How to land an internship with a startup or scaleup using Linkedin

A step by step process on how to land your dream job.

Working at a startup is a fantastic opportunity if you’re an aspiring entreprneur, in a recent conversation with the Managing Director of Car Sales (ASX: CAR) I realised that one avenue to start your own startup is to work at a fast growing company.

One where you’re pushed beyond your comfort zone, can’t hide behind middle management and quickly learn all the moving parts of starting and running a business. I mentioned why working at a startup could do wonders for your career in this article. This one is about how to land an internship with a scaleup or startup.

The experience dilemma: “but I don’t have any experience”

You don’t need to have had a job to have experience. For example of your graduating in marketing, you should by the end of your degree have experiences where you’ve applied your skills. No a ‘group assignment’ does not count — everyone has done one.

Find founders and companies you admire

One of the best pieces of career advice I heard recently was at a Young Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce event where Shayne Elliot (CEO of ANZ Bank) said that you should work for people who care about you and want you to succeed. When Shayne’s mother was sick, he went to hand his resignation letter to his boss so he could take care of her, his boss handed it right back to him and said there will always be a place here for you.

In the startup world you should read about founders and leaders you admire, follow them on LinkedIn, read the articles they write, any blogs they contribute to, podcasts they’re on, books they might have published and definitely attend events they’re speaking at.

If you’re not sure where to start check out the startups in your university’s accelerator program and pick the most successful ones you admire — they’re usually listed on the website, or check out Startcon’s list of Australasian Statup Award Winners and start reading about the various companies. Ask yourself what your values are, what type of person do you want to be? who you admire? Why? For me this was always about purpose and impact at scale

Reach out to them on LinkedIn

For the sake of simplicity I’m going to assume that you’re looking for something in marketing/ social media. Once you’ve read a range of public articles they’ve posted and events they’ve spoken at, reach out to them with something like this.

Hey Priyanka, I’m a Deakin University (insert your university) student and super passionate about the startup space. I think {insert startup name} is a fantastic business in an exciting space. I noticed that your social media {make an observation about their social media}….I’m looking to take on board one startup to develop and execute a social media strategy committing X hours per week for free over X time. Could we grab coffee X date or X date, alternately a time that suits you would be fantastic. Look forward to hearing from you, thanks Rob”

Priyanka may never get back to you, that’s fine be persistent. There’s a difference between persistence and stalking, so remember don’t show up to her house. I once emailed someone 3 times and then called them up until they finally agreed to give me an internship — I was over the moon. Unless they’ve said no, they’re up for taking you on board. When I asked this person that they should develop an internship prorgam he said ‘no we’re okay with proactive people reaching out at this stage, we don’t have capacity to develop a formal program because we’re a small team’

The meeting

Remember to ask lots of questions, be curious. It’s not about you it’s about them, gain as much insight as posible. The number of times I’ve met students and they say “I want a job”, I’m not surprised they don’t get one. You need to bring value to to the business, especially in startups. Every team member often ends up doing a range of things and punching above their weight because they simply have to. Questions like

  • “What inspired you to start X”
  • “Who else is on your team” (depending on the size of the company)
  • ‘Where are you hoping to take the startup?”
  • “Are there immediate goals over the coming months I can help with?
  • Specific to what you can do for them i.e. “What channels are you using? Which ones are working for you? Why do you think that is”.

You’re on board! Now what?

Once you’re on board, remember to see through with this. Even if it is unpaid, it’s important you do a good job or give it your best go. I’ve now introduced a number of students to potential startups and the most disappointing thing is when they don’t even show up, you might not think much of it but it’s a small ecosystem and people definitely remember these things when it comes to your next job.

If you’re stuck and unsure — tap into resources, sign up to free online courses, listen to podcasts on marketing, read books on the topic (highly recommend Seth Godin) or find a mentor who is excellent in the same field and ask them. The main goal is to learn as fast as possible, it’s a training ground where you can execute different strategies and see what works.

Measure Measure Measure

You need to be able to demonstrate the value you added to that startup, ie you should be able to say at the end of the internship that when I started the sitatuation was X and whey I left it was Z.

For example it could be in May 2019 the page likes, engagament and reach was and in July there was a growth of 20–50–70% (whatever is feasible). It could also be improvements ie I noticed the way posting was managed was unstructured so I implemented a schedule and curated content for 2 weeks so it would automatically post. Or I wrote 15 articles which were read by X number of people. Whatever it is, you need to demonstrate that you add value. I’ve seen lots of people who ‘managed events’ or were ‘head of marketing’ for society/club/startup but when I ask them what they achieved they can’t articulate it — getting the positon is only 10% of the job, 90% is execution.

Paid or unpaid?

This is a sensitive topic, I did numerous unpaid internships though I always had a mentor who truly valued my input and gave me lots of feedback, advice and support. At one of my unpaid internships I simply showed up once a week and sat in on meetings where I observed and delivered a social media strategy, that’s all. I was meant to finish in 3 months, and I just kept showing up for 6 months because I loved everything I was learning.

I’ve written this assuming you have absolutely no experience, so you need to have a case study under your belt showing what value you offer. If you’re uncomfortable doing unpaid work at a startup, simply go with a not for profit or social enteprise — I highly recommend that.

Another way to showcase your work is to build your own following — your own personal blog, page, initiative etc. If you are doing unpaid, remember you should only do a limited number of hours and make sure you receive mentorship and guidance- though this is up to you to proactively seek, ask questions and especially ask for feedback. At Deakin you can enrol in a Work Integrated Learning unit, meaning it forms part of your degree.

Will they hire me?

Remember many startups are always hiring, even if they say they’re not. If you add value to the business, it’ll make sense for them to offer you a job (depending on their financial position). If not, you now have an excellent case study of how you add value to a company and you can take that to your next gig.

We’ll be organising an event in the coming weeks on this topic to help you specifically so keep an eye out for the SPARK Deakin newsletter.

*these are my personal views and not those of Deakin University.