Revenue Career Growth

3 Ways to Stand Out When You’re Applying to Your First Startup Job

Jonathan Palm
Head of Recruiting
Table of contents:

What you won’t find at a startup: 

  • A defined process for everything you’ll need to do in your day-to-day work. 
  • A promise that your job will stay exactly the same for the next five years. 
  • A manager who’s always checking up on you to make sure you’re working. 

That’s right – startups are very different from your average enterprise company. As a result, startup employees have to be: 

  • Proactive: you need to be comfortable taking action before you have all the details figured out and think through problems independently to provide solutions 
  • Flexible: willing to try new things and evolve your role to match the company’s needs. 
  • Self-starting: you have to care about your work without a leader making you. 

For a startup to be successful, it all comes down to the people. Startup leaders know the talent they hire will be the key to helping them solve the significant challenges they face on the path to building a profitable, successful company. 

Startup recruiters are constantly on the lookout for talent that is going to step into a critical role and immediately make an impact – because there aren’t that many roles. Everyone has to pull their weight. 

If you want to catch the attention of a startup recruiter, here are three ways to stand out:

#1: Be a smart researcher

Learning about the company is step one. Using your learnings to figure out the growth challenges the company is facing is step two. 

The more you can educate yourself on the industry, the company’s current standing, and what’s different about their product or solution – this intelligence will make you stand out in your first conversation with a recruiter. 

You can demonstrate this knowledge through smart questions in interviews, by connecting the dots between the startup’s challenges and your learned experience, and by focusing on the company and the team – not just on the fact that you want the job. 

#2: Be confident and persistent 

When applying for the position, find the talent manager, recruiter, or hiring manager who published it. Send them a direct message on platforms such as LinkedIn to introduce yourself. Share a small sample of work or a recent project that aligns with your role. 

Keep in mind that startups are often small – there is always more work to do than there are people. That means you should always follow-up, and take on the responsibility of getting the attention of the hiring team. 

A great way to approach this without feeling like you’re constantly making a sales pitch for yourself is to start building your personal brand online through a blog or regular posts on LinkedIn. Share your thought process on how you tackle problems in your current job, challenges you’ve faced, and lessons you’ve learned. 

Open sharing helps startup recruiters learn more about you before ever getting on a call. It saves them time, and puts you a step ahead in the interview process. 

#3: Be real 

In a startup work environment, you’re going to work on real problems, with real people – and you’re going to get to know them really well. 

Save time: be yourself from the beginning of the interview process. Every single candidate has a unique background and experience, and different attributes that make them who they are. Recruiters don’t want you to fit a corporate mold – they are on the lookout for curious, creative individuals who aren’t afraid to be different. This makes you successful in a startup environment. 

Be open with your passions, interests, and the side project you work on after hours. Trust us – this will help you (not hurt you) when you’re applying to a healthy startup company. 

Interested in working at SetSail? 

At SetSail, our values are our guiding light. We do the right thing and focus on results, our team is open and honest, and we know when to take a break. We empower our team members to work where they’re at their best, and effective communication is at the heart of our remote-first culture. 

Check out our open jobs and reach out to our recruiting team if you’re interested in joining our crew.