How to get (and keep) a job in startups

This essay is inspired by this week’s Startup Edition topic, "How do you get a job in startups?"

Here's the secret to getting a job:

It's not about what you have to offer. It's about what they need.

You need to show them that you can solve their problems.

The #1 mistake made by most applicants is that they keep talking about themselves: "here are my skills, here's what I've done, here's why I'm awesome..."

Instead of talking about yourself, talk about them:

"You need someone who can jump right in; someone who can start working without making mistakes. You don't have a lot of time for training. I can get started right away."

Do you see how that might be impressive to the entrepreneur who might hire you? They have a million things on their mind and so much to do. Show them a future where they have less anxiety, all because they hired you.

This is going to require some research. Follow the founders on Twitter. Read their blog posts. Scan their error logs (if they're public). Find out where you're needed and highlight that. If they hire you, what's in it for them?

Generally it's best to do this during the application process. Personally, I think the cover letter is the most important piece. If you shine in the cover letter, and show them you understand their pain, your resume is like icing on the cake.

If you've already sent in a cover letter and resume, it doesn't hurt to follow-up with an email that says: "I've been doing some research, and I think I've found some places I could be helpful."

How to keep your job

Employees: take away your boss' pain. Together as a company: take away your customers' pain.

You don't get hired to warm a chair: you get hired because your boss needs help. She's had to invest significant resources in finding, hiring and training you. Your boss' return on investment comes when you start to solve real problems. You do this by identifying your boss' biggest pains, and taking steps to solve them:

  • Is your boss stuck in a constant stream of small, urgent demands? Take away her grunt work so she can focus on the big picture of growing the company.

  • Does your boss have to manually pull together reports for year-end? Find a way to automate it.

  • Is it impossible for your boss to take a vacation? Build up your level of responsibility so you can run the shop while she's gone.

As an employee, be cognizant of when you're adding more pain to your boss' life. Refusing to pitch in (even if it's "not your job"), causing office drama, wasting time, and negativity; these all create headaches.

When you solve your boss' problems you create opportunity. You give your boss the opportunity to think long-term and improve the business, but you also create opportunities for yourself. When it's time to promote from within, your boss is going to be looking for someone that can solve problems (and doesn't mind rolling up his sleeves). You'll be the clear choice.

Justin Jackson

PS: Want to chat with me about finding a job in startups, or hiring? Grab me on Clarity.

Published on September 16th, 2013
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