Job Search Advice

How to Get Hired at a Startup

A writer hired by a startup explains how to get hired by a startup. Keep reading for some advice and tools that

Tanishi Naik Leila Le
Published: (Updated: ) - 7 min read

Photo by Slidebean / Unsplash

Looking to launch your career in a dynamic and innovative environment? Getting hired at a startup could be the perfect opportunity for you. Startups offer unique professional experiences and the chance to make a meaningful impact. However, the startup job market can be highly competitive. In this blog post, we'll provide valuable insights and practical tips to help you navigate the startup job market effectively!

Whether you're a recent graduate or an experienced professional seeking a career change, these strategies will position you as a standout candidate and boost your chances of landing a job at a startup!

Understanding the Unique Nature of Startup Work

First, understand that working at a startup is different from working at a mid-sized or large company that is not in the startup or entrepreneurial space, so your application and interview approach will be different than usual. Startups look for out-of-the-box thinkers who are typically willing to take on ad hoc tasks and go beyond the confines of an established role, ready to take the initiative to explore new ideas and adapt to a changing workplace or role.

To have a successful career working at a startup, you should ideally understand the startup lifecycle and ecosystem, and only work for a startup if you are interested or passionate about the industry, product, or entrepreneurship.

How Is Working for a Startup Different Than Working in a Traditional Job?

Working for a startup can be a vastly different experience compared to working in a traditional job. Here are some key distinctions in terms of working hours, job descriptions, hiring processes, and employee expectations:

Working Hours

  • Traditional Job: Typically, traditional jobs follow a standard 9-to-5 schedule with set working hours. Overtime may be required occasionally, but generally, there's a clear separation between work and personal life.
  • Startup: Working hours in startups can be more flexible and dynamic. Startups often demand long hours and may require employees to work beyond the traditional schedule. Due to the fast-paced nature of startups, work hours can be unpredictable, and employees may need to be available during weekends or evenings.

Job Descriptions

  • Traditional Job: In established companies, job roles and responsibilities are well-defined with clear hierarchies and specialized functions. Employees often have specific tasks they perform on a regular basis.
  • Startup: Job descriptions in startups are more fluid and may evolve rapidly as the company grows and adapts. Employees in startups often wear multiple hats and are expected to take on various roles, contributing to different aspects of the business as needed. This versatility is essential in the early stages of a startup's development.

Hiring Processes

  • Traditional Job: Established companies usually have more structured and formalized hiring processes. They may require multiple rounds of interviews and involve HR departments and senior management in the decision-making process.
  • Startup: Startup hiring processes tend to be more informal and agile. Founders and key team members often participate in interviews, focusing on finding individuals who are not only skilled but also passionate about the startup's mission and culture. Startups may prioritize candidates who are adaptable and can thrive in a fast-changing environment.

Company Culture

  • Traditional Job: Established companies often have well-established company cultures and established processes. There may be a greater emphasis on hierarchy and following existing protocols.
  • Startup: Startup cultures tend to be more dynamic and innovative, encouraging creativity, collaboration, and risk-taking. The atmosphere may be more casual and open, with a focus on experimentation and learning from failures.

Ultimately, whether you prefer the stability of tradition or the excitement of innovation, both options have their own rewards and challenges that can shape your professional journey.

Interested in working at a startup, but don’t know where to look? Check out our list of internships at top unicorn startups!

Explore Startups that Spark Your Interest

There are thousands of startups out there for you to choose from! Because applying for a startup is a unique process, you should do research to pick the ones you really care about and that you can dedicate some time towards. Consider the industries that interest you. Startups can be found across almost any industry and topic including health tech, climate change adaptation, personal finance, access to food and more!

Startups are even specific to missions for social good and creating meaningful impact. Startups are usually vocal about their projects and are a part of a growing or hot trend in an industry, tackling a widely faced issue, or finding a way to improve something existing.

For instance, some startups are guided by the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), working towards climate-related solutions that impact communities worldwide. So, when applying for positions, focus on startups that align with your genuine passions and values. Connecting with a startup whose mission resonates with you will not only drive your motivation but also foster a sense of purpose in your career journey.

Did you know? Simplify is a startup backed by Y Combinator, dedicated to streamlining and enhancing the job application and hiring process for both candidates and hiring managers!

Focus on Skills That a Startup Cares About

When applying for a job at a startup, you should focus on the skills that these dynamic and innovative companies truly value. Startups seek candidates who can readily adapt and take on various tasks as the need arises, showcasing versatility and a willingness to wear multiple hats. Demonstrating an ability to thrive in a changing and growing company setting is highly attractive to startups, as they often need employees who can embrace uncertainty and remain agile.

Startups need an employee who understands the company’s mission statement, and thus can explore their role more critically, rather than just “work to work” and actually embrace the ideas and goals of the startup, hopefully, driving the growth.

