Matt Cynamon, Author at General Assembly Blog

About Matt Cynamon

Matt Cynamon has been hired to work at startups, hired dozens of people to work at startups, and helped tens of thousands of people land their first job at a startup. Matt was hired as one of General Assembly’s first employees, in 2012, and he successfully launched and ran our second-ever campus, in London. He later moved back to the U.S. to become GA’s global alumni director. In 2016, Matt left GA to join the founding team of a startup called Circles, which builds programs and software that make it easy for people to connect deeply and have conversations that help them grow as people and professionals.

6 Tips on How to Get a Job at a Startup

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How to narrow your focus, get a leg up on the competition, and look like the most prepared person in the room.

A job-search thesis is a great tool to tell people what you’re looking for in a job.

The following is an adapted excerpt from How to Get a Job at a Startup, an exclusive General Assembly eBook by startup founder and former GA leader Matt Cynamon.

Working for a startup company can be one of the most challenging, exhilarating, sometimes heartbreaking, and oftentimes fulfilling journeys of your life. But wanting in and breaking into this competitive industry are two different things. Landing an opportunity at a startup is about more than luck. There are terms to learn, steps to take, and a skill set to grow from to make you a candidate who stands out from an established crowd.

Whether you’re a recent college graduate, someone with 10 years of executive-level experience, recently completed a career accelerator program, or are just making a jump from a more traditional work background, there is a pathway to a dream job at a startup for everyone. While there’s no foolproof method for landing a job, we’ve compiled six proven tips that can help you narrow your focus, get a leg up on the competition, and look like the most prepared person in the room.

1. People can get you further than job boards.

One of the nice surprises about the startup businesses is how supportive and helpful some of the people are. In every city, leaders in grassroots startup communities host events, give educational talks, make introductions, and offer advice. These individuals can serve as your early guides as you start out on your journey.

If you’re just breaking into the startup world, you may not have a strong network to draw upon. That’s OK. Go to events, meet people, and listen. As a new entrant into the community you might feel like you have little to offer in return, but one of the biggest favors you can do for someone is just ask them questions about their work. Don’t be too forceful, but where appropriate, invite people for a coffee. It may seem intuitive, but being generally interested in others and what they do will help you foster relationships that aren’t only valuable, but fulfilling.

When it comes time for you to start applying, warm introductions from someone within the community will go much further than a resume submitted on a job board. Founders often cite hiring as the biggest obstacle to successfully growing their company. It’s a timely and difficult process that they love to circumvent with a nice, warm introduction to top talent (aka you).

One of the most common mistakes people make when trying to get introductions is assuming that if people don’t get back to you, hope is lost. Be prepared for repeated failure. Ninety percent of people will say they want to help you. Ten percent actually will. Why most people don’t follow through is due to a variety of factors, but just know it’s rarely about you. If you go into every conversation with this attitude, you will more easily be able to sustain your energy when your inbox sounds like crickets.

2. Polish your elevator pitch with a job-search thesis.

We’re living in an age of self-driving cars, private spaceships, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, on-demand everything — and startups often lie at the center of these innovations. It’s completely normal for someone starting on their journey to want to be a part of all of it. While you will encounter many people who are willing to help you in your job hunt, you need to make it easy for them to do so. To that end, nothing will get you further than clarity and focus.

When you tell people what you are looking for, you want them to think, “I know who you should talk to.” The easiest way to get there is to distill what you’re looking for into three distinct points. We call this a job-search thesis.

The best job-search thesis will contain:

  • Your desired company size.
  • Your preferred industry.
  • Your desired role.

For example, if you can tell someone at a cocktail party, “I want to work as a product manager at post-Series A company in the fashion industry,” there’s a good chance they’ll remember you the next time they hear about a PM role at a company that makes smart athletic gear. Speaking about yourself with that level of specificity will instantly make connections in the mind of whomever you find yourself talking to.

3. Got experience? Great. Not so much? Then make it.

If you are moving into the startup world from a career in a different industry or type of role, make sure to play up your relevant experience. If you feel like your job title really doesn’t translate to the position for which you’re applying, break apart the components of your current role into the factors that would be relevant at a startup. For example, if you were a lawyer then you likely have strong attention to detail, analytical problem-solving skills, an ability to explain complex problems to many stakeholders, a strong work ethic, and a history of achievement. These are all things startup founders would want out of product management. This exercise is especially important for more senior individuals trying to move into the startup world.

Of course, you don’t have to rely only on your previous experience — the best candidates never do. Fortunately, the rules around experience have shifted and there are ways for you to start developing skills within a given field even if you’ve never worked in that field before.

