Start-up-er (stärt- əp- ər): An individual passionate about working with small, driven groups of entrepreneurs, who loves the idea of wearing multiple hats and working long hours to complete a goal. She thrives in an innovative environment, eagerly accepts challenges, and finds joy in not knowing what’s around the corner.
So, you’ve deemed yourself a start-up-er, but haven’t landed your dream start-up job yet. It’s not an easy task—how do you find a job at companies that may only have five team members and no recruiting budget to speak of? Well, I’ll say this once: If you’re looking at the big job boards—stop. The start-up job hunt looks much, much different than a typical search.
To bring you the scoop, I consulted with one of the best start-up recruiters I know, Keith Cline, who not only spends his days recruiting for start-ups, he runs one himself: The thought leadership and job search site VentureFizz. We put our heads together and came up with this guide for a successful start-up job search.
Networking (Must. Start. Here.)
I often hear my entrepreneur friends say, “I don’t have time to post jobs.” Or, they don’t know how to get their jobs noticed online or in front of the right audience, or they lack the funds needed to post jobs frequently.
So to fill their open positions, they default to the most affordable option: Using their connections. They rely heavily on the people they know, the people their friends recommend, and the people they meet at events—a.k.a., their network.
Which means, your start-up job search should be less about resumes and applications and more (actually, mostly) about networking. I know it’s tough, especially because you probably won’t get immediate results. But if you keep at it, it will eventually lead to the right connection. After all, being a start-up-er is all about initiative and drive!
If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few ideas.
1. Seek Out Start-up Events
While New York City, Boston, and Silicon Valley are well-known start-up hubs, there’s a community of entrepreneurs in almost every city across the U.S. With a little research, you can find innovation labs, networking groups, and mentoring programs, all focused on start-up companies.
In fact, I just Googled “Omaha, Nebraska” (a place I’ve never been) and “start-up group,” and came up with pages of fantastic start-up networking opportunities. Do the same for your city, and you’ll have a calendar full of events in no time. After you attend a few and meet some people, you can ask for referrals to other worthwhile events, too.
You can also search on Meetup to find start-up-oriented events near you. If you’re looking for a specific type of role (like social media guru), find a specific group for social media professionals, and start attending their events. Even if they’re not all entrepreneurs themselves, they may be able to introduce you to some. And as a bonus, the group will help you hone your skills and keep up with the most recent industry activity, making you a more desirable candidate.
2. Connect with “Start-up People” in Your Area
As you attend more networking events, you’ll hear some key names mentioned as great resources again and again—these are major “start-up-ers” that you should connect with. Whether they’re advisors or board members of current start-ups, or even venture capitalists, these people have likely become known as great resources because they’re intimately involved in the start-up community.
With that in mind, seek out one (or a few) of these people and ask for 15 minutes of time to do an informational interview. Offer to buy coffee in return for his or her seasoned advice about how to navigate the start-up community and find the company that’s the best fit for you. It sounds intimidating, but it works—in fact, most people I know who have landed their dream start-up job got there this way.
3. Befriend a Start-up Recruiter
Some recruiters deem themselves “start-up-ers,” too. Use LinkedIn to find them, or ask the people you meet at networking events—these recruiters are typically well-known in the start-up community. As industry insiders, they’ll have a finger on the pulse of what companies are hot, who’s hiring, and the people you should be talking to. Build a solid relationship with a great recruiter, and he or she could lead you to your dream start-up job.
4. Target Start-ups Directly
Try compiling a list of start-ups in your city by looking in a local business journal or searching online. If you live in a larger city, you can also look on AreaStartups. Do some research to learn about each company’s history, values, and purpose.
Once you find a few you’re really excited about, reach out to the leaders of those companies directly. Explain why you’re interested in connecting with them and why you’d be a great fit for the company. (Note: You must tell them why.) Start-ups love hearing from people who are passionate about their mission, and will be much more likely to keep you on the radar for future job openings if they’ve met you face-to-face.
In addition to networking, you can also use start-up-specific job search websites, like Startuply, Startuphire, VentureFizz, or Ventureloop (or check out the start-ups hiring on The Muse!). Venture capital websites also usually list open positions in their portfolio companies. On their own, these websites are not nearly as effective as networking, but can help you pinpoint specific companies and position types you’re interested in, which can be a great starting point.
There’s plenty more to share about the application and interview process for start-up companies, so stay tuned for the next part of this series. Until then, get searching!