6 Quick Tips For Landing That Startup Dream Job

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6 Quick Tips For Landing That Startup Dream Job


My startup, HubSpot, has done a fair amount of recruiting/hiring over the past year (the team has grown by over 100%, despite the down-turn in the economy).  Along the way, I’ve found some “patterns” to the recruiting that we do and the kind of people that end up joining us.onstartups careers

I’m going to stay away from the overly obvious stuff (mostly because I have no idea what the obvious stuff actually is).  I’m also going to assume that you’re already smart and passionate and all the other trimmings of a star candidate. 

Tips For Landing That Startup Dream Job

1. Match the culture:  Remember that advice about dressing one level above the job you’re hiring into?  Or the “it’s better to be over-dressed” advice?  Forget that.  Dress so that you’ll fit in.  Dress as if you’re already on the team.  Any startup you’d want to work for is not going to hold it against you for not dressing up.  They wouldn’t expect you to wear something to an interview that they wouldn’t wear themselves into work.

2. Convey A Passion For Startups:  If you’ve worked for startups before — talk about them.  Talk about what it was like.  Especially talk about the painful parts.  They want to know that you know what it’s like to be on a startup team.  We want to know that you’ve got that weird genetic flaw that causes you to want to take on that special kind of pain that only entrepreneurial people understand.  If you haven’t worked for a startup before, come up with some really convincing reasons as to why you want to start now.  And it can’t just be because you got laid off from some Fortune 500 company last week.  Remember that startups are not in the business of creating jobs, they’re in the business of creating value.  Help them understand how you’re going to be able to help them create value that nobody else can.

3. Read, Read, Read:  Many startups today have a pretty wide footprint on the web.  Does the CEO tweet?  Does the CTO write a blog?  Read them.  You don’t have to be able to write a graduate thesis on their work, but you should be a wee bit familiar with their thoughts and leanings.  Oh, and most startups will have you meet the founder/CEO/CTO before you are made an offer and they’re all human.  They write for a reason — one of which is to be read; and maybe even understood

4. Join The Conversation:  Find out where the startup team is hanging out and chatting on the web.  For HubSpot, for example, we have a relatively active group of people on Twitter.  (Just do a Twitter search on “HubSpot” and you’ll see what I mean).  Get to know some of the faces/names and find out the tone of the conversations happening around the startup you’re looking to join.

5.  Connect Online:  Chances are, whoever you talk to on the startup team is going to do a quick scan for you online (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blogosphere, etc.).  Why not be more proactive, learn about them and connect with them online first?  Another advantage to this approach?  You could ask (without being too pushy or aggressive) some of the “insiders” you connect to what it’s like to work there.  The idea is to convey that you care, you’re doing your homework and are savvy enough to make sure you want to work there first.  Startup recruiting is a two-way street (the company should bring a lot to you, just like you’re going to be bringing a lot to them).

6. Emphasize That You “Get Stuff Done”:  The single most important attribute that many startups look for in recruits is that they get stuff done.  You can be the most brilliant engineer/marketer/whatever on the planet, but if you don’t have a tendency to get a lot of stuff done, you’re not an attractive recruit.  The reason is obvious and simple — but I’ll tell you anyways.  Startups are a grand exercise in resource-deprivation.  There’s always too much work and not enough people.  If the startup team hires you, they want to know that you’re going to put a dent in their workload — not just come up with great ideas for other people to work on.

What do you think?  If you’ve got your own startup, what would sway you?  If you’ve interviewed at startups, what’s worked and what hasn’t?  Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

By the way, if you’re a fan of this blog, please join us on Facebook.  The LinkedIn group has 75,000+ members, but the Facebook community is falling behind.  Hope to see you there.

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Mon, Jun 29, 2009


Great advice Dharmesh...Now, just where to look for those start-up positions is the question.

posted on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 9:38 AM by Jason

I would also suggest you visit a twitter that I've setup about 3 months ago: http://www.twitter.com/currofile. The idea is to post jobs related exclusively to the online/digital/mobile sector in Europe. 
Initially, I started it to help out friends looking for work, but now it's a source of job openings for everyone and anyone who's interested. It's also a way to help companies find candidates. I get notifications from companies that are hiring and also do a large amount of scouting for interesting jobs myself. 
The reason I mention it, is because a large percentage of the jobs I post are in fact in European startups, or US startups that have since grown and expanded internationally. Of course there are big brands as well, but as I said large percentage are startups. 
Take a look and be sure to send me offers you run into or have.  
It's a non-profit effort. I'm doing it for the fun of it and for the rewarding feeling of helping people find work and discovering interesting companies myself. 
Take a look and contribute if you can: http://www.twitter.com/currofile

posted on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 9:40 AM by Marina

This is a site run by First Round Capital, of jobs offered by their portfolio companies.  
Here's another great place to look:  
Ventureloop has all kinds of jobs listed, but not all are small startup's (just to give you an idea, eHarmony, Facebook are on there also). But it's a great variety to go through. 
Anyone have similar places to look? 

posted on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 9:46 AM by Marina Zaliznyak

Sorry to comment so many times!  
I completely forgot about: 
Great source of startup jobs!