Even opening an account on Medium.com and writing commentary on the industry you’re interested in can go a long way. Coupling this level of initiative with your previous (or nonexistent) work experience is the best way to demonstrate your talents and potential. In addition to gaining relevant skills that will assist you in a new role, you’ll appear to be both passionate about the subject matter and a knowledgeable self-starter who practices it in your spare time.

Let’s say you’re really interested in doing digital marketing for a fashion tech company. For less than $50 you can start running Facebook advertisements for a friend’s T-shirt website, cultivating skills in running paid social media campaigns. If you want to do UX design for an eCommerce startup, you can publish a series of UX critiques about popular eCommerce sites on a blog. Engineers rarely depend on resumes alone anymore; they demonstrate their experience by publishing their code to GitHub. 

4. Do your homework. Then, do some more.

With a solid network, clear thesis, and foundation of experience, it’s only a matter of time before you start landing interviews. Most recruiters will tell you at this point to spend 12 hours preparing for an interview. We think that’s child’s play. You aren’t interviewing to be a cog in a massive corporate machine. You are being assessed on whether the founder or manager would bet the future of their budding company on you. Make them comfortable — and confident in you — by being the most prepared person in the room.

Find founders on Twitter, LinkedIn, or in the blogosphere and consume every bit of content you can find. The information you’ll find there is priceless because you will gain a deep understanding of how founders think and feel about the world. You can even head to Facebook and see if you have any mutual friends. Does all of this seem a little overboard? Perhaps, but startups expect a different level of commitment than many traditional careers. So if this sounds like a lot, you’ll be in for a big surprise once the job begins.

5. Play the numbers game. Ask metrics-driven questions.

In an interview with a startup, you really have three goal goals: 1) Clearly communicate why you’re capable of doing the job, 2) be the most passionate person in the room, and 3) ask the best questions. You certainly should ask standard interview questions, like “What makes someone successful in this role?” or “What will the first 90 days look like?” But what you really want to do in the interview is discover the metrics the company cares most about.

Sure, a company’s public brand may be all about changing the world, but we can guarantee that every night before they go to bed and every morning after they wake up, the person interviewing you is checking a dashboard with a handful of key metrics, such as cost to acquire a customer, lifetime value of a customer, net promoter score, or churn. When they leave your interview, they’ll probably check it again.

Metrics dictate performance, and in the uncertain conditions in which startups live, having insight into how well the business is doing is essential for a small team that has a lot of impact.

When you go into your interview, don’t be afraid to ask:

  • What metrics are you checking daily?
  • What metrics are you checking weekly?
  • What metrics are you checking monthly?
  • What do you see as the biggest levers for improving those metrics?
  • How are you doing against your goals?
  • How can this role help you get there faster?

The answer to those questions will give you everything you need to know to position yourself as the best fit for the job. For example, if you’re applying for a marketing job and learn in the interview that high product churn is keeping the founder up at night, you can follow up with an email with three ideas on how the company can immediately improve retention.

6. Pay attention to startup funding cycles.

Fundraising impacts everything about a startup, and understanding it can also serve as a huge advantage for you in your job hunt. When you read that a startup raised $15 million, it’s safe to assume it isn’t looking for a safe, high-yielding savings account to put it in. The company is going to put almost every cent to work by increasing marketing, improving the product, and, most importantly building the team it needs to take the business to the next level. There is literally no time when the ground is more fertile for you to land a job than immediately after a startup raises money. So it’s on you to stay on top of the news.

TechCrunch is an excellent resource for keeping up with fundraising news. The site will report on just about every dollar raised in the startup world. If you’re interested in a particular company, set up Google Alerts so you can be the first to know whenever a new round of funding comes in. If you want to be ahead of the curve, AngelList has a directory of all startups looking to raise their first round of funding. It’s also an excellent job board.

These tips are just a start — for more expert insight, download our free guide, How to Get a Job at a Startup. Discover firsthand tips on how to break into a startup career, clear up confusing industry jargon, and learn about important resources that will aid you on your journey. Good luck!

A Guide to Startup Compensation

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f you’re pursuing a job at a startup company, one of the most important factors you’ll need to consider is compensation, which is commonly structured differently than at more mature companies. This is largely dependent on the life stage of a company, which can greatly impact compensation, as well as work-life balance, risk, and upside.

