By Neil Patrick
When it comes to getting hired by a startup, almost everything you know about job search is probably wrong. And the major difference is that this is a hunting expedition, not target practice.
You will almost never get hired by a startup by applying to a job posting. You will get hired if you know the right people already.
In my time, I’ve hired dozens of people for startups that I’ve been involved with. But it’s hard. Startups rarely have the time or money to recruit people in the same way established businesses can and do.
My experience reveals what you need to know about how to get hired by a startup.
When I was hiring for startups, I always had the same problem. The people I knew and wanted were not always available. And I quickly ran out of people I knew that I could call.
However, one person’s problem is another person’s opportunity. Despite having publicity about our business in the local media, hardly anyone would reach out to us. Those who did had a very high chance of getting hired because we were in a hurry, and we didn’t have time to mess about with the sort of protracted procedures that big HR teams use.
If you’ve been through multiple interviews and tests for normal jobs and still not been chosen, you'll appreciate the approach used by most startups. In a startup, you will almost certainly be one of a very small number of potential candidates for the role.
Startups may use unconventional methods to decide who they hire. Sometimes they want to "try before they buy." They will give you an assignment, and, if you do a good job, they’ll discuss hiring you.
If you think this isn’t fair, then you probably don’t have the right mind-set to be involved with startups. Startups seek people who are confident, capable and resourceful. People who believe in themselves and in the business they are joining.
I’m willing to bet that if you are known to half a dozen startups, at least one of them will be seriously interested in hiring you. These are much better odds than most people experience with recruiters, let alone job-boards
If you want to get hired by a startup, you need to be known to them. This requires planning and focus. It won’t happen by accident, and it won’t happen by luck. It will happen if you design it to happen.
Even more than with normal jobs, your network is key. You need to be where the people starting businesses are, and you need to be known by them, both physically and online. By physically, I don’t mean relocating to Silicon Valley. What I mean is finding where the people involved with startup businesses are in your locality.
Every town and city in the world has networking events for startups. There are business and technology fairs, investment capital events, business seminars. There are innovation centers hosting startups. There are incubators and serviced/managed office blocks which are where these businesses are often located. Start looking in these places and you’ll find a huge number of business startups.
Get onto their mailing lists. Show up at events. Talk to people. Not only will you make great new contacts, you’ll start to understand the unique problems that startups have. You’ll learn to speak their language and empathize with them.
You can really accelerate your progress if you leverage this networking activity offline with smarter and more focused activity online. Before you do this, make sure your online bios describe clearly why you are of potential value to a startup.
No startup is going to be interested in someone whose Twitter bio says something like this one I just pulled at random: "My faves: professional wrestling, writing and heaping helpings of sushi. Can you can solve the riddle that is me?" This one is much better: "I've worked at magazines, movie studios, start-ups, & academic institutions. Creator of Amazing Knowledge Street."
Online you can make smart use of social media to hunt down the right startups for you. Here’s a tip about this: on social media, your target and audience are not the same. This is an easy mistake to make, so I’ll explain. Let’s say you live in New Hampshire. The natural assumption would be to try connecting through social media with startups in that area (assuming you don’t wish to relocate). Wrong.
Connect on social media with startup businesses all over the world. In sectors you know and sectors you don’t. Spread your net wide. This will show the algorithms on social media that you are serious about these types of businesses.
It doesn’t matter that you have no intention of ever working overseas. If you have such connections via Twitter or Linkedin, the algorithms within these platforms will respond accordingly. You’ll start to rank for relevant searches. You will slowly but surely start to be found by the sort of people you want to find you.
For this to happen, you should also be liking, sharing, and commenting, on the things that startups are interested in. Use suitable keywords to find people and things that fit. Good keyword examples would be entrepreneur, growth, venture capital, crowd funding.
All these searches will turn up hundreds of pieces of suitable online content for you to like, share and comment on. To improve things, overlay your own particular interests. This could be sector, location, job type.
As an example, below are the top 9 results for a Twitter search, "startup London." See who is following these accounts and who they follow. Follow the ones you like the look of. This isn’t a one-off task to try once and blitz. It’s a daily routine for a few minutes every day.
As you focus your activities in this way, the social media platforms’ algorithms will react and deliver more for your consideration. It’s just like the Amazon and EBay algorithms which assume that when you’ve just bought a John Grisham novel, a Phillips electric toothbrush or a Samsung TV, you’ll want to buy more of them – and ironically, while one toothbrush is probably all you want, the same isn’t true of business connections – the more you have, the better.
Do these things consistently for a few weeks, and you’ll have transformed your prospects and network permanently. You’ll be positioned not just to reach out to people whose businesses are of interest to you, you’ll also be leveraging the power of social media to bring more of the right sort of people to your attention.
Within that group of people could easily be the contact that turns out to be the one that delivers for you. And that’s got to be more satisfying than buying another toothbrush.
This is the smart way to position yourself and to get the Internet working for you. Next, we’ll take a look at developing these new relationships, demonstrating your fit into the startup organization so hiring you is an easy decision.
Neil Patrick is a veteran of start-ups, having been a founding director of three start-ups to date including the largest venture capital backed start-up ever in the UK. He’s also a visiting lecturer on the MBA courses at Cardiff University Business School specializing in Entrepreneurship, Corporate Strategy and Marketing. He is a mentor for business start-ups at the Innovation Centre for Enterprise (ICE) in South Wales. He is also the Editor of a popular careers blog, 40pluscareerguru. You can follow him on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/neilrpatrick, on Twitter at @NewCareerGuru, and also on Google+.