How to land jobs at startups during any point in your career

Jobs at startups are in high demand, so Ladders spoke with two startup veterans to get their best advice on how to land one of these coveted positions.

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Adam Csillag and Roberto Lago were employees number one and two at Incentive Technology Group, otherwise known as ITG, a startup government consulting firm launched a decade ago. These days the company has a staff list containing about 350 employees. Csillag, the director of contracts and business development, and Lago, the managing consultant, have watched the company expand and flourish over the last nine and a half years, a thrilling experience, according to Csillag.

Csillag and Lago landed their positions at a brand new startup and were responsible for hiring more than half of ITG’s current employees, so they know how to land jobs at startups, what hiring managers are looking for in a candidate, and why a young professional should choose a position with a startup company.


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How to land jobs at a startup

Networking. Networking is the top tool for landing a job in any industry, and the startup biz is no different. Csillag landed his job at ITG through networking and has stayed and grown with the company, showing that you never know what one connection can do for your career.

Job fairs. ITG hires lots of its talent through local universities. Lago’s advice to job fair attendees is to be polite and prepared. The most important thing to remember is to remain humble while selling yourself; a job fair is not the time for an ego trip. “If you’re 20 years old and you’re pretending to know more than me when I’ve been in the industry for over 20 years, it’s an immediate red flag,” Lago said.

Submit resume to an online job site. If networking and job fairs aren’t how you shine, Lago recommends looking for jobs at startups the old fashioned way: online. Startups won’t be doing much hiring from within, which means that most job openings will be posted on a company’s website or LinkedIn. “That’s probably not what people want to hear because it almost seems like you have better odds playing the lottery than with these job sites, but it’s how I got hired and its how we hire most of our employees,” Lago said. Remember, ITG now has about 350 employees, so that’s a lot of people who landed a job through a job site.

Here’s Csillag and Lago’s quick and dirty advice to submitting a resume for jobs at startups that will impress a potential employer:
-Spend time to eliminate any and all grammatical errors.
-Don’t use an outdated format. Make it something interesting to read.
-Don’t go on for multiple pages if you’re only a few years out of college.
-Highlight your passion, versatility, and creativity.

The cold email. While the cold email wasn’t a tactic candidates ever used to reach them, Csillag admits that that’s probably due to the nature of their work. In the beginning, ITG would mostly reach out to candidates that they were interested in. Since startups are smaller teams, it’s more possible that a candidate will get a reply from a boss compared to if they reached out to the head of a several-thousand person company. With this approach, be polite, be patient and be interested.

Traits hiring managers look for when filling jobs at startups

Versatility. Startups, especially smaller startups, are limited when it comes to having certain people dedicated to certain jobs. Hiring managers will be drawn to candidates who display the ability to shift from role to role and task to task without too many questions or any complaints.

Passion. Startup companies are usually born as a way to disrupt an industry and change how things are done. Not only does this take a lot of hard work, but also a lot of passion. It’s a general rule of thumb that a passionate candidate is the best person for the job, but this is especially important at a startup company, where an individual’s efforts affect the company even more. Hiring managers will give candidates more attention if their resume, cover letter, and interview reflect the innovative mentality that is required to influence an entire industry. Lago encourages candidates to include extracurricular and side passions on your resume.

Patience. Candidates applying to jobs at startups need to keep in mind that the hiring process might not move as fast as it would at a larger, more established company. Many companies have Human Resource representatives to find potential employees and set up interviews. At startups, employees will most likely be doing the hiring on top of their everyday responsibilities.

What you should look for when applying to jobs at startups

According to Csillag, candidates should critique a company on a number of factors, but the quality that should receive the most weight is a company’s values.

“That’s exactly why Roberto and I are still here,” Csillag said. “It makes a world of difference.”

When it comes to values, it’s important to look at each aspect of the company, from moral and cultural values to strategic and business ones.

Why candidates should consider getting jobs at startups

Startup companies can’t offer extravagant salaries, perks, or travel opportunities right off the bat, according to Csillag.

“What we can offer is a huge sense of accomplishment, a core set of values that permeates across the company, and the chance to be a part of something really cool,” Csillag said.

According to Csillag, aligning values can be a huge motivating factor and make jobs at startups really enjoyable.


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