How To Get A Job At A Startup
“There are a number of ways to do it but two of our portfolio companies recently told me about people that wanted to work for their companies so badly they offered to work for free for a month. These folks had the self confidence and belief that after a month the company would fall in love with their determination, talent, personality and contribution.”
I was one of those folks and today I start work with Boxee, NY. Here’s what I’d recommend to others.
Find A Place You Really Want To Work.
Find somewhere that you’re inspired to work. Don’t just settle for ‘a startup’, go and find a company that you believe in. When small companies hire, there’s a huge emphasis on making sure any new additions to the team are a good fit. You’re going to be working hard for long stretches in close quarters and you want to be able to look over to the desk beside you and like and trust the person you’re working with. This is much moreso the case at a startup than in bigger companies. If you love the company, you’ll have more energy and enthusiasm and curiosity. This will make you a better workmate.
Be Clear In Your Pitch.
Startups are short on time. Your pitch to get a job needs to be absolutely clear so that whoever’s agreeing can understand straight away what you’re offering. After calling Zach and letting him know my intentions, this was my pitch:
“I am writing to suggest that I join Boxee in its New York office for 2 weeks. I will cover flights, expenses and accommodation. You have no obligation to employ me after the two week period. We can sort everything else out in the coming weeks.”
All they had to do was say ‘OK’.
Don’t worry about a resume, just build something.
Every decent startup gets a flood of resumes every week. I was lucky, in that my resume was the We Are Hunted app on Boxee. That was the proof of my capabilities. If you want to work at a startup I’d advise you don’t work too much on your resume and instead work on building something you love or that’s useful to you. By building something useful, you have tangible proof of what you are capable of doing what value you can bring to an organisation.
Just get in the door.
I offered to work for free and I think it’s the right choice if you really believe in the company. Startups don’t need extra, unplanned overhead, so expect to go unpaid while you prove your value. There are downsides to working for free, but I looked at it like this: Boxee has hundreds of people wanting to work for them and no time to sift through every application they receive. I knew the only way I could differentiate myself was by being there, in the room, in conversations and doing things. I figured that once I was in the door they’d at least have a chance to see me up close. If it didn’t work out, I’d still be spending two weeks working with a brilliant startup. There was no downside.
Think like a founder.
Ask yourself, ‘if I was running a company and someone came to me looking for a job, what would I want?’ I didn’t ‘need’ a job so I didn’t see any value in bluffing them with who I was or what I wanted. As much as the two week trial was about them getting to know me, in a sense it was also about me evaluating them to see if they were a company I wanted to work with. I was open about that and I think it helped because it took the pressure off. There were no pretenses and all we had to do was figure out honestly if this was a mutually good fit.
Listen in and find somewhere you can become useful.
Startups are always short on time. There is always something that isn’t getting done that someone could do. This puts you at a great advantage when you’re trying to find a job at a startup because you can ask questions, sit in on meetings and listen in to people’s conversations until you hear someone say, “I just don’t think I have time for that right now”. That’s when you come in with the words “I’ll do it.” If you say those words enough times, pretty soon you’ll be indispensable.
In the end, it took a few weeks before I could start. And then I stuck around working longer than the two weeks we’d planned and then it took another few weeks after that for a job offer to be made and another few months to get started. You need to be patient in this process. There’s a thousand other drains on the startup’s time and you need to fit in around them. For lots of people, especially those who ‘need’ a job, this is not possible. But the more patient you are, the more likely it is you’ll end up where you want to be.
Ask for what you want.
It all starts by asking for what you want. Pick up the phone, connect with someone in the company and explain your intentions without fear of failure. As Paul Graham says:
“Fear of failure is an extraordinarily powerful force. Usually it prevents people from starting things, but once you publish some definite ambition, it switches directions and starts working in your favor.”
Originally published at nickcrocker.com on May 24, 2010.