If you don’t have previous experience in your target industry, showing that you're a flexible individual, unafraid of taking on a challenge, is important to show yourself as a viable candidate for the startup life.

Key Skills Valued in Startup Environments:

  • Versatility and Multitasking: In startups, employees wear multiple hats and handle various responsibilities efficiently, showcasing their ability to adapt and excel in diverse roles.
  • Adaptability to Change: Startups evolve rapidly, and team members must demonstrate the flexibility to embrace new challenges and pivot when needed.
  • Innovative Thinking: A creative mindset is highly prized in startups, as individuals are encouraged to come up with fresh ideas and inventive solutions to drive the company forward.
  • Continuous Learning: The dynamic startup landscape necessitates a hunger for knowledge, and employees must be eager to acquire new skills and stay updated with industry trends.
  • Proactive Time Management: Startup employees take ownership of their tasks, managing deadlines and priorities effectively without constant supervision.
Don't forget to highlight your soft skills like communication, adaptability, and problem-solving when talking about past job problems in an interview!

Learn About the Startup Lifecycle

The startup lifecycle refers to the stages that a startup company typically goes through from its inception to potential expansion or exit. It involves various phases, each with its unique challenges and objectives. Here is an overview of the startup lifecycle:

  1. Ideation: This is the initial stage where entrepreneurs identify market gaps and come up with innovative ideas to solve specific problems. Extensive market research helps create a clear "value proposition" that supports the business model.
  2. Funding: Once the idea is refined, startups may seek funding from angel investors, venture capitalists, or other sources to build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) and kickstart the business.
  3. Launch and Growth: With the MVP ready, the startup launches its product or service to the target audience. Growth hacking techniques, such as A/B testing, are employed to drive market expansion and secure additional funding for further development.
  4. Scaling: As the startup gains traction and experiences growth, it becomes essential to scale operations, refine processes, and handle increased demand. The focus shifts to optimizing efficiency and solidifying the customer base.
  5. Maturity and Exit Strategies: At this stage, the startup may explore exit strategies, such as mergers, acquisitions, or going public through an Initial Public Offering (IPO). Alternatively, it might continue to grow and expand into a larger, more established company.

You might be wondering, "Why do I need to know about the startup lifecycle?" Understanding this lifecycle is essential because it allows you to navigate each stage effectively. By knowing how startups progress from ideation to growth and beyond, you can adapt strategies to overcome challenges and drive success in your career journey within the startup world!

Career Tip: Networking is crucial in the startup world. Attend industry events, join relevant online communities, and build meaningful connections with like-minded professionals.

Get Ready for the (Unique) Interview Process

When you're getting ready for a startup interview, get ready for a whole different atmosphere compared to big companies like Meta. These interviews tend to be more laidback and informal, but keep in mind that each startup has its unique culture and style. Before your first interview, it's a good idea to do some online research about the company and their interview process. This can give you some valuable insights and help you feel more prepared for what to expect.

Since startups are always growing and evolving, it's crucial to understand their primary product or service inside out. During the interview, be prepared to share your thoughts and ideas for improvements. While they might not focus too much on behavioral questions, make sure to showcase your relevant skills and highlight those moments from your past experiences where you made a real impact and delivered successful results.

Looking for some guidance on how to ace your upcoming interview? Check out our tips on how to answer common behavioral interview questions here!

Use your professional network, or reach out to a startup!

When trying to find a startup to work for or get hired by, utilize your professional network to share the type of job you're seeking. Your network might know of startups looking for someone like you.

The ideal startup job may not exist yet until you demonstrate your passion and value. Startups seek problem solvers and proactive employees, so research the issues that matter to you, identify startups you're passionate about, and propose how you could contribute to their team by improving existing products or providing new solutions. Don't hesitate to reach out to startups and explain what you can bring to the table.

For example, if you're a skilled writer with SEO knowledge, you might suggest that a company could drive growth by creating a product blog. Share your ideas and the skillset you possess that could benefit the team.

Have you used the startup's product or service and noticed a feature that could enhance the user experience? Many startups have contact information or forms to inquire about joining their team and executing your ideas. Don't be shy—take the initiative to express your interest and contributions to the startup.

Get Hired with Simplify Today!

Embarking on a career journey with a startup can be an exciting and rewarding experience. As you navigate the startup job market, remember to focus on your passion, adaptability, and problem-solving skills. Understanding the unique nature of startup work and the startup lifecycle will equip you with valuable insights to succeed in this dynamic environment.

Simplify is a powerful tool job searching. With comprehensive assessments, personalized career recommendations, and a powerful job search platform, Simplify can help you to easily find job opportunities that fit your skills and interests. Sign up today and take the first step towards finding your dream job!

Want to find a job that matches your skills and interests? Join Simplify and get matched with relevant job openings. Over 1 million applications were submitted through Simplify this year – start using it to find your next job opportunity today!