For many people, working at a startup is the holy grail of employment, and it’s not hard to understand why. You can get in on the ground floor, be a part of something exciting, and maybe even be a part of huge growth. That’s why it’s so cool to work for a startup, but that’s also why it’s so hard to actually get a job with one: everyone else wants to do it too. Competition is fierce, but with the right knowledge and approach, you can find a way to make the cut.
Read on, and you’ll discover 33 insider tips that can help you land a coveted job at a hot startup.
Identify a startup you can really connect with, and the rest is easy. With the right fit, you’ll be better poised to connect with the startup’s culture, vision, goals, and needs.
Startups are always ravenous for fresh and creative ideas. You can really stand out if you come to your interview prepared with ideas for growing and improving the business.
Do you have side projects that demonstrate your interest and passion for technology? Discuss what you’ve been working on and your dedication will be clear.
Getting a job means being a great salesperson, and every great salesperson knows you’ve got to have a unique selling point (USP). What’s yours? Be sure it’s the star of your resume and cover letter.
Check in on Quora and other great sites featuring startup discussions, and do your best to answer questions impressively. By being a part of the conversation, you just might catch the attention of a startup that’s hiring.
Actual startup job postings may not show up for quite some time, especially among those in the early stage. Rather than waiting to see if they’ll pop up, get engaged with the startup early on to express your interest.
Go into the application process with the mindset of leaving it all on the table. Successful startup hires have created infographics, catchy slideshows, even interesting websites to stand out in the crowd.
8. Be flexible:
Working at a startup isn’t like working at a 9 to 5, usually. You may have weird hours, unusual commitments, and strange tasks. Be willing to take them in stride and don’t be shocked when you’re asked how you’d feel about taking them on in the interview.
One of Square’s earliest employees was initially denied an interview at the company. But he brushed it off and took it upon himself to acquire card readers and use them to sign up 10 new merchants for the service in one day. It’s a bold move, one that got him noticed, and hired, by the startup.
10. Say thank you:
Sure, it’s impressive to create high tech, attention-getting media to woo your potential employer, and if you have the skills, by all means, do it. But startups are made up of regular people too, and everyone, yes, everyone appreciates a good, old-fashioned hand-written thank you note. Do this, and you’ll really stand out.
11. Fill multiple needs:
Being great at one thing is impressive, but it’s much more likely to get you a job at a big company where they can afford to have one employee for one task. At a startup, needs tend to be much broader, as each employee is expected to take on a wide variety of tasks. Show that you can contribute with a wide skill set that fills multiple needs.
Don’t just check out the company’s website a few hours before your interview. Really spend time getting to know what the startup is all about. Do extensive research, connect with their social media outlets, and learn about their development. Go beyond the surface so that you’ll be able to stand out as knowledgeable and intensely interested in what the startup stands for.
Entrepreneurs tend to have great BS detectors. Don’t give them a reason to lose faith in you by trying to feed them any. If you don’t know the answer, own up to it and offer to find out and follow up with them.
Be visible in all the right circles. Attend meetups, hackathons, and launch parties. Take the time to make connections and nurture your network. Connect with the right people, and it’s likely to lead you to a great startup job.
15. Be personal:
Joining a small startup means lots of one on one time with the first people with boots on the ground. If you don’t click personally, chances are, you’re not getting hired. Do you fit in with the company’s culture? Get along with the founders? If you think you do, make sure that you let your personality shine through so they will recognize it as well.
Be really impressive by showing that you’ve taken the time to contemplate what the startup is all about. Come to the interview with your own questions, ones beyond salary, hours, and benefits, that really demonstrate an understanding, appreciation, and willingness to explore the company.
17. Show up in person:
Don’t wait until the interview to step foot in the office. Take the time to stop by and personally drop off your resume and cover letter. You’re sure to get more attention than the 1,000-odd other candidates who simply emailed theirs. Just be careful, some startups specify that they do not accept walk-ins.
18. Spell it all out:
Don’t use generalizations and vague ideas. Concrete numbers and proof work best when trying to prove your worth. Explain how you bootstrapped $1 million in revenue or landed 25 hot new clients, and you’re sure to get interest.
It seems like everybody knows somebody who’s an insider at a startup, and if you don’t, you’d better find someone. Use your connections to get the word out that you’d like to work for a startup.
20. Solve their problems:
Demonstrate that you can do a great job for the startup by identifying and solving a problem they haven’t even noticed. Show them how to improve conversions on a landing page, or introduce a user feature that you feel is missing.
Now’s the time to strut your stuff. Show off what you can do with a portfolio that will really knock their socks off. If they see you can bring it, you’re that much closer to getting in the door.
Carefully consider the dress code at the startup, you might be majorly overdressed if you show up in a suit. Find out if business casual is appropriate instead.
Yes, really. You can get hired at a startup by taking initiative and starting your very own. Startups look for people with a proven track record of taking risks and getting out there.
Surely we don’t have to tell you, but startups are different than corporate America. The people reading your resume are likely to be founders, not HR pros, and they probably aren’t impressed by corporate jargon. Keep your resume short and to the point to make it easy to assess.
Keep in mind that you’re applying to work with not just any startup, but the startup. Generic skills don’t mean a lot. You’re going to have to spell out exactly why your skills and history are specifically perfect for the startup you’re interested in.
26. Use their API:
Want to prove you can do cool stuff for the company? Go right on ahead and do it. If they have a public API, embark on your very own creation to show off and prove that you can take them to the next level.
Not creepy stalking, mind you, but being everywhere they are. Follow their discussions online, attend the same conferences, and take every opportunity you have to actually talk to them and let them know you’re interested. They may not have time to get you on their radar otherwise.
It’s controversial, and can certainly backfire, but working for free is one way to get in the door. Demonstrate that you can deliver, and you’ll have a good chance at landing a paid gig.
29. Go open source:
Participating in open source projects isn’t just a great way to learn and gain experience; it’s an incredible resume-builder. Contribute to open source, and you’ll show initiative, passion, and skill that startups are likely to be impressed by.
30. Be persistent:
One of Foursquare’s first employees got his job by obsessively using the service, writing several emails to the founders, and booking a last minute cross-country flight to meet with them. It was this bold, persistent action that got him the job and launched his startup career.
If you’d love to work on product, but have most of your experience in sales, go ahead and get your foot in the door as a salesperson. Once you’re in, do a great job in sales and take the initiative to show your interest and competence in product.
33. Be passionate:
People who work at startups tend to be the passionate type; show that you are too by getting excited and showing personal interest in the project.
This article was first posted in Online MBA.