posted on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 9:56 AM by Marina Zaliznyak

LOVE this post, Dharmesh! I especially enjoyed #1. I feel people don't even consider this (especially if they haven't worked in a start-up before). As a recruiter, I tend to advise folks on dress - and moreso than not, I'll get a "really???" after I tell someone that Client X won't offer a job to someone who comes in a suit. It's really all about research, company character and "doing your homework" - which I feel you so eloquently pieced together these points in this article!  
The only additional thing I have advised folks to do in the past...is to actually network their way through (with confidence, obviously). For example, I know a bunch of start-up folks (especially HubSpot employees) - regularly attend the WebInno meetings here in Boston. If a candidate shows the effort to confidently (but not annoyingly) - approach an employee of the start-up you're trying to get into during an event and ask questions, they may just have a bit of an advantage during the interview process because they have some insight and hopefully made a good impression (a lot of the time, this act can lead to an interview you would have never otherwise gotten).  
Amazing article! I will pass on to all my friends and candidates!

posted on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 10:00 AM by Marie

Here's a few good ones: 

posted on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 10:02 AM by Marie

Another new and great resource for start-up jobs iswww.startuphire.com. This website is exclusively devoted to VC-backed startups looking to hire.

posted on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 10:12 AM by Steve

Great tips especially tip 6 - get things done factor. As a recruiter, this is crucial as we often generate lots of work to deliver Enterprise MasterClass prog. The key is timely delivery(as payment is output based) rather than weekly innovative albeit un-necessary ideas.

posted on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 10:20 AM by Ayo Philip-King

Great stuff Dharmesh. Love the culture that you have built over at Hubspot. Fun, professional and extremely dedicated to product. The wealth of talent over there just boggles my mind (yet they all work as a cohesive unit).

posted on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 10:36 AM by Stuart Foster

Point 6 is dead on! Getting things done! Every company needs a "go to guy" and few businesses have one. I'm going to use this approach in my next consultation. 

posted on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 11:57 AM by Eric Tompkins

This was well written and on point, great article

posted on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 12:08 PM by Lionel Azikiwe

Firednetwork.com is another helpful resource for entrepreneurship. For people looking for a start-up job, I would recommend searching the network for entrepreneurs and connecting with them on the site.

posted on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 12:13 PM by Lisa

I am not sure I agree with #1. Dressing up or down during interview has any bearing on "true" cultural fit. Maybe superficially. In fact, I would argue that both interviewer and interviewee should dress right that conveys respect for each other. I am not saying we have to ware tie or black suite. At least business casual.  
Startups are serious businesses with real customers and requires professional image. It should not be equated to some cowboys doing their wild things. I have heard some Startups interview in shorts and sandals. I had a similar experience as an interviewee. I don't think that is appropriate even if the company culture is to allow people to come to office in shorts.  
I would definitely not turned down a candidate just because he/she dressed up. Although, I would be concerned if someone comes in a shorts...:-) Again what do I know. I am just working on my first startup...:-) 

posted on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 12:29 PM by Syed Rayhan

This is great advice Dharmesh. We set up enternships.com precisely to connect students/grads to start-ups and entrepreneurial businesses around the world and many of our 'enterns' ask for advice - we'll be sure to point them to your blog post!

posted on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 12:29 PM by Raj

For me, it's all about the cultural fit. Whenever I hire anyone, I always look for how they interact with the rest of the staff. The cultural fit is so important that I will pass on the brilliant "hot shot" higher life-form if they don't fit in. 
Another important factor is flexibility. People who only want to do one thing or have the "it's not my job" attitude will never make it at a startup. The "can do whatever" attitude is just as important as "I get stuff done." 

posted on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 12:40 PM by Jarie Bolander

Great tips! I've also found that start-up jobs are hard to get partially because they aren't easy to find. Often, start-ups need help but don't have the infrastructure in place to find great talent. Also, they tend to want to hire people who've already worked at another start-up.  
Companies like Propel Careers help MBA students, science graduates, and post-doctoral fellows find internships at small and medium-size start-ups. Getting an internship at an entrepreneurial firm is a great way to get a foot in the door of the start-up world.

posted on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 1:11 PM by Jonathan

great insight into the start-up culture. I believe getting the right TEAM in place (right people on the bus) is the most important for start ups, selling them on the vision, coach them along the way and measure their commitment/ progress on the TEAM. Speak to you soon linked-in 
CEO Social Networking San Diego

posted on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 1:12 PM by social networking san diego

Getting things done is certainly important. Good article.

posted on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 2:27 PM by Dena

Hi Dharmesh, 
Very good advice; came at the right time (any time is a good time for such stuff). 
Is it true that you should always be looking for a startup/job that satisfies your passion to be benevolent (in a proportion greater than you currently are)? 
How important is the resume? I often get misleading impression about this particular aspect. 

posted on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 2:46 PM by Kedar Mhaswade

I definitely argee about the culture. If you mistakenly hire someone who can't do the job technically, it is easy to justify firing them. ( Though it's still not easy to do the actual firing ). If you hire someone who doesn't fit the culture, they can do just as much damage to your startup, but it is much harder to recognize that they need to go.

