So you want to get a job at a startup.
Nice. It’s quite a ride. Don’t say that I didn’t warn you.
But I also don’t blame you. For some people – like me – the idea of being a small cog in a large corporate organization is worse than a slow, painful death.
So, if you want to escape the world of stuffy corporate cubicles and mind-numbing bureaucracy, then maybe you should consider a getting a job at a startup.
I’m about to share with you a few key job search strategies which will help you achieve that.
First of all, why should you listen to me? I’m the CMO of a global career services startup (read what Huffington Post had to say about us) and I’ve been in the trenches for quite some time.
More importantly, I very often find myself on the receiving end of job solicitations.
Some of them are good, but most of them are extraordinarily bad. As someone who has seen some of the worst approaches, I want to help you avoid making the same mistakes, so that you have a chance of getting a job at a startup.
Before I share with you some of my best startup job search strategies, I want you to realise that most startup jobs – especially the good ones – never get advertised.
They get filled through word of mouth, private introductions, water cooler conversations and so on – in other words, the so-called “hidden” job market. And in this article I want to show you how to tap into that market.
So, let’s get stuck into it and take a closer look at my 5 startup job search strategies.
1. Define Your Value
What do you do? What can I rely on you for? What needle can you move for me?
The reality is that early startups often require people who are highly adaptable generalists. If the startup pivots (uggh, I hate startup jargon, but I do use it) the senior managers need to know that you can obtain skills that are necessary for running in the new direction.
However, it doesn’t mean that you should introduce yourself with “I’m Jack of all trades. I can do a bit of everything.”
Be clear on what your core value is (and during the interview stage, which I’ll talk about shortly, emphasize that you’re highly adaptable).
Your value statement should be 1-2 sentences max. Want to know what mine is?
“I’m Steven. I’m provide the marketing, data and IT backbone to early stage service-based startups.”
2. Leverage Co-Working Spaces (But Don’t Be A Creep)
Some people think that renting a desk at a coworking space is a good startup job search strategy.
It can be.
Co-working spaces – especially good, expensive ones – are mosh pits of venture capitalists, CEOs and other startup employees.
VCs are particularly beneficial to get in front of because they benefit from connecting talent with CEOs of companies which they’ve invested into. In that sense, building relationships with VCs is a highly leveraged strategy because their network becomes your network.
Don’t be “that’ guy/girl.
If you around the coworking space without a clear sense of purpose, having excessive chats near the coffee machine, you’ll only end up meeting people who are doing the same thing as you – wasting time and being needy.
High value people (the ones you really want to meet) will avoid you like the plague.
Make sure that you’re at that co-working space for a reason other than job search. Be doing something that stretches you, challenges you and pushes you outside of your comfort zone.
For example, can you create a profile on Upwork.com and sell $3,000 of your services in 1 month?
If you achieve a goal like that, you’ll be surprised how your fortunes change – there’s no better way to get a job offer (at a startup or anywhere else) than not needing that job in the first place.
3. Write A Targeted Resume
When a startup CEO asks you for your resume, don’t send him/her the same resume that you’ve sent to every potential employer in the past.
Also, don’t make the mistake of thinking that a resume is simply a list of your past jobs and education. (How to write a standout resume?).
Write a highly targeted resume which communicates your value (remember point #1?) and positions you as the answer to that CEO’s problems.
This is easier said than done. You’ll need to do research into what the startup does, what their culture is, what their challenges are, who their threats are and what their strategy is.
Then you’ll need to either write your own resume (if you’re struggling, I recommend excellent guides here and here). Or hire a professional resume writer. (How do I choose a good resume writer?)
4. Prepare For Your Job Interview
Most startup executives don’t know how to interview candidates (even if they pretend that they do).
Truth is, most hire by listening to their “gut”.
In other words, an imprecise mix of their biases, childhood trauma, hastily read business books – all layered on top of their (usually poor) assessment of your likeability, relatability, demonstrated performance and communication skills.
Some will play the “Mr Nice Guy” angle on you. Others – usually the ones who got their business education from Entrepreneur.com – will try to stump you with clever questions (7 trickiest job interview questions: answered).
Truth is, none of them know what they’re doing – even if they pretend that they do.
There’s only one thing you need to remember: how you sell yourself is how you’ll be perceived. And the only way to get better at selling yourself is to practice.
I recommend that you apply for a couple of jobs that you don’t care much for and attend job interviews at those companies as “target practice”. It will take the edge off the “real” interview, when it comes.
5. Demonstrate “Can-Do” Attitude
Expanding on my first point, your attitude matters as much as your skills. Often more.
Remember this: you’re always casting a shadow. And you should always be mindful of what you’re casting – you never know who is watching, and why they are watching.
As someone near the top of the food chain at a startup, I’m constantly on the lookout for potential employees and contractors.
I often screen people with innocent questions when I meet into them at co-working spaces, business events – even at social gatherings and bars.
But very often I screen people out based on their body language alone – without a word being spoken.
Make sure you’re always looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Don’t whine. Don’t complain. Exude passion for yourself, your world and your work.
(And don’t try to fake it – if you find it difficult to be enlivened by your work, maybe you should rethink your career before you get a job at a startup. You’ll save yourself – and many others – a lot of suffering.)