The Truth About Getting Hired At A Start-Up


Every day I get two questions: how many candidates apply to jobs at start-ups and what can I do to distinguish myself and land a job? These are really important questions and knowing the answer can significantly increase your odds of getting hired, so I’d like to share them here.

Number of candidates

The first question is easy to answer and unsurprising: A LOT of candidates apply to roles at start-ups. At HireArt, we get on average 300 – 500 applicants within a month of starting to recruit for a junior non-technical role at a start-up.  Senior roles or technical roles have significantly different dynamics, so we will focus this post on junior roles for non-technical candidates 2 – 5 years out of college.

Below are real jobs that HireArt has hired for (we can’t show clients’ names due to confidentiality). For each role we listed the title, the amount of time the role has been posted for on our website and external job boards, and the role’s location.

How to get hired (here’s the secret sauce, and yes, there is a secret sauce):

As you can see, there is definitely stiff competition for start-up jobs.  Luckily, there is a secret to how you can distinguish yourself from this competition. Here are the three things you can do to get yourself hired:

1. Don’t screw up your application: This one is obvious, but it’s worth stating as about 30% of candidates make themselves un-hirable by having typos in their application, listing the wrong company in their resume, or sending resumes that are so poorly formatted that recruiters can’t read them (this includes some infographic resumes).

2. Get an introduction to someone at the company. Use LinkedIn to find any way you possibly can to get an intro at the company you are applying for.  Hustle. Buy your friends ice cream. Go to meet-ups to network with people who know someone at the company you want to work for. Amazingly, even very weak intros can make a huge difference. Don’t discount the importance of social validation.

3. The real secret sauce: Show your employer that you can do the job.  This last tip is so effective and so easy that I am surprised that not everyone is doing it yet. In an excellent post, Scott Britton calls it the “The Proof Approach.”

Essentially it consists of adding some value to your future employer as a way to get hired. If you’re applying for a biz dev role, introduce the hiring manager to a potential client or partner. If you’re applying for a marketing role, write a blog post about the company, generate traffic and link it back to the company’s website. If you’re applying for an operations role, try out the service and offer some concrete and useful suggestions for how to lower costs.

To do this, you need to go deep rather than wide in your approach to getting hired. Rather than sending out 20 resumes per day, you need to send out two resumes per day but put real effort into each application. At Shoptiques, a design candidate created an amazing brochure that convinced the hiring manager that the candidate had the skills. At a large corporation in San Francisco, one candidate for a strategy consulting role interviewed 10 experts and created a powerpoint presentation answering one of the questions she thought the hiring manager might be grappling with.  At Exec, a new service to allow anyone to outsource anything you want for $25/hour, one candidate used Exec’s service to get his resume delivered to the hiring manager at Exec.

I know what you’re thinking: “This is so much work! Isn’t this exploitation?” I agree that it’s a lot of work but the question I was asked wasn’t “How can I get hired with minimal effort?” The question was just how to get hired, and this approach can significantly increase the odds that you’ll land a job.

At HireArt, we offer a slightly less taxing way to the “Proof Approach” by allowing you to take a “challenge-based interview” that helps you prove your skills and showcase the value you’ll add. It’s much deeper than a resume and it really helps distinguish you from the pack (yes, this is a plug for our service, but trust me, it really helps you get noticed).

For some, this post might be a bit depressing. There is stiff competition for start-up jobs and the stunts you may need to pull to get noticed might seem intimidating. But in reality, this post should be good news: Yes, there is competition for start-up jobs, but if you really want it, you can get it. Be creative. Let the hustler in you come out. And most of all, make yourself so obviously useful to the start-up that they will be the ones who won’t want to miss out on you. 

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