Professional Development

How to get a job at a startup

Written by Peter Jones

Want to join a startup, but you’re not sure where to start? Or maybe you think you’re out of the running because tech isn’t your thing? Never fear, even if you’re not a coder or designer, there are still a few choice jobs out there that might just have your name on them. If you’re eager, have a varied skill set, and are willing to contribute to a team effort with energy, you’re in the running.

Here are a few tricks to make yourself a viable candidate for a startup gig.

Bolster your LinkedIn.

First and foremost, attack your LinkedIn profile to make it shine. Remember that companies often search prospective employees by keyword, so keep your experience and certifications up to date and detailed. Make sure your network is solid, and don’t be too shy to ask for endorsements or recommendations. Get involved in professional groups and link them on your profile. Start posting content relevant to the industry you hope to join—show you’re involved and savvy before even sending in an application or going in to interview.

Do your research.

If you find a company you’re thrilled by, start getting really nerdy. Dig deep learning all you can about that company’s product. Research their culture, getting as good an on-the-ground sense of the place as you possibly can. If you’re still jazzed and sure you would fit in and have something fantastic to contribute, start drafting a pitch of exactly how and why you fit into that specific company to put into your cover letter. The people who look for new hires want specifics—if you don’t tailor your application package directly to them, you won’t seem special or stand out.

Learn the industry as a whole.

The startup world is intensely competitive. Every company has to build itself up from nothing and the field can be cutthroat. The more you know and understand about the industry and a company’s main competitors, the more you can contribute. This is especially important in the interview stage. When you go in there, know more than they expect you to based on your resume. Don’t leave any doubts that you understand the current climate inside and out.

Establish an online presence.

Build an online presence that expands beyond LinkedIn. Make sure all your social media platforms and profiles are up to date and that you’re building a solid and sellable brand for yourself with what you post and how you post it. How you present yourself via all channels will show your tech savviness and your ability to brand yourself—both skills startups find invaluable.

Don’t try too hard to be quirky.

It’s one thing to show off your individuality—the experience, skills, and passions that make your application stand out from the crowd. But remember that even though the startup world is young and modern, you’re still going through a job application process. Take every step seriously, act like a grownup, and let your interests and skills speak for themselves. You can be engaging without acting like a kid. If you’re forcing a personality, it’s easy to tell.

Get yourself out there.

You’ll never get a startup gig from nothing if you don’t work for it. Start applying on sites like AngelList, and look on sites that specialize in startups, like StartUpHire or VentureLoop. In addition, look for and attend startup-specific networking events in your area.

If you find one company you want to target, you can also find the CEO/founder/key exec’s email and shoot them a line to express your interest. Don’t make your email vague and generic—include relevant links to your social media profiles and explain exactly why you would be a perfect fit for that specific company. Follow up if people are receptive and don’t forget to send thank you notes. In general, be responsive, kind, and sharp—when you’re on the ball, people take notice.

About the author

Peter Jones