule. The reason is that the bigger the company is the harder it will be for you to get in. Also, when startup get bigger, it often loses some of its magic. So, instead of going for bigger players, consider looking at startups where you can get in in the early stage. This generally means companies with less than ten people. These companies are less likely to have lines of experienced people knocking on the doors. This is your advantage. By showing the company you are willing to take on as much risk as it will be thrown at you, you’re likely to rank higher among other candidates than you would at an already successful startup.
Takeaway: When choosing the startup focus on the smaller and less proven ones. You will face much smaller competition and so your chances to be hired will be bigger.
Closing Thoughts on Getting a Job at Startup
Although that working at a startup might seem like a fairy tale it is still work. Sometimes you will even find yourself questioning your decision to join this roller coaster. Yes, there will be times when it will really suck. For case of early-stage startup, and not being one of the founders, your salary will probably be close to ridiculous. Especially when compared to large established companies such as Google or Facebook. The only advice I can give you is to make sure you find something you’re really passionate about. Otherwise, all the sacrifices you will have to make along will not be worth it.
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