How to Get a Job at a Startup: Phase I

One of the most common questions I receive from budding entrepreneurs at NYU is ‘What’s the best way to get a job at a startup?‘ First of all, I love this question, because just 4 years ago, the question I heard most often was ‘What’s the best way to get a job as a banker or consultant?’ I’m so happy that the a large portion of the NYU community has set its sights beyond the corporate world, and I wanted to provide some insight on how to approach the startup job process.

I like to break the job search process in two phases:

Phase 1: Everything you do before you begin your formal job search process

Phase 2: The steps you take when you’re actively engaged in the hunt for the perfect startup job

This post is about Phase I:

There’s a multitude of ways you can prepare for the job search, and most of them should answer a simple question: ‘How can I make myself into the perfect startup employee?’ Four specific answers to this question are as follows:

1. Build internship experience

In general, the more experience you’ve had, the better. Note that I use the word ‘experience’, rather than ‘internships’. Quality is better than quantity. When we examine resumes, we look much more at the specific roles and responsibilities the applicant had, and even more importantly, what results they achieved in those roles. Far better to have had one job that gave you meaningful experience, then to have worked for several big name companies as a copy-making intern. Remember that your ‘experience portfolio’ matters far more than:

  • Your GPA
  • Your Coursework
  • Your Club/Leadership Activities
  • Your Volunteer Work

2. Build specific hard and soft skills

We’re always looking for interns that bring real skills to the table. It’s incredibly useful to have multi-talented people around in case we need a newsletter edited or a mockup created, or a report pulled from Google Analytics. The Microsoft Suite of tools is standard, and everyone has experience ‘using’ Facebook, Twitter, etc. but what harder skills can you build in your spare time? Sample skills include:

  • Hard Skills
    • Adobe Photoshop & Illustrator
    • HTML & CSS
    • Coding languages: Java, PHP, Python, etc.
    • Prototyping Tools: Axure, iRise, Serena Protoype Composer
    • Analytics tools: Google Analytics, KissMetrics, Qualaroo
    • Email Service Providers: MailChimp, Constant Contact, SailThru
    • CRMs: SalesForce, Zoho
    • Customer Service: Zendesk, GetSatisfaction
    • Other Social Sites: Google+, WordPress, Tumblr
    • Online Advertising: Google Adwords, Facebook, Twitter
    • Outsourcing Tools:Amazon Mechanical Turk, Odesk
    • Credibility within online communities like Reddit, Hacker News, Github, Quora
    • Testing / QA
  • Soft(er) Skills (always backed up by work experience)
    • Phone/Inside Sales
    • Usability Testing
    • Writing

3. Have a powerful web presence

Nothing screams ‘not actually interested in the startup world’ than an applicant that has no online presence. With the multitude of sites available for public profiles & community engagement, if we can’t find you on the web, it’s hard to believe that you want work in tech full time. Here’s a list of sites you can use to beef up your web presence:

  • Start a blog. Tumblr is probably your best bet for this, but Blogger & WordPress are fine too
  • LinkedIn – critical to have a LinkedIn profile (more on this next)
  • Twitter – so mainstream now that it’s weird for people to not be on it
  • Quora – lets you flex your intellect a bit and show off your interests
  • Google+ – shows that you experiment with new media
  • About.Me – easy way to put all your online properties in one place
  • Pinterest – show your aesthetic taste in something
  • YouTube – blow us away with your own channel
  • Meetup – shows that face-to-face matters to you, and gives us a feeling for your interests

4. Network like crazy

Many students think of “networking” as a sleazy way of meeting people and trying to figure out what you can get from the, yet nothing could be further from the truth. While most of entrepreneurship is about being a ‘go-getter’, networking is about being a ‘go-giver’. It’s about taking a genuine interest in hearing the story and discovering the passions of every person you meet, and doing your very best to help them in any way you can. Donate your time, your ideas, your energy – think through your network about who might be helpful to them, and make the connection. Connection karma has a grand way of coming back to help you when you need it most.

Remember to add every person you meet as a connection on LinkedIn. Why? Well, eventually, you’ll identify people in the world that you want to meet, whether to ask them for advice, to try and form a business relationship, or to hire them. LinkedIn is the tool that tells you how you’re connected professionally to people, and the moment you see that someone is a mutual connection, you can ask for a strong introduction, which is the best way to meet anyone. The more connections you have, the more likely you are to know someone that knows the person who will change your life. Best of all, people with large networks are attractive to startups for the same reasons – they have a large pool of people to call on whenever the company needs help!

Want to join the Start-up community? Attend the NYU Start-Up Career Fair taking place today, April 11th, at NYU Poly from 2:30 PM to 5:00 PM! To RSVP, click here!

Alright. Now so now you’ve invested the time in energy in being eminently employable.

Stay tuned for Part II of how to get a job at a startup…

Nihal Parthasarathi (NYU Stern ’08) is co-founder of CourseHorse, an online marketplace that helps people discover, compare and enroll in trusted local classes. CourseHorse partners with established providers of personal and professional classes (ranging from Spanish to cooking to continuing education) and centralizes their programs to make it easier for consumers to find classes and for professional educators to sell their seats. Previously, Nihal was an education technology consultant for Capgemini, where he worked to implement an LMS, redesign the website, and overhaul marketing for a major test-prep provider.

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