Applying at a startup; some do’s and don’ts

Nearly four months ago I applied for an internship at a tech startup in Eindhoven. Not the most obvious choice when you’re studying to become a brand manager at a multinational, but I saw an opportunity to get a lot of responsibility and learn about entrepeneurship, rather than getting coffee and tying the tie of a brand manager. In this blog post, I hope I can provide you with some useful insights when applying at an early stage startup.

Writing my motivation letter
Their vacancy asked me to write a 1-paragraph text to explain why I would prefer to work at a startup rather than at a big grey building near the highway, and this is where I made my first mistake. I wrote the paragraph like I was writing to the CEO of the multinational I didn’t want to apply for. Other than the tone, the content luckily made some sense, which got me a Skype interview and later an invitation to the office. But really, when you’re applying for a job at a startup, please think who’s on the other side. Probably not a guy with a tie (unless he’s really hipster).

Preparing for my interview
When I arrived at the office, it felt like a place where I could easily spend a saturday night with some friends. A pool table, table tennis, some sofas with a Nintendo, and a big trampoline in the middle (no idea what the latter is doing here though). Anyways, there were also some young guys from different companies working on all kinds of stuff. When I found the right guys, they took me into one of the glass meeting boxes to ask me all kinds of questions; which series do you watch? What’s your favourite startup? How did they grow from one to a million users? And what do you know about growth hacking?

“Growth hacking? I’m not a hacker, I’m a marketer”. Within a few minutes I knew that basically everything I prepared would be useless, but I knew I’d love to work with these guys. They were not looking for someone who would walk in their line and do what they would ask for. They were looking for someone to be challenged in everything they were doing right or wrong. That’s how I ended up interviewing them for about thirty minutes about their product and goals, and they seemed to like it.

So how would I prepare for an interview at a startup? First, use the right tone of voice in your application letter. My boss was surprised he’d actually invited me when he saw my application letter two months after. Second, dress appriopriately, not appropriate. I would suggest a shirt, but no more. Third, make sure you are aware of what’s going on in the startup scene. Look for some examples of cool startups and how they became what they are today. Fourth, be yourself! Guess they’d say that for every interview, but for a startup it might be even more important to be authentic. When my boss asked me about my hobbies I told him I’m crazy about football, he responded: “awesome, I hate football, that’s what we need”.

Do I make a good fit?
So what would make me a good candidate? First, be proactive! I think this is one of the most important characteristics for working at a startup. There are always things to do, and this also holds for your bosses. No such thing exists as a fixed role. There are always tasks which are nobody’s, make them yours. Second, take ownership. You’re probably part of a small team, which immediately gives you lots of responsibility. Don’t be afraid to fail, you won’t be the only one. It’s a startup, everybody is learning and improving constantly. Lastly, be eager to learn. Be enthusiastic and passionate about doing lots of different stuff. As I said, there is no such thing as a fixed role. I’m doing marketing and sales, but I’m also debugging and helping to improve the website. Besides, I think I just wrote my first blog post…

Hopefully this post provides you with some useful insights when applying for a startup. I’m still learning everyday, so I’d be happy to receive any feedback on my posts. In my next post, I’ll be writing about some useful tools to implement at an early stage startup. Follow me or subscribe to stay up to date. Cheers!

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