How to get a job at a startup Part 2: How to stand out from the crowd

(U.S. Army Photo by Eboni L. Myart)

This post is the second in a series of posts relating all the great conversations that took place this past Wednesday night at the “How to land a job at a startup” panel discussion at General Assembly. The first post focused on perceptions of startup life versus the realities of startup life. The next subject we discussed was how to stand out from the crowd when approaching, applying to, or otherwise trying to get in the door of that hot startup. To put things into perspective, Pindrop, Ionic, and Salesfusion receive about 500 resumes each month. If you don’t find a way to stand out from the crowd, then you’ll remain in the crowd.

What we learned is that there are good ways to stand out and bad ways to stand out. Each of the panelists shared some of their anecdotes describing situations that were highly effective and others that were not so much. Here they are, with the “don’t do this” examples first.

  • “I called to follow up from his inquiry because everything on paper looked great. He was right out of college, so I waited until 9:30am or so, you know, to make sure he was up and about. When he answered, I introduced myself and told him I wanted to arrange a phone interview. His reply? “I’m sleeping right now.” Really?!?
  • “This candidate was extremely impressive, all the credentials, pioneer in his field, PhD, etc., etc. I explained that I was the in-house recruiter and not part of the technical team. He laughed at me as he peppered me with deep technology questions that I had no business answering, and then finally asked, “Why should I bring my skills to your organization?”” Arrogance is unappealing.
  • “We were ready to make an offer to a very solid candidate. I told him that everything looked great, and asked him ‘so, what kind of compensation do you need to start with us?’ He said he ‘needed something north of $100k’, so I quickly replied, ‘OK! $101k it is. When would you like to start?’ Know your value.
  • “We liked this candidate a lot; however, all his previous work was in software languages that we didn’t use. We told him that, and he was very understanding. We could still hire him, knowing there would be a learning curve, but it would be easier to hire someone already fluent in the technology we use. Later that afternoon, he contacted us and shared a project that he rebuilt in the software language that we use. We didn’t ask him to do that. He just did it. We hired him immediately.” Take total initiative.
  • “She sent us a cake with her resume screen printed on the top of the cake.” Get noticed!
  • “The way I started here was to present my plan for how I would reach the ridiculous, audacious goal that the founder had set. The plan wasn’t perfect, but it demonstrated that I had (a) thought through the process, (b) understood my job really well, well enough to get it done, and (c) showed the executives at least one way to reach their goal.” Demonstrate your thought process for solving big problems.

[Tweet “”Everytime someone showed up in a suit for a job interview, the founder would ask me, ‘are we being audited or sued?'””]

Those were some of the anecdotal examples of how people have stood out at these three companies, in both good ways and bad ways. Below is a simple list of other ways to be increase your chances of getting in the door of a tech startup.

  • Realize that in-house recruiters are the gateway to the rest of company. They are your first friend at the organization.
  • If you are a software developer, you must have a presence on Github, and not just one project, but treat it better than your most active social media channel. Add to it all the time. Show us what you can do.
  • If you’re a UX/UI designer, show us your designs…all of them! We want to know how you think and the breadth of your design ideas and capabilities.
  • Build something. Anything. Take initiative.
  • Ask great questions. Here are a few examples:
    • Why did you want to work at [startup name]?
    • What kinds of problems am I going to be solving?
    • Know your audience, and dress the part, e.g., software developers & engineers don’t wear suits.
    • What do I need to accomplish in year one to be the best hire you’ve ever made?
  • Do your freaking homework. I saved this one for last because all three of these startup HR execs are still being shocked on a regular basis as they interview candidates who know nothing about their companies. Nothing. There’s this things called Google and Linkedin…have you heard of them?

Again, the purpose of this panel discussion was to help educate potential employees of tech startups how to increase their chances at an interview and ultimately a job, and to set aside some of the preconceived notions about how startups hire and operate.

The next post will answer the question, “What – specifically – do you look for in every new hire?

 

 

 

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