13 Essentials for Start Up Job Interviews

The 13 Essentials to Score a Startup Job Interview

So, you want to score a startup job interview, but you haven’t landed a job interview yet? I guess you need a few essentials?! Well, it’s not an easy task. Just how do you find a job at a business that may only have four or five team members and no real recruiting budget?

Well, for starters, if you’re looking at the big job sites like Seek and My Career you’re obviously looking in the wrong area.

Stop what you are doing.

My team and I have worked in the midst of over 70 Sydney-based startup’s for the last 2 years and we have helped a good number of them with their advertisement and selection process. We not only spend a good deal of time looking at candidates, profiles and the usual resumes & cover letters, we are also running a startup ourselves. So, we decided to put our heads together and we came up with this to-do list for a successful startup job search.

I’ve read many applications and the resumes that come through, and as a whole, it’s clear that most people don’t know how to approach getting a job at a startup.

Here are our 13 essentials to

score an interview with a Start Up.

1. Know what you’re good at!

Fluffing around will not get you anywhere. I know it sounds harsh, but that’s the world you are going to enter. If you are a marketer, developer or designer, list that at the top. List it in the subject line even. “Ruby on Rails Developer Looking for Early Stage Start Up” would be a good example. I should be able to glance at your cover letter and know specifically what you are looking to do. Please don’t write a career objective! Get straight to the point.

2. Your resume

If you insist on sending a resume, it should be named “yourname.pdf”. Do not wond a word doc.

3. Be creative.

One of the best cover letters (preferably in the email body) I’ve ever read said, “I’m amazing at creating buzzwords, hot tubbing and finding adventure. I’m also a kick ass Rails Developer, just coming off a long term contract. Early stage startups are a plus.” This sure as hell beats “I’m looking for a challenging and engaging environment to develop my talents.” If you are afraid to be creative, don’t apply. I have not seen a single startup who hired a ‘generalist’. I am dead serious here, if you can’t focus on something, at least in your introduction, you have a <0% chance of landing a job interview. Specialise! Customer support! QA! Development! Marketing! Intern! Product Development! Design! Get it?

4. Be real – be genuine – be human.

The worst case scenario when looking for a job is sending out resumes and getting no responses. startups tend to be different. They know how to deal with applications if you are not wasting their time. Be a human and ask questions that can be answered by friendly folks. Keep the discussion going.

5. Be clear.

You are looking for a job. Cut the buzzwords. Start Ups don’t work with ATS filtering systems. What is the best fit? Steady? Fast paced? Live in Melbourne? Just say it. Cut the c#%p.

6. Trash the traditional resume.

You really don’t need one to work at a startup. A simple email along the lines of ‘this is what I have done… I’m looking to join a team as a _________ to kick some goals’ is a great way to do it. List specific projects and accomplishments. Show that you can be to the point, effective and humble. The rest will be requested when you get an interview.

7. Comment on their blogs!

Yep – again – I am not kidding here. Most company blogs are largely lacking in comments! An easy way to get into the founders inbox is write a post about the company, saying how you admire / like them. Be genuine and say something valuable. Founders tend to look at the blogs, and if in your bio you are clear in what you are looking to do (Front End Developer!) you might just get on the expressway to an interview.

8. Email is a great way to show you’re on to it.

Reply almost immediately. The more out of the usual workday, the more important. Keep your emails concise. “Hey Lisa, just got your email. Quite late here but I would love to respond, a) b) c) d). Feel free to call if you have any questions.”

9. Have a personal blog.

I don’t care how good you are – if you don’t share – then I most likely won’t look at you. Write posts about what you specialise in. Get people to comment on it. Stand out. You control your personal brand, and if you don’t do this you are showing you don’t care.

10. Did I mention, have a personal blog?

Today. Now. Get. On. It.

11. Not caring is the #1 reason you won’t be hired at a Start Up 

12. Hack on stuff.

I’ve seen it many times. There are great fits for people and startups. When you find that special company, do what you do for them. E.g. “I know you have processes to do things like this, but I couldn’t help but see your XYZ campaign is missing some pieces. If I was there I would help by doing _______.” Consider it the interview the others were too lazy to do. When getting a job, standing out helps, a tonne. But, obviously be selective and don’t do this for every app, nor spend too much time on it.

13. Go out to Start Up events.

Meet folks there. Follow up from there. We don’t care if you are intro or extrovert – we see you – we will sort it out. Just show up and show initiative.

One last word. You are not too old to apply!

Don’t let anyone suggest that you are too old. That’s absolute nonsense! Yes, we all know … Gen X and Baby Boomer applicants tend to be more expensive than their younger counterparts. Is hiring more mature candidates a luxury that should be considered by startups often strapped for cash? In fact, I have experienced it right around me that not only can older employees contribute to startups, but failing to leverage their kind of experience has been detrimental to a number of startup companies. Hiring a Gen X or a Baby Boomer for a startup then becomes not a luxury, but a really good idea that can help provide a true competitive differentiator. Remember, startups are all about not following the rules, disruption, flexibility and being nimble. Just because, on average, the startup world is younger doesn’t mean that there aren’t places for more mature employees to shine and add real value.

So get with it, and if you think you have what it takes, apply! Keep it simple, get to the point and remember to hunt wisely.
Uli

PS. Feel free to comment or share this blog post or contact me if you want some further insight and tips.

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