Startups can be a thrilling place to work. They are places of growth and innovation, both for the business itself and the people who work there. Startup employees work hard and care about the work you do, making them an ideal work environment for people with passion, creativity, and a strong work ethic.
How do you find that perfect startup job? There are plenty of dysfunctional startups out there alongside the innovative ones, so you’ll need to do your due diligence on any company you might want to work for. Additionally, working at a startup is a bit of a different beast than a traditional office job, so before you dive in, you’ll want to understand what they need and adjust your expectations to the job you want to take.
Here, we’ve explored some key steps to take in researching and preparing to land your ideal startup job.
Understand What Skills You Can Offer
Whether you’re fresh out of college or well into your career, you’ll need to have a thorough understanding of everything you can bring to the table at a startup. Startups often need their employees to wear multiple hats, so the more you can bring to the table, the more likely you are to get hired.
Start by making a list of any marketable skills you have experience in. This could include specific tools or software, such as for marketing; writing for different purposes and formats; and various human resources and office management skills. If you notice places where your expertise is narrow, such as competency in one marketing channel but not others, brainstorm ways you can expand your knowledge prior to applying. There are plenty of free or low-cost ways to learn new skills online.
If you’re new to the working world, you may not have a ton of concrete skills or experience to offer. But if you’re open to learning, a startup can be a great place to build those skills! Be sure to hone your skills in Microsoft Office and Google Suite, and spend some free time learning other skills like WordPress, HTML/CSS coding, or even taking a Google Analytics or Google AdWords course.
By understanding what skills you can offer, you’ll have a good sense of what kinds of positions you can search and apply for. Compare the list of your skills to those on a job posting to see if an opening is a good match for you.
Decide on Salary Requirements
Startups are sometimes known as places of little pay for a lot of work. If you’re looking to work with a brand-new company, don’t expect a huge salary right off the bat. As the company grows, however, you may be in a great position to earn more or even share in the company profits. If the startup is ever sold, being one of the first employees can sometimes yield a payout.
But dreams of profit sharing and startup sales aren’t going to pay your bills in the first few months or years. Take a good look at your budget and expenses and decide on the salary you’d be willing to accept. Be sure to account for things like taxes and insurance premiums. A new startup may not offer all of these benefits initially, so you’ll want to account for them in your personal spending if needed.
Understand that by choosing to work at a startup, you may sacrifice things like salary for the chance to work in an environment you love on projects you’re truly passionate about. This can be a rewarding tradeoff to make, but be honest with yourself about what is best for you.
Search for Startup Positions
Now that you understand your skills and your desired salary, you can search for startup positions. Focus on job boards that cater to startups and small businesses to make your search as simple as possible.
Use your skills as keywords in your searches, and don’t be afraid to try different variations and read job titles that sound unfamiliar or out of the ordinary. Sometimes a common skill can lead you to a not-so-common position.
Do your research on each startup you find and make sure your values align with theirs. If there’s a big disparity there, it’s unlikely anyone, yourself included, will be happy with you working there. Keep an eye out for red flags like high turnover, lots of bad Glassdoor reviews, or sketchy and misleading information on their website.
When deciding what to apply for, you may feel like you’ll never meet 100% of the requirements for a position. How can you possibly be an expert at marketing, writing, graphic design, AND coding? You can’t be! Aim for positions where you meet at least 70% of requirements and are at least somewhat familiar with the rest of the requirements—or are willing to learn them.
Write a Killer Cover Letter
Many job boards make it easy to apply for lots of positions with just a couple of clicks. Don’t fall into this trap when applying for startups. More so than at other kinds of companies, startups want to see that you are personally invested in their mission and vision, and mass sending your online resume to dozens of them likely won’t land you the startup job.
For startup positions, you need to write a stellar, custom cover letter detailing why you are interested in the company and what you can offer them. This is the place to make your case as to why your unique combination of skills and experiences is the perfect match for them. Where your resume just lists facts about what you’ve done, your cover letter tells a story about how those skills can be used. Tailor your letter to the values and vision of the startup, and you’ll have a much higher chance of success at getting an interview and landing the job.
Be Willing to Do Trial Work
It’s increasingly common for companies, particularly startups, to have applicants do a brief assignment to assess their skills and abilities. If this step is offered to you, don’t balk at it! Instead, jump in wholeheartedly and show them what you can do. Work quickly and excellently and meet (or beat) their deadline. It’s important to go above and beyond, as 73% of recruiters want a candidate with a strong work ethic.
One caveat is to be sure that they’re not taking advantage of you for free work. Trial assignments shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours for most industries. If it’s more than that, it’s reasonable to ask if you will be compensated for this trial task. In most cases, however, they’re simply asking for a small investment of your time to ensure it’s smart to invest in you as an employee.
Roll Up Your Sleeves & Get To Work
Once you’ve listened to our career advice of doing your research and wowing the hiring manager with your cover letter and work ethic, it’s time to jump headfirst into the busy atmosphere of a startup. Whether you’re working on the latest app or helping design and test a new product, there’s sure to be tons to do in your new startup job. Roll up your sleeves and help out wherever you can, learning and teaching as you go. You’ll learn and grow and change more than you ever thought you could—and you just might help change the world in the process