6 Reasons You Can’t Get a Job at a Startup

can't get a job

Why are inexperienced post-grads getting hired left and right while you’re left short of your dream startup job?

The thing to remember about startups is that unlike enterprises, every action has major consequences. Hiring a new salesperson for a startup might mean doubling the team size, whereas it probably means adding salesperson #1001 to the roster for enterprises.

Finding a job at a startup means you need some qualities that you weren’t taught at school.

I talked to Vinay Patankar to find out what he’s learned from his years as an executive recruiter and Process Street CEO.

You’re a bad culture fit

If you’ve ever seen HubSpot’s Chair Dance or any of the numerous silly things they do, you’ll be able to decide whether HubSpot seems to be a good culture fit for you. HubSpot creates this content to deliberately screen out unsuitable candidates: super-serious people need not apply.

With startups being small by design, the person in charge of hiring needs to be sure you’re going to get on well with everyone and contribute in a positive way to company culture.

If you clash with the rest of team you won’t be considered because not only will you create a bad atmosphere, you’re likely to leave sooner after a huge amount of time and energy has been spent on training and onboarding. If this seems likely, whoever’s in charge of hiring will decide you can’t get a job at their startup.

You’re too enterprise-y

Did you think that having 10 years of experience with a hugely successful enterprise company would be a reason to hire you? It turns out that you probably won’t have the skill set startups need to succeed

To demonstrate his point, Vinay uses a software development team as an example:

“Developers either need to match the skill set the software is built in, or be able to quickly change and pick up different technology. A lot of the time, enterprise employees who have worked for banks, Verizon and BT, are working on apps with 100 other engineers and only get to focus on a very small part of the app.

They could be a database developer, only writing test code or only dealing with bug reports. This means they don’t have a full skill-set that a startup would need because startups don’t just need people to deal with bugs, they need people who can do that while processing support tickets, working on the app’s design and actually building the software”.

The same goes for enterprise marketers used to working with huge budgets and existing customer bases — these people might not be receptive to the lean strategies startups need to employ to get heard.

You aren’t 110% dedicated to the company

Does your resume show that you like to jump around between companies? If you have a few past positions only held for a year or two, your application won’t be seriously considered by a startup.

Employees need time to learn about the company. Startups often have a lot of internal knowledge, and since no one can learn about their customers before they’re part of the company, employee knowledge is vital. If you seem likely to leave after learning it all, you take more than just your day-to-day work away from the company.

Red flags include a history of short gigs, planning on moving house or travelling, wanting to start a family or starting your own company.

“If it seems like you’re not going to be able to stick around for at least 4 years, you’re not getting hired”.

You’re going to drain everyone’s time during onboarding

You could be a really good junior employee, but if there’s not enough resources to train you, you’re not going to get hired. Say there are two senior engineers — you can’t hire four juniors and expect not to take a big hit to your code output while the seniors are spending all their time training the juniors to perform at a sub-optimal rate.

You’ll probably stand more chance applying for a position alongside a large ratio of seniors who can afford to reduce their output a little while getting you up to speed. This is one to avoid taking personally, because it just means the company doesn’t have the resources to train you right now.

“If you hire someone, they work for three months then they leave, then 1 of your 3 team members will have lost 50% of their output for that time. In a startup, every action you make has a much larger reaction”.

You have ridiculous expectations

Working for a startup doesn’t make you a rock star — despite what the job description might unfortunately say. What it will do, however, is give you less money for more hours and the threat of eviction if you don’t go above and beyond to roll out a product people will pay you for.

The majority of developers working at startups are paid less than $59k, while their enterprise equals should be looking at around $90k. If you don’t see more appeal than salary alone, you’re not a good fit. Working for a startup is so much more than money, and, after working for either large, distant companies or petty, distant clients, it’s easily the most exciting job I’ve ever had.

You didn’t take the hint from the job description

Just like how companies love to broadcast their company culture to attract or screen out potential applicants, the job description will be full of hints as to the sort of person who would be wasting their time applying.

Take, for example, Buffer‘s applicant process. The checkboxes include “You have read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie.” — if you haven’t, haven’t even considered reading it or aren’t a fan of non-fiction self-help books, you aren’t going to enjoy the job.

Not getting hired at Buffer

Try seeing the job description as a warning instead of a challenge.

How can you make yourself an attractive hire?

While you might really, really want to work for a startup, you’ll hate it if you don’t find your own good fit. Find a product you believe in, or maybe one you already use. Most startups will make an effort to communicate their idea of great company culture, and if you don’t like it then you’ll be miserable working there. The same goes for the job description. If you think you ‘could stretch’ to fulfill the criteria, again: you’ll be miserable.

Right now, you are an attractive hire somewhere. It’s just a matter of finding where that might be.

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