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How to get a job at a startup

Aug 03, 2014 / by Vitaly Pecherskiy

Working for a startup is undeniably exciting and for one reason or another, many people want to do it. Getting a job at a startup is not more difficult than getting a job in a large corporation, but it requires somewhat of a different approach. These tips can easily be applied to landing a job in a large company too.

I want to share what I think made me successful in landing a job in a tech startup, and what we are looking for in people we want to bring on board.

1. Do your homework

I cannot stress this one enough. Do your homework! In your research you'll be able to figure out why a company might be looking to expand their team. A company just raised funding? It's likely that a large portion of the funding will go towards hiring and it would be the perfect time to reach out. A company released a new feature and you think of a unique market that it can appeal to? Great! You have been using the product for past 6 months and know how it can be improved? Even better!

Start a conversation with the companies that truly resonate with you; genuinely reach out to people - it shows that you are willing to go the extra mile. Great talent is rare to come across, so I personally consider the first contact as a benchmark for what I can expect from the person joining our team.

Researching the company beforehand shows your potential employer that you're committed right from the start, and saves you from getting into situations like this:

Me: What do you know about our company?

Candidate: Actually, I was hoping this would be the call when you tell me about it.

Me: Do you know what industry we operate in?

Candidate: No.

Embarrassing. As you can imagine, this call wasn’t very long. Take 5 minutes to ask yourself why you chose this particular company, and learn a bit about it, even if it's just typing our company name into Google and reading a headline.

Me: Why do you want to work for us?

Candidate: Your office is close to the subway station.

This will not cut it either.

Over the last year, I must have looked through over 500 resumes. I can count on one hand how many were memorable. If you ask me, forget what is considered the standard for a resume. Be professional, but think outside the box: Hire a designer to make your resume into an infographic, create a web page where you showcase your work, do something to stand out.

2. Think like the owner

To build a profitable company, you need to know that the money you invest in growing the company will be multiplied. This is especially true for hiring employees. Not only can a bad hire cause financial losses, more important is the valuable time that is wasted.

When applying for a job, think of the value that you can create for the company, and demonstrate how you will go about creating it. Find a way to quantify your potential contribution. If you have grown a user base by 5,000 users — can you do it again? How long will it take you? Can you estimate how much each user is worth to the company and reduce that cost of their acquisition? Do you have unique solutions to reduce churn rate? Share your ideas! Startups are about problem-solving, and people who are great at it are invaluable.

3. Build your brand

Building your brand is particularly valuable to students in their early professional years. You likely have time on your hand — spend it investing in yourself. Build things and build your brand. Start (and maintain) a blog, have a social profile with 10,000 real followers, sell fancy socks through an e-commerce site — anything goes here. Once you finish school rarely anyone will care what grades you had (especially in a startup); the only thing that matters is what you can build and how well you can sell it. Be able to show that you can replicate your successes over again, this time for the startup you want to join.

With increasing competition in the marketplace, it is more important than ever to continue personal and professional development. It's tough (and often unnecessary) to be a jack of all trades, but do expect that your startup job will overlap with other functions in the company, so being proficient in a couple of tools or areas outside your main job description will certainly show your commitment to growth and contribution to the team.


P.S. A good friend of mine always tells me that in order to succeed anywhere in life, you need to stand out. Fun fact: 144,900 Canadian registered for June 2011 CFA exam. That is some stiff competition to be a financial analyst.

Regardless, do what excites you and there will always be people that share the same vision or passion. Be ready to stand out; be bold and take risks. It will be an unforgettable journey.

Bonne chance, mon ami!

Topics: Startup culture, Blog Posts

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