by Ben Sim, Singapore Lead for Content Marketing at iPrice Group
Joining a startup is no mystery. You don’t need to develop a billion dollar app, drop out of college, or get a blessing from the Zucks in order to get into this “secret society.”
Like all games, it has its own set of rules.
Rules when followed will give you access to the Silicon Valley world, where you can wear shorts and slippers to work. Where pool tables are aplenty and the hustle is as common as your next breath. Also the fact that you can brag to your friends who are in corporate that you are working in a fast growing startup that is about to change the world.
I was a fresh graduate not too long ago. I was reading law and I managed to get a role as a content marketer at a local ecommerce startup called iPrice. It was tough in the beginning to get a job without experience. What you are about to read are what I did to get into a startup and what I have learnt since.
“All men are created equal, some just work harder in pre-season.” – Eric Thomas
1. Find a lot of startups you like.
There are thousands of startups in the ecosystem. Each working on a different problem. Due to this abundance of opportunities, planning A to Z is a better strategy than just planning A to B.
Having your No. 11 to No. 100 options gives you more freedom and makes you less anxious if you don’t get your top picks.
- Go to sites like crunchbase and sort out by category and location of the startup. Look out if they have received funding:
Seed funding – means they are just starting out = less people in the company = higher likelihood of working closely with the founder. Side note: startup not as stable.
Series A funding – means that they have proved to be more stable than Seed = more people in the company = more departments set up = most likely to be working closely with the VPs instead.
Series B and beyond – pretty stable and larger base of employees.
- Make a list of startups you have interest in and Google them to find out what they have been up to – sites like TechInAsia and e27 report on tech startups in the region frequently.
- Look them up on their Facebook pages, Instagram pages and their LinkedIn profiles for the latest developments as well.
Don’t be disappointed if you don’t get to work at the Google’s of the world on your first try. Having experience in a not so popular startup at first is a huge advantage over others when you do apply for the big ones later on.
2. Look for the open positions.
LinkedIn is a must in your startup job pursuit. You can edit your profile to make it impeccable and strike a direct conversation with the hiring manager. You will also be able to see their status updates to understand what they and their company is up to.
3. Prepare the 3 necessities.
Your three pieces that will help you secure a strong first impression is your resume, your cover letter and your blog.
Your resume should highlight your most relevant academic and professional experience. Always tailor your resume to a role. Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach as it indicates your laziness or inconsideration for the role.
Your cover letter is written to articulate your fit for the company. If the resume serves to show your technical skills, the cover letter serves to show your communication skills and personality.
Your blog is something overlooked by many jobseekers. It is invaluable as it shows your hiring manager your way of thinking.
If you take a look at management consulting firms like McKinsey and Bain, they have case interviews whereby candidates are given problems to solve and need to articulate clearly how they arrived at their answers to the interviewer.
The point isn’t to arrive at the right answer, but to justify why your answer is such and demonstrate your thought process.
Having your thought process documented online gives the interviewer background into what kind of thinker you are and makes them more inclined to want to know you better.
Even the best interviewees struggle to communicate what they are in 15 minutes. Why not use the web so form your first impression before you ever step into the room for your interview?
4. Apply for the positions.
Now armed with your resume and cover letter, apply for the jobs that you have specifically written for.
5. While waiting, understand their business model and polish up on your skills for the job.
A common mistake candidates make is not understanding how the company makes a profit. Taking the time to read up on the company and their business model can set you apart from other candidates.
After you have grasped their business model, read up and learn about the skills needed for your job. For example, if you are applying for a digital marketing position, read up on sites like Quicksprout and Moz (the popular go-to sites for practitioners).
6. Once you get an interview invite, do some spec work.
Spec work is unpaid work. If you know what the job entails, prepare a plan on what you intend to do in the first 90 days. If you have no idea on what to do, analyse their competitors and use the products from both sides. Learn the differences and justify the ones worth emulating.
During the Interview.
1. Show you are a fit (culturally and professionally).
Often the environment alone will let you know if this is the right place for you. Now all you have to do is let them know why you are one of them. Show that you have the same values and the same passions through your work.
Here’s an example from TheMuse:
“I noticed on your company’s site, you mentioned the importance of not just loving what the company sells, but also embracing what the lifestyle involves. And that really rung true to me because I don’t just love your camping gear, but I also truly love unplugging and embracing the simpler side of life. That’s why at my last company I initiated an ‘unplug for the day’ marketing campaign.”
There are 4 ways to show that you are suitable for your startup of choice:
a) Started one.
Be a founder of something. It can be a website, a blog, a Facebook page, a personal brand, a clothing line. The best low cost option you can start with is a blog or get into media – be it YouTube videos, podcasts, graphics or written posts.
b) Worked in one.
If you worked for a startup before, they will see you as more valuable since you have insights on how other startups operate.
c) Worked in the same field as the one you are applying for.
If you worked for any other company but in the same department (let’s say digital marketing), it will give them confidence that you will be able to perform your tasks with ease since you understand the fundamentals of the field.
d) Related side products.
If you don’t have any of the above, at least have something to show that you are into what you are applying for.
A coder who says he has a passion for coding but has never built anything with code will be far less convincing than someone has one or two projects that demonstrated his seriousness.
There is also another fit to focus on: cultural fit.
It doesn’t matter how exceptional you are if you are unable to work or cause conflict with the team. If you don’t fit the existing culture of the startup, it wouldn’t be a good idea for you to stay long in the first place.
2. Have a great attitude.
I got hired mainly because of this reason. I had a very open mind and I was eager to learn. The crucial part candidates miss with this is that they have to show it through their actions. This can be as simple as reading up on industry blogs prior to the interview or doing a mock exercise on your own of what you think the job entails.
3. Show your spec work.
The reason I recommend spec work is because only a handful out of hundreds of candidates would bother to do it.
Doing this will set you apart from other candidates all the more if you are inexperienced. The fact that you are inexperienced and you still attempt it whole heartedly will resonate with the founders as they once were young and ambitious people who didn’t know what they were doing either.
4. Ask thoughtful questions during and after the interview.
The keyword here is thoughtful. Ask questions that show that you have thought something more than once. The more refined and shorter the question the better.
Here are examples adapted from Tim Ferriss:
– What is the core task in this position?
– What is the single biggest time waster you have found in this industry?
– What are the common mistakes committed by beginners?
5. Don’t ask for the salary until you have gotten an offer, negotiate later.
In salary negotiation, the first person to name a number loses. If the salary is not publicized, it may be difficult for you to gauge how much is it.
If it is publicized, set your expectations based on the value you can provide to the company. The high end of the spectrum is reserved for those who are already experienced or skilled and the low end is reserved for those who are inexperienced and new.
1. Send a thank you email after the interview.
After my interview with my hiring manager, I sent her a thank you email thanking her for taking the time to consider my application. Courtesy goes a long way.
2. Once you get an offer, negotiate the salary that you think is worth it (for now).
Don’t get too caught up if they offer you slightly lower than expected.
Startups generally promote proactive people much faster than in the corporate world as top tier talent is their utmost priority. If you are an A-player, they will do what they can to retain you as long as possible.
3. Execute your 90 day plan.
The real journey starts here and the rest is up to you.
Getting into a startup is not difficult nor is it easy. It is a fast-paced business incubator where A-players are highly prized. Show and demonstrate your capabilities effectively and you will be noticed.
Ben Sim is the Singapore Lead for Content Marketing at iPrice Group, a meta-search ecommerce platform. He has contributed to sites such as e27, Business2Community and CustomerThink on the topics of digital marketing, intrapreneurship and startups.