How to get a Job at a Startup

January 18 2016 , 0 Comments

How to get a job at a startup - the definitive guide


If you’re looking to land a top job with a ground-breaking Startup firm, you’ll probably need to make some big changes to your job hunt strategy.

With their casual dress codes and quirky marketing tactics, you can understand why the traditional approach to job hunting might not cut it when you’re looking to get your foot in the door of a hot Startup like Hello Fresh, Uber, Deliveroo or AirBnb.

Looking beyond the beanbags and foosball tables in their offices, there is also plenty of exciting work on offer and the chance to contribute to innovative ideas that are disrupting entire industries.


Definition of a Startup


So how do you adapt your job hunting game to make sure you meet the new standards being set by these trendsetting organisations?

This guide will explain everything you need to impress a hot new Startup by looking at the following 3 areas:


Startup CV

1) Your Startup CV

The first section will cover the foundation of every successful job hunt; your CV. I will explain in detail how you can adapt your CV to look slick and modern whilst remaining remaining professional and packed with attractive skills and experience that Startups desperately need.


 Startup Job Search

2) Where to find Startup Jobs 

Startups aren't always advertising their best opportunities on the mainstream job boards, so this section will show you exactly where to find the latest vacancies. From niche Startup job websites to Startup job fairs and news sites, this section has plenty of sources to track down your ideal role.


 Startup Interview

3) Interviewing at Startups

Interviewing at any company is a daunting process, but the non-traditional reputation of the modern Startup can make preparation even more challenging. The interview section aims to address some of the most common candidate concerns and questions, such as; what to wear, what to know and how to prepare. 


    Your Startup CV

    Your CV is still your number one marketing tool when it comes to job hunting and above all, you need to make sure that it communicates the skills, experience and knowledge that your target employers are looking. But when it comes to Startups, you need to bend the standard rules of CV writing slightly to stand out and show the creativity and imagination that they need to bring new and innovative concepts to the world.


    Show some personality 

    Most Startup websites ooze personality. Take a look at US service network Startup TaskRabbit’s Careers and About pages for example. They go beyond explaining the services they offer and include a video about their founding story and lots of details on what it’s like to work in their offices. So try to reciprocate this in your CV and prove you would be a good culture fit for their team.

    Taskrabbit careers page

    So how do you show your personality in your CV without losing your professionalism?

    i) Beef up your interests

    Usually I wouldn’t recommend writing too much about your hobbies and interest in your CV but Startups have a greater emphasis on team fit and “building a family” rather than just hiring someone to get a job done. So let them know what you’re about by including some unique and interesting things about yourself. Maybe you’ve travelled, maybe you’ve competed in big sports events, maybe you’ve done some great volunteer work… Let them know. If one or more of your interests could be considered work related, then you could even mention them at the top of your CV, in your profile or core skills section.

    ii) Show your community spirit

    With a strong focus on team bonding, most Startups put a lot of effort into community learning and social events. If you have experience of organising team nights out for your previous employers or supporting regular training initiatives, then be sure to mention them.


    Modernise your CV design

    Slick and minimalistic design have become a hallmark of the modern Startup. Just take a look at Spotify’s UK career page below.

    Spotify career page design

    So if you want to create an instant first impression on a Startup recruiter, try something a little more eye catching than your basic professional CV design. One easy way to liven up your standard CV is to simply add a bit of colour and use a slightly more contemporary font to create a high impact CV.

    The picture below shows a professional CV format that we would use at StandOut CV when a candidate is applying to a more traditional firm (top) and the simple changes we would make to the design if the same candidate wanted to apply to a Startup firm (below).

    Traditional CV vs Startup CV

    These changes aren't hard to make but they give the CV a much more Startup-style look and feel.

    The focus of your CV should still be the content, so I wouldn’t recommend going overboard with logos and charts as they can distract from the main message… your skills and knowledge. Be sure to keep the CV in Microsoft Word format too as it’s still the most widely used and compatible format in the recruitment world.


    Show some entrepreneurial spirit

    Startups are born of entrepreneurs so they like to hire people with the same strong work ethic and problem solving attitude. AirBnB’s founder page shows how important entrepreneurship has been to their success by telling you a bit about their founders.

    airbnb founder page

    Add some entrepreneurial flair to your CV by showing some pro-active and innovative things you’ve done in the past. Entrepreneurship can be shown in many forms from running a small side-line business, working as a freelancer, or even setting up and running new initiatives for your past employers.


    Demonstrate in-demand skills

    Obviously skills required will vary depending on the role you’re applying for and the company in question, but some skills are in constant high demand in the Startup world. It’s unlikely that one person will have all of these skills but if you can highlight just one or two, you will look like a credible candidate to a Startup. These skills don’t always have to come directly from employed work experience, you can also demonstrate them through education, training courses taken, freelance work, personal projects or volunteering.

