How to get a job at a startup Part 3: What startups look for in talent

This post is the third 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 second was about making yourself stand out (in a good way) from the metric tons of resumes that hot startups receive on a monthly basis.

The final topic of the night was “what do you look for in hiring talent?” Some of the answers were just as you’d expect, but the advice from the three panelists from Pindrop, Ionic, and Salesfusion was spot on for anyone trying to land a job with one of these hyper-growth startups.

  • Grit – this one didn’t come with a Webster’s dictionary description, but Andy Pittman made it real as he described the people who just “get shit done”. Doesn’t matter what it is, just bear down, use brute force if necessary, stay at it until it’s done. Gerald Stover described seeing a software engineer hammer away at a problem for 24 hours straight until he got it done. After that display of grit, the software engineer was told to go away for at least 2 days to recharge.
  • Eager to learn – if you land a job at a hyper growth startup, you’re smart, but you don’t know everything. Being teachable, coachable, ready willing and eager to learn is a huge asset.
  • Do other stuff that’s needed by the DNA of the culture – in startup mode, everyone chips in, from doing the dishes in the break room to finding all the ping pong balls, to arranging that long-awaited whitewater rafting trip. You have to wear a lot of hats, and you have to do it willingly.
  • A great sense of humor – startups are tough, and the roller-coaster ride is real, so the ability to laugh at yourself and with everyone else will come in handy, especially as you look back over 6 months or a year and see how far you’ve come.
  • Professionally politely persistent – when you’re on the outside looking in, trying to get that job, it pays dividends to be patient and polite, and yet never give up. As we used to say in college sports, you practice like you play, so how you act in pursuing that job is a good measure of how you will act once you’re in.
  • Entrepreneurial attitude – you don’t have to know how to do everything and you don’t have to do everything, but you have to be willing to do just about anything to keep the ball moving forward.
  • Present solutions, not problems – startups have tons of problems, so what they need from the new folks is fresh, objective eyes on those problems to present new solutions. If you just call out problems, you’re complaining, but when you solve a problem, you’ve created value.
  • Respond gracefully when turned down because you just never know – you’re not going to get every job you apply for, so when you get turned down, respond gracefully. You weren’t the right person for the job today, but you might be tomorrow, and, as our panelists pointed out, it’s their job to remember who they’ve spoken to in the past that might be the perfect fit today.

At the end of this great evening, we opened up the floor for random audience questions. There were two questions that dominated the remainder of the evening:

  1. What should a new developer do on Github to showcase his or her new skills? Work on lots of projects; start new projects, and finish projects; collaborate on many ideas, and share the things that you build. Your Github profile is your “here’s what I can do” resume. In fact, the panelists indicated that the poorer the resume of a software developer, the better their skills usually are.
  2. What is your interview process really like? Each of these three startups has a multi-hour first in-person interview which follows the introductory phone call with the recruiter. All of the company’s interviewers are doing a “cultural assessment”, which is to say that they are going to be spending 8-10 hours a day every day with you, so one of the biggest things they have to determine is, “do I really want to work with this person?”

This panel discussion was a fantastic education in the inner workings of those folks whose job it is to attract and hire the incredibly fast-growing teams that turn a startup into a billion dollar business. These HR specialists are a wealth of information, and they welcome new contacts on Linkedin in their never-ending quest for new talent. Thank you to General Assembly for hosting the event, and Pindrop Security, Salesfusion, and Ionic Security for their participation and insights into how to land a job at a hot startup.


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