posted on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 4:07 PM by Eric Thompson

I'm a big fan of StartUpHire. They list thousands of jobs and send me email alerts of new jobs matching my defined criteria. http://www.startuphire.com

posted on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 5:25 PM by Ryan Smith

Great article Dharmesh. I would also add the following:  
BE NICE. No one wants to hire a jerk!

posted on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 5:37 PM by Rosanna Y. de la Cruz

I wish i read this post before my last interview. The company did a lot with blogging and I didn't even think to look for that online. They started questioning me on that topic and I didn't know anything. Didn't look to good. 
Thanks for the advice. Next time I’ll be prepared. 

posted on Monday, June 29, 2009 at 6:27 PM by Evan Freed

good tips!

posted on Tuesday, June 30, 2009 at 1:29 AM by Priyanka D

Excellent article Dharmesh. The best part I like about your articles is the quality of the content. They are authentic and to the point.  
One point I'd like to add to the list is - candidates should also believe in the business model of startup. If you do not believe that the idea will succeed, do not join the company. Otherwise you'll never contribute the way you are expected to.

posted on Tuesday, June 30, 2009 at 3:31 AM by Alok Khandelwal

Couldn't agree more! I was part of an interviewing panel for my work (a startup) recently, and these things really do come across in a resume, cover letter, interview, phone calls, emails, etc etc.

posted on Tuesday, June 30, 2009 at 6:46 AM by Adam

For those who have made a career in start-ups, getting the fit right is as important to the candidate as it is to the start-up. Someone with start up experience is going to get a vibe from the CEO, from how the people interviewing them are dressed -- it's always good to remember it's a competitive market for the best employees and both parties need to demonstrate they are serious about "getting stuff done."

posted on Tuesday, June 30, 2009 at 8:56 AM by sarandall

Dharmesh, I completely disagree with you on point 1. You should dress smartly for your job interview.  
This demonstrates at least 2 things: 
#1. Respect for the people interviewing you (rather than assuming you are such a hot-ass that you don't need to bother with your appearance). 
#2. Proof that you do know how to dress smartly should you be required to. This is important: some people haven't a clue - you need to know that before the first time they meet an important client (even if they are a developer). 
It doesn't matter that the interviewers may be casually dressed.  
I'm in the UK, so maybe its different here than in the US. If you tried your approach here you'd almost certainly create a bad impression. I've worked for a variety of startups, most of which was jeans and t-short stuff, but the interviews are always suit, shirt and tie, even in summer (and I dislike wearing suits as they are impractical). 
Just over a year ago I went to a meeting with a chap about some funding etc. Email, then nice chat on the phone. First time I met him, I wore a suit, tie etc. We did a deal, signed a contract etc. 
Since then I never have worn a suit when I meet him. We did discuss this very topic. To him, like me, the first meeting, it was important, as it demonstrated what I've just listed above. 
I'll make an exception though, if the interview is held somewhere unusual, like the pool room in a pub (which believe it or not, has happened to me in Cambridge). On that occasion I turned up wearing jeans and a t-shirt, which was correct for the situation.

posted on Wednesday, July 01, 2009 at 10:51 AM by Stephen Kellett

I especially agree with #6. It's amazing what you can accomplish with a small team of people who can get things done. Not sure about #1, though. As someone who's interviewed a lot of people for startups, I wouldn't exclude anyone who wore a suit unless they also had the "big company" do as little as possible attitude to go along with it. I probably wouldn't want to work for a startup that would exclude someone purely on that basis, too. People should dress a little nicer when going on an interview. An interviewee wearing shorts and flip flops shows a lack of respect to me, even though I might be wearing them as the interviewer.

posted on Wednesday, July 01, 2009 at 5:05 PM by Harry

We all like to impress people, especially the hiring managers. Many resumes are written that way. When EVERYONE is fantastic, the meaning of fantastic is no longer meaningful.  
My recommendation is to be real. We're all human and we all make mistakes. None of us a re perfect. Show your imperfections (if they are not detrimental), came across as trustable.  
Bottom line, if the hiring manager can't trust that you'll do a good job, s/he can't hire you.  

posted on Friday, July 03, 2009 at 2:17 PM by Jack Bicer

I like your third point: "read, read, read!" I've never thought about actually following CEO's tweets to understand them better. Great ideas! Thanks!

posted on Wednesday, July 08, 2009 at 7:53 PM by Christian Leader

Dhramesh, excellent post, could relate to it 110%! from personal direct experience in running a SW product startup...could you kindly explain what you had in mind when you wrote "Price discrimination (in an economic sense) is a wonderful thing. Except that it often ignores the real costs in terms of organizational complexity. Every time you add a new product or product option a small part of your company dies." cheers

posted on Friday, July 10, 2009 at 12:51 AM by Ram Ramdas

particularly interesting to me since I look forward to meeting you on Friday (so far I think I am following a bit of your advice:))) 
I'd like to suggest one other Tip --> Demonstrate Curiousity & Ability to Learn FAST. We can talk about it live:)

posted on Wednesday, July 15, 2009 at 10:26 PM by Kirsten

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