    Graphic & Web Design
    Startups need to make sure they are making the right impression on customers and investors, so clean and attractive design is paramount. Design skills are crucial when it comes to the production of websites, content and marketing material.

    Web & App Development
    It goes without saying that every serious Startup needs a good team of developers, especially if they are building new websites and bringing complex customer mobile apps to market. Coding is a valuable skill and there are lots of free courses online to get you started these days.

    Good writers are essential when spreading the word about a new product or service so copywriting skills are essential for Startups. Most firms produce regular blog posts as well writing guest articles for magazines and newspapers, so there is lots of writing work on offer.

    Social Media Management
    Creating a social buzz around products and services is paramount to the success of any Startup. Experience of managing an organisation’s social accounts, engaging fans and driving likes and shares will look great on your CV.

    Customer Service
    Good old fashioned customer service is still an important part of any business when it comes to retaining customers and building reputation. If you’ve got excellent people skills and have the power to turn customers into fans then make it known.

    Search Engine Optimization is the process of ensuring that a website is highly ranked in search engines like Google and Bing. Even the most basic SEO knowledge can be valuable to a Startup as they want to be on the first page of Google as quickly as they can.

    Data Analysis
    With limited funds and huge growth targets, Startups have to watch their figures very carefully. Data analysis of customer behaviour, sales, revenue etc. plays a huge role in decision making and can literally make or break a business.

    One thing a Startup cannot live without is revenue, if they fail to generate any income in the early stages then they simply won’t survive. Selling a new product or service from a relatively unknown company can be tough, so strong sales people are always welcome at Startups


    Have a social presence

    Startups are known for their huge social presence; whether it’s hundreds of thousands of twitter followers or viral content being shared on Facebook. Social proof is the confirmation we seek from others to decide whether we trust a person or organisation. For example if you’re thinking about booking a holiday in a certain hotel, you will usually check out a few of their reviews on Tripadvisor before committing.

    Modern firms like Startups now look for social proof of candidate’s abilities to back up claims made on their CV.

    A great way to boost your social presence is by having a strong LinkedIn profile with a big network and plenty of recommendations. Take the time to fill your LinkedIn profile with all of your in-demand skills and connect with all of your current and previous colleagues. Contact as many ex-managers as you can and ask them to recommend you publicly on your profile to back up the claims that you make about yourself. The majority of recruiters will search for you on LinkedIn now, and recommendations are exactly the sort of trust signal they are looking for to give them the confidence to bring you on board.


    Where to Find Startup Jobs

    Startups do advertise on a lot of the big name job boards like Reed and Monster, but if you want to gain access to a wider range of Startup vacancies in the pursuit of the perfect role, there’s a few more places you can check out too.


    UK Startup job boards

    As Startups have grown in popularity amongst UK job hunters, a number of specialist job boards that solely advertise vacancies at Startups have been created to meet the demand. I've listed a few below to get you started.



    In their own words, is “where startups meet rockstar employees”

    Employers include: Gousto, Bloom & Wild, MyBuilder and

    Vacancies include: Games Developer, Growth Marketer, Events & Talent Intern and Office Superhero


    Logo 2

    Focusing on UK based opportunities, provide fresh vacancies to your inbox every Monday when you sign up with them.

    Employers include: Football Radar, PlayGen, Ihateironing and Qubit

    Vacancies Include: Supreme Growth Hacker, Digital Marketing Manager Web Designer and Lead Developer


    Logo 3

    With a dedicated technology job board, have mainly technical vacancies from all over the world and even details of upcoming job fairs.

    Employers Include: GoEuro, Babbel, TaskRabbit and BillPay

    Vacancies Include: Software Engineer, Frontend Developer and Mobile Marketing Manager



    Although not strictly a Startup job site, Hired are disrupting the employment market and changing the way we approach recruitment. Instead of hunting through lists of job vacancies, Hired allows you to upload your CV to their database, where company recruiters seek you out and send you offers.

    Employers include: Uber, GitHub, Evernote and Groupon


    You can still find plenty of Startups advertising on the mainstream job websites too, so don’t limit your search to just the sites above.


    Startup job fairs

    Attending job fairs is a great way to find out about exciting new employers on the scene and get some direct face time with hiring managers and senior industry figures. You will have to scout around to find good fairs in your area but I’ve included a couple of the best ones here.

    Silicon Milkroundabout

    Milkroundabout Job Fair

    After holding their first event in a pub in 2011, Silicon Milkroundabout has become London’s biggest tech job fair, attracting scores of exciting and disruptive employers from across the globe. Although a tech event by name, Milkroundabout host a big percentage of Startups as well as a number of more well established brands. They hold 2 events a year which are usually hosted in an uber-cool venue in a trendy part of London. Find out when the next fair is taking place.


    Check out TechMeetups for a listing of upcoming tech Startup job fairs from across the world.


