My partner David Beisel has an excellent series on his blog about Finding the Perfect Startup job. I’d recommend it to anyone in the process – he offers both very practical and in some cases, counter-intuitive advice.
Definitely read his series first, but here are a couple additional tips that I find I give folks in a similar situation:
- Narrow the Universe. Not all startup jobs are created equal. The less focused you are the more daunting the task of finding a great role. Plus, working at a startup requires a great deal of commitment – it’s not an easy gig. So folks who are hiring can sense whether you really care passionately about the role, stage, industry, and specific company you are talking to. Practically, I think it makes sense to narrow things down by geography, stage, or sector (or all three). Sector is the most important, because by doing the work to do this, you actually gain more market intelligence and become a better candidate in the process. You will become fluent in the topics that matter in the industry, the big and small players, the investors that focus here, etc. By the way, if you aren’t excited enough about a sector to at least do this work, why do you think you will be excited about working 80-hour weeks in this sector?
- Develop a Point of View. Once you’ve narrowed the universe, try to develop a point of view on the areas you are targeting. There are hundreds of candidates who have a shallow perspective on a sector or company. It only takes a little extra work to get one or two levels deeper and really distinguish yourself. This used to be difficult, but it’s really not hard anymore. Suggestions: a) really know the players and how they differentiate (use techcrunch, crunchbase, etc) b) talk to friends or friends of friends even to just hear names of companies or get their perspective (use LinkedIn and your own network), c) look at relevant industry conferences and see the list of speakers, watch old talks, etc. Oh, try to focus on conferences that are more narrow (ie: not Ad Tech, CES, etc). Usually, that’s more than enough to distinguish yourself from 90% of people who are exploring an industry.
- Brute Force Works. Concurrent to developing a Point of View, make a list of all the relevant companies, investors, and thought leaders in the space. Then try to talk to everyone. It may feel out of character to do this, but it’s not actually that hard because it’s a finite universe. In a way, it’s not dissimilar to a VC doing due diligence on a company or sector. As someone looking for a job, you are making an early stage investment – except you are investing your career (not money) and you are only investing in one company (not a portfolio). So you should be even more thorough in your due diligence. Again, if you are qualified and smart about this, the process can make you a better candidate, build your profile within the industry, and really help you make a wise decision about your next role.
Have fun and good luck!