Compensation at a startup company is largely made up of three components: salary, benefits, and equity. The value of each depends on the stage of a company’s growth, the role, and an employee’s previous experience. A good rule of thumb, though, is this: The earlier a stage the company is in, the lower the salary and benefits will be, but the higher the equity will be. As the company matures, the scales start to tip in the other direction. Let’s talk in a bit more detail about each of these.

Salary

As mentioned above, salary is largely contingent on the company’s stage, the role, and the employee’s previous experience. There is no one-size-fits-all here. At an earlier-stage company, you can almost certainly expect a lower salary than the industry norm, regardless of your previous experience. As the company matures, the salaries of all positions start to get closer and closer to market rate. If you’re curious what to expect, we recommend playing with the salaries and equity tool by AngelList or researching salary ranges at specific companies on Glassdoor.

Benefits

Benefits at a startup are also largely dependent on stage. If good benefits are important to you, then an early-stage startup is likely the wrong place to work. However, as a startup grows, its benefits often become an extension of its culture and are used in all recruiting efforts. Take, for instance, Airbnb, which offers a $2,000 travel stipend to all employees. Other startups may allow pets at the office, or offer gym and other discounts, catered lunches, generous vacation policies, or flexible remote-working options.

Equity: Stock and Vesting Schedules

Equity is often the most confusing and intriguing part of a compensation package at a startup. Equity refers to ownership of the company, and this can be extremely valuable if the company ever sells or goes public (learn more about startup fundraising here and in our eBook, How to Get a Job at a Startup).

What’s important to know here is that no employee is ever “given” equity. Instead, employees often receive stock options, which are the option to purchase equity in the company at a heavily discounted price. You also are not given all of your stock options up front; rather, you earn an increasing amount of options over a four-year period. That four-year period is often referred to as a vesting schedule. The typical vesting schedule gives you one-fourth of your options at the end of your first year, and then 1/48th every month after that. Once your options vest, you have the right to purchase them (or not).

Getting into a company early has a big impact on the amount of stock options you receive and at what price. If you join a company early, you are often rewarded with a higher number of options at a much lower price. As the company matures, the risk gets lower and its ability to pay market-rate salaries improve, so you will typically receive fewer stock options and at a higher purchase price.

The benefit of purchasing your options is that eventually — fingers crossed — the company will sell or go public and you will get a big payday. For example, early Instagram employees turned their stock options into an average profit of nearly $8 million! And there’s the famous example of the Facebook muralist who was compensated in stock options that were eventually worth north of $200 million. Of course, these examples are far on the ludicrous side of the scale, and many people don’t make any money from stock options — but risky or not, they’re part of what makes joining a startup so exciting.

How to Negotiate Your Startup Offer

There are special considerations to make when negotiating your compensation at a startup. Macia Batista, a career coach at General Assembly’s New York campus, walks you through essential steps for building your ideal job offer.

  • Know your minimum number. Leverage sites like PayScale and Glassdoor to learn to learn what employers in your city are paying for similar roles and industries. Do your research ahead of time to fully understand the fair market value for the position, taking into account background and experience. Know your worth!
  • Provide a salary range. Determine a range for yourself, then ask for the upper half of it, so you can negotiate down if needed. Giving a range demonstrates flexibility. It gives you the opportunity to ask for more when an offer is presented, and negotiate other variables, like 401k contribution, remote work options, or vacation days. Tell the hiring manager, “I’m targeting roles with a range of X, but I’m focused on the entirety of the package including culture, growth, and mission.”
  • Consider the whole package — not just salary. Compensation goes beyond your paycheck. When weighing a job offer, look at factors like bonuses, equity, health care and retirement plans, transportation costs, schedule flexibility (e.g., working from home and vacation time), and potential for growth at the company.
  • Ensure your pay increases with funding. If you’re joining an early-stage startup, equity (stock options) is oftentimes part of the compensation package, since these offers often fall below market salary. However, you should be be earning a fair market-value salary as soon as the company raises real money. I recommend signing a written agreement with your employer to guarantee a pay increase once the company has more capital.

How to Land Your Dream Startup Job

Working in the startup world can be one of the most challenging, exhilarating, sometimes heartbreaking, and oftentimes fulfilling journeys of your life. But before you find first startup job, there are terms to learn, steps to take, and skills to grow to make you a candidate who stands out from the crowd.

In our eBook, How to Get a Job at a Startup, we’ll help you find your dream startup job through the knowledge of startup job-hunters, founders, and employers. Get firsthand tips on how to break into a startup career, clear up confusing industry jargon, and learn about important resources that will aid you on your journey.

General Assembly believes that everyone should be empowered to pursue work they love. We hope you’ll find this book to be a helpful first step in getting there yourself.

