Roughly one year ago, in April of 2011, I quit a promising job at a Fortune 100 company to find work at a startup. I had wanted to work on break-through technologies and be part of a starting team, but I lacked the programming skills that are necessary in most cases.. Over the next nine months I made various attempts to get a job at a company that would not only give me an income, but also give me opportunities to grow and impact the world. Many of my job searching techniques did not work, but I’ve compiled a list that helped me land an awesome position here at RJMetrics.
Learn to Program
One of the first things I did was to start boning up on programming for the web. I went through most chapters of Learn Python the Hard Way, skimmed The Bastard Book of Ruby and did every one of those interactive tutorials. It doesn’t matter what language or framework you choose. Learning anything is better than knowing nothing at all. If you mention that you went through Rails for Zombies, the interviewer is jotting down that you understand some basic knowledge of what is going on behind the scenes.
Don’t apply, ask for an introduction first
While you are thinking and working towards joining a company, you should also be cultivating meaningful relationships in your local startup scene. Go to meetups, hackathons and StartupWeekends. Heck, host a Startup Job Fair in your town. In the startup world it isn’t who you know, it is who knows you. This is a small world, and it only gets smaller when you make friends. When you see a job listing on craigslist for a startup position, send a text to the most well known guy in local startups to see if he would be ok with introducing you to the CEO. I did this once and had a job offer from a company 24 hours later.
Jump through hoops
We’ve highlighted our data-driven hiring process in the past. As someone who went through that process, I will tell you that there are tests and tasks to complete before you are even considered. It would be easy to ignore or half-heart them. We count on applicants to do that, and weed them out. We use Resumator.com to help organize our applicants. Resumator has a cool feature that has applicants enter a blurb about what makes them unique in 150 characters or less. Many applicants leave that field blank, or input “n/a”, instantly removing them from the candidate pool. I’ve included my 150 submission. Bob also let me know recently that the misspelling slipped past him. Yikes!
I take the initiative. I went on a Punch-Drunk-Love-pudding-like trip, compaired movies to hundreds of listeners, and had 3 kids in under 17 months.
At most small state startups, if you are not coding, you are most likely in a client facing position. This means a lot of emails, marketing copy and sometimes phone calls. Founders are looking for someone that can bridge the gap between the code and the marketing copy. The ability to communicate has to be evident throughout your candidate process. In your resume, emails, and interviews be diligent to be clear and make sense. Learn the art of active listening. Spellcheck everything. Be confident and honest. I wrote out a script for a voicemail I was going to leave for a founder. Then I practiced it, twice. You have to assume the level of scrutiny is high, because it is.
Be passionate and picky
When you are reaching out to your network and getting callbacks from startups, be clear about what you are passionate about. This starts with knowing what you love to do and not lying to yourself; it’s something that may take you years to discover, but start today. If you aren’t using twitter and think it is a fad, your network shouldn’t refer you to a social media company using twitter’s api.
I had a call with a sales and marketing company, and after the CEO explained what their market was, and what my role would be I told them I didn’t think we would be a fit. If I had continued the conversation and had the interview, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the job anyway. My lack of enthusiasm would have become apparent to the CEO, and if he had any smarts, he wouldn’t hire me. In contrast, when you interview at a company that is doing interesting things and facing complex issues that you can solve, the interviewer will make note of that as well. Being enthusiastic about things you like is a good thing.
My colleague Xiao used a tactic that exudes passion. When you come for the interview, bring a document that details all of the areas in the company that you could improve and how you would do it. I’ve since seen a video on this called “the briefcase technique” which is a great explanation of the presentation of this.
I wish you the best in your job search. Oh, by the way, RJMetrics is hiring!