You’ve heard the buzz. You’ve watched the shows. There’s a reason for all the hype: net job growth in the U.S. is driven by high-tech startups, with new companies adding about 3 million new jobs in their first year (far surpassing established businesses). Here’s how to get your foot in the door of the ever-expanding startup sphere and land your ideal job:
1. Check your own needs and expectations
The term “startup” encompasses a broad range of businesses at a variety of stages. Don’t romanticize the industry or apply to a startup because your roommate is doing it. Startups require a ton of work, dedication, and often a lot of failing (more on that later). Think about what you want in a company and be honest about how much risk you are comfortable talking. At early-stage startups, you will most likely wear many hats and have a ton of ownership in shaping and defining your role. But while the payoff may be huge, there’s a built-in gamble of uncertainty. When it comes to later-stage startups, your role may be more defined, but you will also have the opportunity to learn from experienced entrepreneurs that built a sustainable company. And, you know, job security isn’t so bad either.
2. Leverage social platforms
You need to have an online presence, but you don’t have to be a Facebook or Twitter addict to use social media to your advantage. Even if your social media skills are a bit lacking, anyone can take some time not only to check out the company’s social media presence, but also to look up the founders and employees to see what they’re tweeting and sharing. Engage with a post or two that sticks out to you. Create or update your personal website so that your recent achievements are outlined clearly. And if you’re feeling bold, you can get extra creative with your resume to stand out. Mark, Thinkful’s curriculum developer, built a personalized website for his own application.
3. Do your homework
This is important for any job. If the company makes an app, download it and spend at least 15 minutes using the product. Read the blog for the latest company news. Come equipped and prepared to ask thoughtful questions. Those should be the basics.Once you’ve learned about the business itself, differentiate yourself by taking the time to learn about the industry’s landscape. Every company has competitors, but for smaller startups, longevity depends on really understanding the marketplace competition. Any candidate can regurgitate catchphrases from a startup’s landing page. Many people fail to research the competition and learn about the challenges and opportunities for growth in their business’s space.
4. Network. Seriously.
It’s is an old rule, but a good rule, particularly if you’ve never worked in the startup world before. Use the standard channels like LinkedIn and let your friends and family know that you’re looking to move into the startup sphere. If you don’t have any connections, make them. Attend major entrepreneurial conferences if you can, and if you can’t, check out the videos—many portions of tech events are livestreamed. Research networking events or meetups in your area, and grab a friend or go solo. The more you practice this, the easier it will become. You can even check out the employee page of a company you admire and shoot an email to someone working at a job you think is awesome. It’s bold, but often the best way to get to know someone in the field is to reach out, say you admire their work and the company’s work, and that you would love to hop on the phone for 10 minutes or grab a coffee to hear about their career path. Most people are flattered and happy to offer guidance, and you never know what those connections will lead you.
5. Culture check
“Culture” is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot when discussing startups. At its heart, it’s all about whether or not your personality and vibe fits in with the the company. In a company of 100 people, personality can vary a good amount because there’s some natural dilution. But an attitude mismatch in a company of 15 has a major impact. That’s why it’s particularly important to be yourself in interviews with startup companies and research the culture ahead of time. There are ostensibly hundreds of applicants for any given role who have your technical background, so emphasize what makes you unique.
That being said, even though many startups might be casual, don’t blur the lines between individuality and unprofessionalism. Be thoughtful and genuine in your responses. Do your research ahead of time. Show you care and send a thank you email after you interview. The basics don’t go out the window just because you passed a kegerator and ping pong table on your way to the conference room interview.
6. Interview the company
Remember that you are sizing up the company, too. It sounds corny, but don’t gloss over this point. Startups vacillate in culture, funding, size, and leadership. You can learn a ton about company financials and the backgrounds of the founders before ever stepping foot in the door, which helps you to vet the company and get a sense if it’s a fit before you even apply. The one thing all successful startups have in common is that they are lean and minimize resources, which in turn means that each employees is all the more valuable and has to work really hard. On the flip side, what that means for you is that that you really need to believe in the company’s mission if you’re going to be happy spending 40+ hours a week in the role.
7. Embrace failing
Startups are all about testing and testing and testing (and then some more testing) to find traction and make the business viable. Do not avoid pain points you’ve had at school or in previous roles—in fact, capitalize on them. For a startup to survive, it must constantly overcome humps, adapt, and innovate. If you show that you thrive in that sort of environment and are excited to solve problems, then what you’re really showing is that you add value to the company. Take it one step further, and come in with a few enthusiastic suggestions on things the business isn’t doing that you think it should be doing. This is not to criticize the company, but to really sink your teeth into its mission and highlight your ability to be forward-thinking and creative. Of course, any idea you come in with will likely have been discussed internally at some point, but it doesn’t matter if your ideas are “right” the first time. At the end of the day, all startups, by necessity, value hard work and efficiency over perfection.
Written by: Rachel Goldberg
p.s. Many of these topics are covered in our Startup 101 #ThinkTank.