How to Land a Job at a Startup

Learn how to start your journey with our exclusive guide.

Get the eBook

What Are Common Startup Job Titles and Roles?

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It takes a village to raise a startup — or at least a few dedicated individuals who can do a village’s worth of work. At a growing company, roles and duties can change quickly, and many startup employees end up wearing a lot of hats as they tackle the most important needs for the business at any given moment.

Here’s a glance at some of the key roles and skill sets that drive most startups.

Founder

The founder is the person (or people) who starts the company. Some founders, like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, stay with the organization for long, or permanently, after it takes off. However, it’s not uncommon for a founder to leave at any stage of the startup’s life. Founders come from diverse career backgrounds, but what they all have in common is an entrepreneurial spirit, some level of business acumen, and a clear product vision. Startup founders don’t need to be experts in web developmentUX design, or the other disciplines below, but they should have a high-level understanding of the key skills needed to launch a tech-driven business. In order to see their vision through, founders should be strong leaders who can guide their company through funding, staffing, and scaling.

Web Development

While designers create the professional look and feel of a website or web app, web developers generate the code that makes it work. The technology that supports eCommerce sites, blogs, social networks, video streaming services, and more is built by developers.

  • Key skills: Front-end web development (HTMLCSSJavaScriptresponsive designJSON, AJAX, AngularJS), back-end web development (Ruby on RailsAPIs, Node.js, Heroku, MongoDB), collaboration, problem-solving, product development, programming fundamentals
  • Popular job titles: Chief technology officer, VP of engineering, senior web developer, junior web developer, software developer, full-stack engineer, mobile developer

User Experience (UX) Design

UX designer determines the interaction experience of a user with a website, app, device, or piece of software. It’s all about anticipating a user’s needs when using a product, and ensuring an intuitive, impactful, and delightful experience.

  • Key skills: User research, interaction design, interface design, wireframing, prototypingusability testingcustomer journey mapping, card sorting, information architectureaffinity mappingservice design, product design, collaboration, working with clients
  • Popular job titles: UX designer, user interface (UI) designer, product designer, user researcher, information architect

Product Management

Product managers are like mini CEOs. They are responsible for identifying market opportunities, defining the product being built, and determining the return on investment. They conduct customer interviews, user testing, and data analysis, and distill the insights gained into an implementable strategy. They then lead the product team to bring that strategy to life.

  • Key skills: Customer development, Agile and Lean methodologiesSWOT analysis, communication, prototypinguser interviews, wireframing and storyboarding, business model design, market research, project management, pricing and financial modeling
  • Popular job titles: Chief product officer, product manager, product lead, product owner

Data Science and Analysis

Data experts organize and collect data from a variety of sources, evaluate it, derive insights from it, and make actionable recommendations to drive the business.

  • Key skills: Pythonmachine learningSQL, UNIX, Git, R, TableauExcel, modeling techniques, data visualization, big data, natural language processing, statistics, critical thinking, storytelling and presentation skills
  • Popular job titles: Data scientist, data analyst, quantitative researcher, machine learning engineer, data science analyst, data engineer.

Digital Marketing

Digital marketers combine traditional marketing tactics with new technologies. Their domains include areas like social media, search engine optimization, online advertising, and content creation. The best digital marketers often utilize both creative and quantitative skills.

  • Key skills: Email marketingbrandingcontent strategysocial mediapaid social, customer relationship management (CRM), search engine marketing (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO), marketing analytics, business strategy
  • Popular job titles: Chief marketing officer, director of digital marketing, digital marketing manager, email marketing manager, digital marketing coordinator, content producer, content marketer, content strategist, social media manager

How to Land a Job at a Startup

Working in the startup world can be one of the most challenging, exhilarating, sometimes heartbreaking, and oftentimes fulfilling journeys of your life. But landing an opportunity at a startup is about more than luck. In order to break in, it helps to know the ins and outs of the startup world, and the steps to take to become a candidate who stands out from the crowd — plus some of the skills mentioned above.

In our eBook, How to Get a Job at a Startup, you’ll get a concise how-to guide for finding your dream job at a startup, through the knowledge of startup job-hunters, founders, and employers. Discover firsthand tips on how to break into a startup career, clear up confusing industry jargon, and learn about important resources that will aid you on your journey.

General Assembly believes that everyone should be empowered to pursue work they love. We hope you’ll find this book to be a helpful first step in getting there yourself.

Launch your career in startups

Learn how to start your journey with our exclusive guide.

Get the eBook