If you’re non-technical and have no startup experience, your approach to successfully landing a startup job needs to be different than what your trusty college career counselor told you.
In this post, I’m going to describe what non-technical startup job seekers are up against and provide actionable strategies to overcome them.
Signal to Noise
Every time a promising startup posts a non-technical, entry-level job, tens if not hundreds of applications flow in. Founders don’t have time to go through all of them so they use their network as a filtering mechanism by starting with people that have come recommended. As a result, the candidates who’ve been endorsed by someone the founder knows get the first crack at the opportunity.
A lot of the best companies don’t even post jobs. Instead they rely solely on their network to avoid the barrage of applicants.
What this Means
If you want to incrementally improve your ability to land a startup job you need to be networking your tail off. You’re approach should be to provide value to as many people as you can within the startup ecosystem. The more you improve other people’s lives, the more they will look to help you when an appropriate opportunity arises. This is called the law of reciprocity.
Here are some ways you can provide value:
- Relevant introductions where both sides indicate they’d like to be introduced
- Feedback on their product, site, or personal blog
- Identifying and sending relevant content and news
- Sourcing potential candidates
- Promotion and support for their product(s) amongst your personal network
Naturally, the more klout the people you’re able to build relationships with, the more weight endorsements will hold and potential opportunities you’ll be privy to.
When you have no prior startup experience, employers are taking a chance on you. They use your previous accomplishments and pedigree as a proxy to determine your capacity to do your job well.
If you’ve demonstrated high potential through value creation at your previous jobs, this might be enough to tip the scales. But a lot of people haven’t and sometimes major accomplishments aren’t even enough to land a startup job.
One way to overcome this is by employing what I call the Proof Approach.
The Proof Approach is taking the initiative to successfully perform an element of the job before you have it. It means acting like you’ve already been hired during or before the interview process.
My friend Ari did this to get a job with Square. Instead of trying to convince them that he had the capacity to be an evangelist and sign up local businesses to use the product, he just did it. By the time he interviewed with the company, he had completely disarmed the perception that it might be risky to hire him by successfully executing a required responsibility. He was hired immediately.
The Propensity for Doing
One difference between a startup and more established company is the limited handholding. Founders aren’t looking for someone to micro-manage, and they rarely have a blueprint for you to do your job at a high level. They’re looking for someone who can figure things out, get stuff done, and find ways to create value beyond the scope of their specified assignments. They want someone with initiative.
One thing you can do as a candidate to separate yourself is demonstrate initiative by having “projects.” Self-imposed projects demonstrate that you’re a doer. They can also signal other attractive qualities like creativity and hustle.
A project can manifest itself in many forms. Here’s a few examples:
- Create A Newsletter
- Build A Website or Blog
- Create an Event
- Create A Physical Product To Sell (i.e. Elementary school-style recess bracelets!)
If you really want to land a job at a quality startup, you’re going to need do more than a resume drop. It’s going to require some work, creativity, and getting outside your comfort zone. By putting these approaches in action, the chances of successfully making the startup career jump are exponentially higher.