We’ve covered how to search for your next start-up gig using some traditional and not-so-traditional methods. But once you have a potential position in mind, the battle has only just begun. Now, you have to figure out how to score an interview.
In the start-up arena, there’s much more room to be creative than the typical “submit and cross your fingers” method. Actually, standing out is basically required in order to land an interview.
1. Get Referred
“No surprise, the fastest way to an interview is when someone I know makes a referral or recommendation,” says Raj Aggarwal, founder and CEO of Localytics, a quickly growing mobile analytics startup. Aggarwal meets with hundreds of candidates in the process of filling an open position, but those who were referred by current employees or trusted contacts get first dibs.
And that’s pretty true across the board: Getting recommended is by far the easiest way to connect with a startup. So, if you have contacts who can refer you to a job or introduce you to a hiring manager, by all means, spend your time and energy there—it will have the greatest payoff. If not, take a look on LinkedIn and connect with a start-up recruiter, who can likely refer you to a few entrepreneurs.
2. Network Your Way In
I’ve talked about the importance of networking when you’re looking for an open position to apply to, but these founders say that it can also be the direct route to an interview. “Seek out members of the team, befriend them, and then ask them for an intro to the hiring manager,” says Aggarwal. “It’s fairly simple if you have the initiative.”
Where to find these people? Growing start-ups will often present at conferences or speak on panels in order to gain exposure and promote their product, so, once you have a few startups in mind, seek out these events and attend. Try and grab some time with the speaker after his or her talk, or follow up with an email the next morning with something interesting related to the topic.
3. Provide Value
A very unique way to get the time and attention of start-up leaders is to offer a suggestion for the company or present an interesting perspective of the business that they hadn’t thought of before. As Aaron White, CTO and co-founder of Boundless (a booming startup for free online textbooks) says, “Coffee is cheap. Ask to meet with me over coffee, and then provide value to me by offering some sort of valuable feedback on my product. I’ll gladly give you my time.”
Aggarwal agreed, stating, “If someone reaches out to me with a new idea about trying X or Y on my site or product because she’s seen it work well in the past, she’ll get my attention immediately—because I’ll know she’s an idea person.” In other words—coffee may be cheap, but ideas are not.
Once you’ve grabbed the founder or hiring manager’s time, if you have competencies or skills that he or she is currently seeking, you might find yourself in an interview without even realizing it. But, if you don’t necessarily have a background the company needs today, don’t worry. Your new contact will surely remember you because you did something different than the rest—and hopefully give you a call once a need arises with your name on it.
4. Apply, But With Pizzazz
If you haven’t found a way to network your way to the interview, you may still have to apply via the traditional route. But don’t just send your resume to firstname.lastname@example.org and hope for the best—to get noticed, you’ll definitely need to go above and beyond. Our experts suggested two approaches:
Have an online presence: “If I can’t find you online, you don’t exist,” White says. “I’ll search the web for you. I’ll find you on LinkedIn. I’ll find you on Facebook. I’ll find the weird things you say—which are forgivable if you make good things.” In other words, not only do you need a solid online presence, but it needs to be a strategic presence that shows off your skills and represents how you can make a difference in a startup. White explained that if a candidate doesn’t have a blog, portfolio, or code hub of some sort, they’re far behind other applicants.
Don’t focus on the resume: We’re taught that resumes are important, and that’s still true. But for a startup, a resume is only a small piece of the puzzle. Aggarwal says he’d prefer to see an application that includes information “about an interesting problem or thought leadership around my industry.” Along the same lines, White says he’d “rather read a really well thought-out cover letter that outlines why you want to work for us and what you’re passionate about, versus just a bulleted list of stuff, like a resume.”
In addition to a resume, create a killer online blog or portfolio and a passionate cover letter, and send it all directly to the leadership team or hiring manager. And if you haven’t heard back after a week, follow up. Being passionate and excited about the business (and refusing to take “no” for an answer) will only help your case.