How to Get a Job at a Startup

Team working at startup
Photo:  Emir Memedovski / E+ / Getty Images

Working for a startup can be an excellent career move. You’ll be working on a new and exciting product or service, you’ll have the opportunity to grow with the company, and you may have the option to earn equity in the organization as well as a paycheck.

What Employers Look For

When you go to work for a startup, you’ll be expected to start the job at full performance speed on day one. Companies look to hire people who are intrinsically motivated and have a track record of being able to learn things on their own time.

You need to be self-motivated because a startup will not have the processes setup that a large company has. There may not be a human resources manager to onboard you or a manager telling you exactly what to do. Candidates also need to be team-oriented, but be able to work on their own when they need to. Learning marketing or a new programming language, for example, will be a signal that you meet that criteria. Share the skills you have developed with the hiring manager at interviews.

Startup Salary Information

Startup compensation can be comprised of several components. You may be paid a straight salary, or there may be an equity component of your compensation in addition to your paycheck. To get an idea of potential compensation, use Angel’s Startup Salary and Equity Tool to get a sense of what you can earn. Select a role, location, skill, or market to view salaries and equity information for thousands of startups.

Work/Life Balance

When it comes to balancing your career and your life, don’t expect 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. hours and every evening and weekend off, but you may be able to work a flexible schedule from home, the perks may be incredible, and you’ll have the opportunity to grow with the company.

Where to Find Startup Jobs

  • Use Job Sites: AngelList is the best source for startup jobs. You can apply directly to over 74,000 jobs with one application. You’ll also be able to view salary and equity details for each employer. When you register on the site, you’ll create a profile with your work experience and skills. You can share your profile publicly or keep it secret if you want to job search privately.
    Also search GitHub Jobs by title, location, company, and benefits. If you’re looking to partner and get in on the ground floor, CoFoundersLab is a site where potential entrepreneurs look for co-founders. Search Indeed and the other top job sites using “startup” as a keyword. If you have a location where you’d like to work, or if you are seeking a remote position, add those terms to your query. You’ll get a list of opportunities to explore.
  • Reach Out to Companies Directly: Review lists of the best startups to find companies that match your skillset and interests. Many startups are small, and it may only take an email or LinkedIn to get connected to a decision-maker. Writing a cold contact cover letter is a good way to get your credentials noticed.
  • Use Your Networking Connections: One of the best ways to find a job at a startup is through networking. Who do you know? Search Crunchbase by person (and company) to find out what organizations your connections are affiliated with. You can also search by school to see which founders are alumni of your college. Also, check to see if your career services office can connect you to alumni at companies of interest. Browse your LinkedIn connections as well.
  • Meetup With Startups: Learning what businesses operate out of your local coworking spaces can be a good way to identify startups in your area. Attend as many tech conferences and events as you have time for. You’ll be able to meet prospective employers in a group or one-on-one environment to learn about opportunities. Many tech employers participate in job fairs. Attend as many as you can, and note that a startup job fair may have a different format than a traditional career fair.
  • Tap Social Media: Follow companies of interest on all their social media channels. You might line up your next job by reading a tweet or a LinkedIn post mention that the company is hiring. Respond right away, and you may be able to fast track the hiring process.

Check Out the Company

Some companies are better than others to work for, so spend time researching reviews of the workplace environment at startups. In some cases, even new companies have reviews on Glassdoor. Do your due diligence and look up the founders to see what other startups they've been involved with in the past and if there are any reports on what it's like to work for them. This can be a good indication of what you can expect if you take a job with them.

Get Ready to Interview

The hiring process may be a quick one, with fewer formalities than if you were interviewing with a traditional corporate employer. Be prepared for a phone interview, a video call, or an informal meeting on short notice. Startup interview attire is typically more casual than what you’d wear to a formal job interview, but you should still look polished and professional. As with any job interview, take the time to follow up with a thank-you note or email.

Tips for Evaluating a Job Offer

When you get a job offer, it’s important to carefully evaluate the compensation package. In addition to reviewing the salary and benefits, it’s important to understand how the equity package works. Understanding how options work and how they are taxed is important because it can be a surprise when the time comes to actually exercise the options. The check may be less than you expect, and you may not have realized that you have to shell out money to purchase the shares.

One simple way to look at it is to consider the equity portion of the compensation as 0. Unless the startup up is highly successful, the chances are that you won’t see anything from those options. So, if you are treating them as 0, and you are most likely going to make less on the salary side, you need to consider the other benefits before you accept. 

Are you working in an up and coming field that will help your career (AI, self-driving cars, blockchain, etc.)? Will you be in a position to learn valuable and marketable skills? Can you parlay this position into bigger things in the future? Have the founders started a startup before, and can you hitch your cart to them at some future point in your career? Are you thinking of becoming an entrepreneur and want to gain skills to run your own business?

Consider all the factors that will make this the next best step in your career when making a decision, remembering that your tenure at a tech company doesn’t have to be forever. Even if this is one of the startups that doesn’t make it long-term, you’ll have an opportunity to expand your skillset, build your resume, and acquire valuable professional experience in the tech industry.

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