How to get a job at a startup

By Scot Herrick | Job Search

Nov 21

If your hoodie is your best friend, you survive on ramen and coffee, and The Social Network is top watched on your Netflix account, you’re getting there. But the hallmarks of a would-be Silicon Valley star alone don’t necessarily mean you’ll have a future at a startup. Plus, people who work at startups don’t wear hoodies all the time.  You are probably comforted by the fact that startups are the future of small American businesses. In their list of jobs with future growth, the US Department of Labor predicts that computer software engineers and related jobs will grow by 34% in the next 7 years.

Getting a job at a startup takes specific skill sets that vary company to company. Finding your passion and applying it to what a startup needs is the first step. Then, of course, you’ll need a lot of patience and even more persistence – not to mention luck – to actually get the job. The tips that follow can help target your startup job search and make it a reality.

For full disclosure, I got a job at a startup through a friend. He had started working at a startup, then sent me a message saying his company was looking for someone to hire in my area. I sent an email to the people he directed me towards, and a week later I started.

If only it were that easy for everyone. The reality behind that simple anecdote is that while I was very lucky, I worked hard to develop a network of freelancing and consulting connections before I even considered working with my friend at the startup. Although things happened quickly, the work I did leading up to my job was difficult but helped prepare me for the fast paced creative thinking that goes on at a startup. Most importantly, though, the work I did leading up to my job was fun.

For most people, the job-hunting process involves scouring the best job websites and hoping that someone will eventually respond to you. It’s a lot like searching for a needle in a haystack while blindfolded. Lots of people have success with job websites, but limiting your job search to online applications only is a frustrating and painful process. I found that pursuing my interests and getting involved in what I wanted to do in any capacity was key. Follow your passion, and the job will come.

Most importantly, though, here’s how to get your foot in the door:

Look for jobs on VC sites

Whether you’re looking in Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley, the best place to find a job at a startup company is going right to the source: the funding for startups. Many venture capitalist firms list the positions they are looking to fill on their websites. They want to attract talent to grow their investments, so they have a vested interest in getting the word out about new opportunities.

Don’t knock the internship

Internships are the prefect way to get your foot in the door. But an internship, especially at a startup, isn’t a place to coast. Startups are looking for people to contribute right from the start. As growing companies, they need people doing lots and doing it quickly; the list of things to do is endless. An internship is your opportunity to jump in and get your hands dirty. Since startups are looking to grow and expand, take the initiative as an intern. Show the company that you want a job.

Develop your skills

Do what you love, and do it often. If you’re passionate about something, it will show. Let yourself follow those passions and don’t hesitate. If coding is your passion, you should code all the time. If writing is your passion, you should write all the time. Any employer will see this, and you’ll stand apart from the crowd.

Email, the new cold call

Don’t be afraid to send an email. Expressing your interests and passions to someone else is key to networking and getting yourself out there. If you’re honest and professional, there can be no criticism of showing initiative.

Embrace social media

Social media is your ticket to meeting influential people and Scot covered the topic in his Twitter Tips post.  Not only can you show a creative personal side with social media use, the National Association of Colleges and Employers reported that 14 million people worldwide used social media to find jobs so far this year. Startups, and employers in general, need people who understand social media to run their social media marketing campaigns. You might take it for granted, but you have a leg up if you understand how social media works.

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Evan Thomas is a senior at UC Santa Barbara and he’s also an employee at FindTheData.org, a Santa Barbara based startup.  All of the methods he shared with you helped him land his job.  He is majoring in Architecture and the Environment and is pursuing a Technology Management Certificate (TMP) at UCSB.  You can contact him at Evan_Thomas (at) umail.ucsb.edu

Photo by Feral78

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About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.