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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!

From Phone to Mailbox: General Assembly Grads Reinvent the Traditional Postcard with Pennypost

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pennypost

When General Assembly students graduate from their course — whether it’s user experience design or data science — it’s always exciting (and sometimes surprising) to see the range of products and passions that actualize as a result. In the case of Nathan Maas, a Web Development Immersive alumnus of GA Seattle, the product was an idea called pennypost. The passion? Connecting the world with homemade digital postcards that are easy to send and share.

Nathan — who took a range of night classes in product management, front-end development, and data science at GA before choosing WDI — developed a web (and soon-to-be iPhone) app, pennypost, which was inspired by his travels to nearly fifty countries across the globe. Though he bought postcards everywhere he went with the intention of sending them home, constraints like time, postage, and tracking down mailing addresses, meant he never actually sent them. An idea was born.

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Swipe Right for a New Job: How Career Networking Just Got A Lot Like Dating

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New job app from Earnest

Technology has changed the game for job hunters. It has eliminated the need for newspaper classifieds, paper resumes, envelopes, and stamps. Today, you can fire off dozens of resumes in just one sitting.

While it’s easier than ever to feel like you’re actively applying, resumes too often end up in an abyss. As it turns out, the old-fashioned (and time-consuming) way of job searching — networking with other people — is still the most useful way to land a great gig. There’s just one problem for modern job seekers: making contact isn’t easy if you’re siloed in your office for eight to ten hours a day.

Entrepreneur Brian Ma set out to solve precisely this dilemma — using an app, of course. Enter Weave.

“The least effective way [to get a job] is to submit a resume, and the most effective is to meet someone,” he says.

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Top Personality Traits of Every Successful Startup Founder

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women in tech discuss product management skills

Photo: WOC in Tech

A recent University of Phoenix survey showed that 63% of 20-somethings have a strong desire to start a business. That’s a great first step: desire. But what else does it take to start a business that is sustainable? Since 1999, right around the time many of these 20-somethings were born, I’ve started seven businesses. Five of them failed. In that time, I’ve learned from experience what it takes to be a startup founder. 

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5 Key Steps to Learning From Failure

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learn from failure

When we hear or say the words “fail” or “failure” in relation to all things tech, we generally conjure up images of locked doors, garage sales of office supplies, empty chairs and desks, and a battle for the best developers who are now on the job market. But there’s more to it than that, and in every startup failure, there are more details than most of us will ever know about because we weren’t there. We can only watch from the sidelines and make armchair quarterback calls about what we would have done differently.

But how do we actually learn from failure? It’s too often a platitude like “we only learn when we fail,” but that doesn’t help the person or startup that just failed. What we need is a tangible process or exercise to walk through – painstakingly – to make sure that we do indeed learn from each and every failure, regardless of how small or how epic. That process is outlined below. Continue reading

Meet the Founder of Bookmarq, An App To Help You Find Recommendations From Friends

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Mike Eidlin

Not even the bright lights of Tokyo and a solid internship in finance could keep Mike from his dreams of starting a business. After learning to code in our Web Development Immersive, he started Bookmarq, an app that allows you to find book recommendations from peers and thought leaders.

Check out Mike’s app, Bookmarq.

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How To build an MVP in 60 days

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James-photo

After a failed attempt at starting a carpool company between 2011 and 2013 in Beijing, I found myself back in the States job searching for startup gigs in the Greater Seattle Area.

Having graduated from the University of Washington with a non-computer science degree, many technical positions were often out of reach.

So during my job search, I started working on a side project to brush up on my technical skills; and I decided that if I was going to build something, it had to fit the following criteria:

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Music Lover Launches an Accelerator For Aspiring Artists

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Clayton Janes loves music and classic British cars (as you can see in his photograph). Being in the music industry for nearly twelve years, he’s decided to start The Music Accelerator, an accelerator program designed specifically for aspiring artists. After mastering his coding skills, he’s on to his next venture: growing the business and bringing exposure to new talent.

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Better Than LinkedIn? GA Grad Builds New Professional Networking App

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Renuka Agarwal

Who says you can’t find a job on your phone? Companies have been dabbling in mobile networking for years now, and Renuka Agarwal thinks she can do it better. With her newfound back-end web development skills, she launched BOND, a user-friendly mobile app that makes networking easy and fun.

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3 Lean Startup Tips for Building Your Business

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Eric Ries's lean startup book

Image courtesy of Betsy Weber via Flickr

“If you build it, he will come,” is the famous line from the film Field of Dreams, in which those mysteriously whispered words convince a farmer to replace his cornfield with a baseball diamond to draw people to use it. But while that may have worked in the film, it’s not necessarily the case when it comes to new apps, products, and services. How can you make sure you don’t invest your life savings in a business idea that users don’t want? That’s where the lean startup philosophy comes in.

If Eric Ries, blogger, entrepreneur, and author of The Lean Startup, were in charge of the cornfield, he would have tried something less drastic — like taking out an ad or building a web page — to find out if there was a need for a new stadium.

Reis’ philosophy is that instead of creating elaborate business plans and bringing fully fleshed-out products to market, it’s best to follow (and repeat) a three-step process — build, measure, and learn — to test and validate ideas prior to a major investment of time and resources.

The following three strategies will get your business on board with the lean philosophy in no time.

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