    Keep an eye on the news

    Due to their disruptive and innovative activities, Startups are often being featured in the mainstream media. So keep an eye on the news and also check out the following sites for the low down on the latest and greatest Startups coming onto the scene.


    TC Logo

    Tech news mega-blog TechCrunch is goldmine of information when it comes to technology, Startups, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. Follow TechCrunch on twitter and check their site regularly to learn about new Startups and find out what’s really happening in the Startup world.

    Check out their dedicated Startup section and their Unicorn Leaderboard – a table of private companies with valuations of over $1bn (AKA a huge list of potential employers to approach)


    SU Logo is an excellent resource for information on UK based Startups. The site is geared towards entrepreneurs who are looking to start their own business, which means it is packed with articles on upcoming Startups and gives some great insights in to the workings of a modern Startup firm.


    Job Alerts


    Interviewing at Startups

    Interviewing at any firm can be a scary process, but interviewing at a Startup can be even more terrifying as most candidates just aren’t sure what to expect. Will it be formal? Will it be casual? What should you wear? What sort of questions will they ask? I’ll aim to cover all of the most common concerns in this section.


    What to wear

    One of the biggest questions around interviewing with a Startup is what to wear on the day. You’ve been told all your life that you should wear your best suit and tie to job interviews, but you know that most Startups have a casual dress code and you don’t want them to think that a corporate banker has strayed into their office when you turn up in a bold pinstripe number.

    No corporate suits

    Startup dress code will differ from company to company, so before making your final wardrobe decision, do some simple online research.


    Look on the company website

    Most Startups love to show off what life is like behind the scenes at their firm, so they often share pictures of their employees at work on their About or Career pages. Take a look at Babbel’s career page, they have lots of pictures of their staff in their offices and you can get an idea of their dress code very quickly.

    Babbel dress code


    Look on LinkedIn

    Most modern Startups (especially in the tech sector) will have their employees listed on LinkedIn and many will have their profile picture taken at work. Search for the company on LinkedIn and scan through a few of their employee profiles to get a feel for the dress sense.

    Try to focus on the people who work in the department you are applying to as you may find that dress code will vary across business areas – for example the developers may wear t-shirts while the client facing sales staff may wear shirts.


    Be Cautious

    Even if you’re 99% sure that all of their employers work in near lounge-wear attire, I still wouldn’t advise going completely gung-ho with the dress code and turning up in a round neck t-shirt and jogging bottoms. It’s still an interview and you want to show that you’re serious about the job. As a minimum I would suggest wearing a casual collared shirt/top with smart jeans for a safe bet.

    If you’re still unsure about the company dress code and think that the jacket and tie is still the best option – then go for it, but put a slightly more casual and trendy slant on your outfit like the guy and girl below.

    They are slightly cheesy stock photos but hopefully you get the idea :)

    Mens interview startup dress

    Guys; swap the suit trousers for chinos and go for a casual blazer with contrasting waistcoat. Finish the look with a knitted tie and fabric document case (beard optional but possibly preferred)


    Girls; ditch the power suit and try donning a boldly coloured blazer with a plain top and smart jeans. You could even opt for a collared shirt if you wanted to smarten it up further.


    Know their story

    Startup founders and employees are usually very passionate about their business and the work they do to solve their customers’ problems. Recipe delivery firm Hello Fresh even have a whole page dedicated to their story and how they've grown since their launch.

    Hellofresh story

    When interviewing with any company it’s important to do your research but Startups tend to put a lot more value in a person who shares their vision and enthusiasm for their cause. Scour their website and search news channels for mentions of the company and their founders to get a complete view of their story and goals.

    If possible you could even try out one of their products or services to gain a better understanding of them, and then mention how you did this in your interview for extra brownie points.


    Cover the basics

    Once you’ve adapted your interview approach, don’t forget the interview preparation basics.
    You still need to understand the following

    • The role requirements and how your skills match them
    • Your weaknesses and how you will minimise their impact
    • Common interview questions and how to answer them
    • What you want to ask the interviewer
    • Why you want to work with the company
    • What your career plans are

    Much of these topics are covered in our interview blog.


    Adapt to Land Your Dream Startup Job

    In much the same way that they have disrupted the industries they operate in, Startups are also disrupting the job hunting landscape and throwing up new challenges to hopeful candidates. While traditional job search methods are still effective, you will find that implementing some of the adaptions above will really help if you are specifically trying to target Startup firms.

    The key to landing a role with a Startup is to look in the right places and mirror some of their quirky style while remaining professional and competent. Once you’ve got your foot in the door, you will open yourself up to a wealth of opportunities and hopefully have a lot of fun along the way.

    Good luck and happy job hunting

    If you have any comments, tips or resources for Startup job hunting, let us know in the comments below.

    Leave a comment

    Comments have to be approved before showing up