How to get hired at a startup in 3 steps
Every year, more and more people are leaving the security of their corporate jobs for the thrill of working at a startup.
Maybe you’re thinking about making the switch yourself, but you’re not sure if it’s for you. And even if it is, you aren’t sure how to make the change.
We’ll cover both topics here, but let’s start at the top.
Is the startup environment right for you?
The startup work environment is incredible for the right person.
For the wrong person, startups can feel like a chaotic, unorganized mess. Which, to be fair, they often are. But the right person finds calm in the chaos, and order in the mess.
Before you make this career change, ask yourself: Are you ready to …
- Leave behind any notion of job security?
- Be deeply tied to the success or failure of a company?
- Proactively seek work, rather than work through a to-do list?
- Regularly work more than 40 hours per week?
If those ideas don’t excite you, then working at a startup might not be right for you and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Different people thrive in different environments; the key is finding what works for you. If that isn’t a startup, don’t force something that doesn’t come naturally.
But if those four points didn’t deter you, maybe it’s time to take the plunge. Here are three steps to follow to get your first job at the startup of your choice.
Step one: Think like a startup
Mindset is one of the biggest differences between startup and corporate employees.
In a corporate setting, you play by the rules and you move up the ranks. In a startup, you can’t play by the rules because there aren’t any.
Startups are about experimentation. Almost every major decision starts with someone saying, “I’ve got an idea. I don’t know if it’ll work, but I think it will. Let’s give it a shot and measure the results.
Working at a startup means getting comfortable with the idea that you don’t (and won’t) have all the answers, but you need to take action.
Adopt that mentality now by treating this job transition as an experiment rather than a commitment.
Instead of saying, “I’m going to work for a startup,” say, “I like the idea of working at a startup. I don’t know for sure if it’s for me, but I’m going to find out.”
Step two: Do your homework
Once you’ve got the startup mentality down, pick out a couple of specific startups you’d like to work for then learn everything you can about them.
Not sure what to research? Start with the four C’s: company, culture, customers, and competition.
A cashier at Sears doesn’t necessarily have to know everything about Sears to be good at their job. The same can’t be said for a startup employee.
Being a part of a startup means understanding the company from the inside out. That means past, present, and future plans. You should know who founded the company, when it was founded, and where it’s going.
You’ll also need to be an expert on their products; everything from tech specs to pricing to the development road map. You should be able to pitch their services as effectively as one of their own salespeople.
Not every startup offers unlimited paid parental leave, a $2,000 annual travel stipend, or an on-site music studio. Assumptions almost always lead to disappointment, so try and get a clear picture of what you’re getting into ahead of time.
You can get an idea of a company’s culture through review sites like Glassdoor, but the best approach is to just ask someone who works there.
Use LinkedIn to find current and past employees, then send out a short message saying something like, “I’m thinking of getting a job at a startup, and yours caught my eye. Would you be willing to hop on a five minute call with me so I can learn more about what it’s like to work there?”
Start treating their customers like your customers because, once you’re hired, they will be.
At the very least, you need a basic understanding of what types of customers bring them the most value. Not sure? Then reach out to a couple.
Reach out to some of their bigger accounts with a message saying something like, “I’m considering this product for my own business. Would you be willing to hop on a quick phone call later this week to discuss how they’ve been valuable for you?”
It isn’t enough to just know about the startup you want to work for. You also need to understand the market they’re a part of. Who are their competitors, and what makes them dangerous?
What features do they have in common, and what sets them apart? In what ways are they better, and in what ways are they worse?
Reach out to a couple of their employees and customers, because the more you understand the market, the more valuable and versatile you become.
Step three: Hire yourself
In Startupland, potential is more important than experience.
Corporations may be impressed by a resume, but startups want to see the value you provide, not read about it. So ask yourself, “How can I start providing value today?”
It doesn’t have to be anything grand, it just has to be consistent. You want these companies to know your name before they ever see it on a job application.
For example, every startup benefits from more visibility, so start engaging with them on social media. Share their blog posts, start conversations in the comments, and advocate for them on industry sites like Quora or HackerNews.
Once you’ve produced consistent results (stimulating conversation, driving more subscribers, referring prospects …), send one of their team members a message saying, “Here’s what I’ve been doing, and I want to do more. How can I help your business grow?”
No one’s going to turn down free help. Then, once you’ve worked with them, send in your job application. You won’t have to prove you can provide value; you already have.
You practically hired yourself. At this point, the application is just a formality.
Startups aren’t for everyone
After going through all this, you may realize something: The media romanticizes startups. It isn’t all job perks and billion-dollar acquisitions.
It’s hard work and long hours, and it isn’t for everyone. If you discover that it isn’t for you, that’s okay. Remember, this was just an experiment. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t force it.
Like Gary Vee says, “You have to understand your own personal DNA. Don’t do things because I do them or Steve Jobs or Mark Cuban tried it. You need to know your personal brand and stay true to it.”
So get out there and crush it wherever you are, and wherever you end up. As long as you’re fulfilled, you’re on the right track.
Psst … We’re hiring!
Think you’ve got what it takes to make it in Startupland? Prove it.
Close is currently hiring for all positions, from sales to marketing to engineering and everything in between. Interested? Check out our current job listings.
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