Anne Halsey is an attorney at Safe Shepherd in San Francisco, California. She may be reached at email@example.com.
Working for a startup comes with the promise of long hours, uncertainty, and close working relationships with equally overworked coworkers. It also comes with the potential for fame and fortune and the chance to build something wonderful. Seeking employment with startups requires a game plan, and here are five tips for landing a job at an Internet startup.
First, go where the startups are. The Bay Area still has the greatest breadth and depth of startups but New York, Austin, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. also have strong start up communities. Choose the place where you have the best contacts and the ability to live until you find a position.
Second, you must network. If you are a people person, great; if you are an introvert, you will hate it, but do it anyway. Startups are very reliant on personal recommendations and if you don’t have technical skills to show off, contacts are even more important. If you don’t know anyone, the best places to explore are technical “Meet Ups” and incubators. Incubators provide early stage startups with funding, advice, and even office space, which make them rich with opportunity for job hunters.
Third, know what you want, even if it sounds too specific. Ironically, the more general your interests are the harder it is for a startup to find a place for you. You may not spend much of your time working on your passion to begin with, but having a clear goal will help a startup find a place for you on the team and decide on which projects you should work.
Fourth, be tenacious, probably past the point of strictly good manners. Law schools teach students to be polite, dress conservatively and follow the rules of rigid hiring processes, but in startup land, the HR manager is also likely to be the CEO, CFO, lead product designer, and office manager. She isn’t likely to have the time to set up a rigid hiring process. In addition to being busy she will also be looking for someone who can take charge of projects and see them through to completion. Perseverance may be rewarded. Keep asking until you are told “no.” As a caution though, aggressive interest is useful; crazy interest is not. For example, avoid emailing more than once every 48 hours.
Fifth, do not wear a suit to the interview. Unless you have an amazing sense of style, wearing a suit will send the wrong message. Part of startup culture is a sharp focus on providing value. Wearing a suit may signal that you focused on your curb appeal and not your inherent value. It also could signal that you don’t understand the pervading culture. Wear something casual but still nice, such as slacks and a button-down shirt.
Once you have the job, be prepared to be a little lost. You will work on issues you have never seen before and develop skills you had never even considered. This is part of the fun so enjoy it.