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Top tips to help land a job in a start-up

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Have you ever taken a moment to contemplate the distinctions between applying for a start-up, a scale-up, or an enterprise company? While these types of companies may have some similarities, they also possess unique differences. Being aware of these disparities can help you customise your approach, resume, and overall process, ensuring that you present yourself in the most favourable manner.

In this article, we will delve into valuable tips that can assist you in securing a job in a start-up. Drawing on the extensive knowledge of our guests from various industries, we aim to provide you with actionable insights that you can begin implementing today.

We extend our gratitude to Joseph Inbaraj (BeamNG GmbH), Tony Kula (Angel Investor), Stefan Fodermeyer (Daslab GmbH), and Svetlana Archakova (Sablono) for generously sharing their invaluable insights, despite their busy schedules.


Pinpoint your interest

Start-ups are often more conscious with how they spend their funding, which means that each new hire must not only possess the right skills and add value to the company culture but also be someone who can contribute significantly and remain with the company for a substantial period, ensuring a return on investment.

As Joseph emphasised in our conversation, it is crucial to demonstrate your interest in the company. Take the initiative to personally connect with them and conduct thorough research to establish a deeper connection. Perhaps their mission statement resonates with you, or their values align closely with your own life principles.

If the company requires you to answer pre-screen questions as part of the application process, take the time to genuinely contemplate these questions and seize the opportunity to highlight interest. In cases where pre-screen questions are not mandatory, adjust your resume introduction to convey the same level of passion and engagement.

This was echoed during my conversation with Tony. Tony, transitioned from the start-up world to become an Angel Investor, he emphasised that individuals who display genuine interest in the company's mission tend to stand out in the start-up environment better than those who are simply just looking for a new job.


Be clear on what you bring to the table

The start-up environment is not suited for everyone. It often operates at a rapid pace, demanding long hours, and projects may start and stop as the company explores various paths to achieve market fit.

According to Stefan, it is crucial for applicants to effectively articulate what they can genuinely contribute to the team and their unique value. To determine your value, reflect on your past achievements in both your professional career and personal projects. Highlight these accomplishments on your resume and be prepared to discuss them further during interviews.

It's important to be honest about your abilities and what you can bring to the table. If a team is seeking a Frontend Developer with expertise in React, it's best not to claim mastery if your exposure to the tool is limited. Remember that start-ups typically hire individuals for their specific expertise rather than for scalability at this stage.

Expanding on this point, Svetlana emphasised that your resume alone won't make you stand out. Instead, it's the message you convey, connecting the dots and demonstrating how your profile can contribute to the growth of the business. Start-ups, in general, seek individuals who are willing to take on additional tasks and wear multiple hats as they work towards bringing their vision to life.


Bring the energy

Start-ups serve as remarkable melting pots where everyone is united by a shared vision. However, they typically operate with smaller, focused teams. As Tony pointed out, this necessitates individuals with high energy and determination who can persevere through the challenges that come with start-up life.

Being energetic doesn't necessarily mean speaking loudly or being extroverted. Stefan mentioned, during the interview process, he actively seeks candidates who strive for clarity and aspire to raise the team's standards.

Stefan, Joseph and Svetlana all understand that in the fast-paced world of start-ups, those who can simplify rather than complicate matters will always shine during interviews. Therefore, it is important to put yourself in the shoes of the hiring team and consider your communication style and prioritise the ability to simplify complexity.


Consider the stage of the company

While discussing start-ups, it's important to note that the term itself is quite broad, encompassing companies ranging from as small as 3 individuals to as large as 40+. Therefore, when applying for a position, consider the stage of the company you're targeting.

As a former CEO, Tony shared his experience of candidates reaching out to him directly regarding specific job openings. However, at that particular stage, the team had already progressed with establishing structure and processes. Consequently, responding to these outreach requests would divert his attention from core responsibilities.

Therefore, it is advisable to explore whether the start-up has an HR or recruiting team in place. If they do, there is a good chance they have a defined process that should be followed. While some CEOs may welcome direct messages, there is no definitive right or wrong approach. Taking a moment to consider the stage of the company will help you make a favourable first impression.


Structure for impact

Crafting your resume for impact is not limited to start-up applications, but it remains one of the most crucial aspects. Start-ups often employ various tools, with the most common being an Application Tracking System (ATS) to manage and process applications and notes.


Structuring your resume in a manner that facilitates easy readability by the system can greatly assist the hiring team in quickly understanding your skills. Even if you choose to create a creative resume, as Svetlana pointed out, ensure that the team can effortlessly locate the information they need. Use the summary section of your resume to personalise it for the specific opening or start-up, and utilise headings and sub-headings to highlight the rest of your skills.

Throughout my conversations with Talent Acquisition experts in start-ups, they have admitted that overly complex or lengthy resumes have a higher chance of being rejected. Such resumes can give the impression that the individual may bring the same complexity into their day-to-day work.

Remember, every component of your resume is valuable real estate. Only include information that you are prepared to discuss and that leaves a strong impact. If you're unsure about what to include, cross-reference your skills with the job description, but only include those for which you have actual experience.


Question everything

Start-ups experience constant ups and downs, with their fate often changing on a weekly basis. They may entice you with the promise of becoming the next big company, but it is ultimately your decision whether you want to embark on that journey. Stefan advises applicants to question everything, as it not only helps gather more information for an informed decision but also showcases you as a thoughtful individual, which can have a positive impact on your application.

Start-ups are inclined towards individuals who can drive progress. Therefore, it is essential to critically evaluate the company's mission and business model, and actively question these aspects to gain a deeper understanding of the business. Consider researching their competitors and raise this topic during interviews, seeking ways in which the start-up differentiates itself and brings something new to the market. By demonstrating your curiosity and engagement in this manner, you can make a memorable impression.


Make the connections

All of our guests unanimously agreed that establishing connections within start-ups is one of the most effective ways to secure a job in this realm. Networking has always proven fruitful for many individuals in their job search, even though the results may not be immediate. However, if you have a genuine passion for start-ups, investing in networking here will provide significant long-term advantages.

Svetlana emphasised that applicants can gradually build relationships with team members, allowing them to gain insights and share knowledge. This can greatly benefit their application in the future, as they can personalise it based on what they have learned over time about the company.

Tony highlighted the crucial role of rapport between the team and the individual during the hiring process. They wanted to assess whether there was a genuine connection and if the person truly believed in the company's mission and vision.

By actively networking and fostering connections within the start-up community, you increase your chances of finding opportunities and demonstrating your commitment to the industry. Building relationships and aligning your values with those of the start-up can greatly enhance your prospects.


Reflection Exercise 

To close this article off, before diving into the process of applying to start-ups, Stefan suggests conducting a brief self-assessment to determine if it aligns with your preferences. Consider whether you identify more as a builder or an improver. Start-up life tends to suit builders, while improvers may find a better fit within scale-up or enterprise teams. Taking the time to reflect on your strengths and inclinations can help guide your career choices and ensure a better match between your skills and the company's needs.


As you can see there are several key elements to consider when applying for a start-up, some in which you might have known and others maybe not. By implementing the knowledge of Joseph Inbaraj, Tony Kula, Stefan Fodermeyer and Svetlana Archakova you will be giving yourself every possible chance to land a new opportunity within the start-up environment.


Once again, thank you to our guests and if you feel someone else could benefit from reading this article, feel free to share it with your network so we can collectively bring simplicity to the chaos of recruitment.


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