How to Find a Startup Job Even Before It Exists

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We all know how to find corporate jobs, or at least we think we do. There are plenty of well-known sites devoted to this effort. Monster, Indeed, LinkedIn, ZipRecruiter, Glassdoor, and all those household names make it easy to find whether Discover or Amazon is hiring. Even Google has gotten in on this game by incorporating job results right into their search engine. What fewer people know is how to find a startup job.

The smaller they are, the less likely a startup has access to the typical recruiting pathways. They probably aren’t at your college’s career fair, they almost certainly don’t have a squad of head hunters, and they may not be on Monster. Even if they are there, your odds of finding them are not great if you don’t know exactly how to look.

It’s not that startups are trying to be coy. They simply don’t have the same resources as a gigantic corporation. This is good news for you if you are willing to put in the effort. Who wants to compete with the huge number of people that were able to just hit that “easy apply” button that the corporate gig put up on 30 job sites?


Why Should You Care?

This is about finding your unique career path, and startups are a great way to do that. They offer an excellent middle-ground between the uncertainty of working for yourself and the rigidity of the typical corporate career ladder.

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It’s been said that startup employees wear many hats. This is true. Picture a large corporation. There are thousands of people spread across hundreds or thousands of roles. HR, Finance, marketing, product, sales, analytics, IT, accounting, and all kinds of other departments each have people devoted to very specific aspects of their every need.

Now imagine if the entire company only had 10 people. Which roles do you drop? Which departments get left behind? The simple answer is that none of them do. You can’t leave out sales. You can’t ignore taxes (seriously, don’t try). You can’t just forget IT. Instead, those 10 people have to handle everything.

This allows for tremendous opportunities. I’ve built accounting systems, marketing lists, and operational reporting platforms all for the same company. Try doing that while working for Delta Airlines. In some cases, these projects were assigned to me, but in other cases, I just reached out to find what needs were not being filled at the company. I built my perfect version of my job, project by project. That’s the magic of a startup.

Ownership is another big advantage of the startup world. Now, some corporations do a decent job of giving their employees a sense of ownership. But it’s the safe version of ownership, especially if you are close to entry-level. There are redundancies in place, and a manager to oversee everything of importance. The smaller the startup, the less they can offer that sheltering effect. When there are 10 of you, everyone is an individual contributor. Gone is the safety of the corporate structure. And nothing is optional. Your work is critical to the company. At times it’s scary, but you’ll never question whether the company needs you.

But enough about the ‘why’, let’s talk about the ‘how’.


Indeed Is Not the Answer

Would I have written this post if it was that simple? This is not to say that all the usual search engines shouldn’t be part of your strategy. Always use all the tools you have available. But don’t expect the typical tools to be enough. You need to learn a complementary set of tools that are more viable for the startup world.

First, let’s define the goal here. In a typical job search, you are trying to find a job listing that matches your background and your desires. Like I said above, you have a lot more opportunities to build the position into one that matches your desires at a startup. This means you can focus more on whether the company and the culture are a match for you.

The earlier the startup, the more likely that they are hiring people rather than positions.

This is the biggest secret that everybody should know. Early hires most often happen via networking instead of posting positions. It’s hard to find people that share the founders’ passion, so if you are that person they will make space for you if it’s at all possible.

First, though, you need to find the startups. If you live in a major city, especially one that is very startup-friendly, there are probably many resources for this. If not, you will have to get scrappy here. In either case, here are a few resources to start with.

  • AngelList — This is just the single best database of startups that I have ever seen. Go ahead and create a profile. Check out the job listings. But don’t stop there. Look through the startups in your area in any industry that interests you.
  • BuiltIn — Are you in Austin, Boston, Chicago, Colorado, Los Angeles, New York City, Seattle, or San Francisco? If so, this site is a great resource to learn about local startups. Check out some of the job listings and the news articles. But more importantly, look through the list of startups like you did on AngelList. Between these two sites, you hopefully have a good list by now.
  • Meetup — It turns out that most early startups don’t have a great internet presence. This is because the founders are too busy hustling and networking. So go meet them where they are. Find a meetup group for startups or entrepreneurs in your area. You can also find these by searching Google If you are in Chicago, for example, search for “Chicago startup groups”.
  • Other — You can try asking your local chamber of commerce. Or you can seek out recruiters on LinkedIn that label themselves as startup recruiters. There are also other startup-specific job sites, but I just haven’t found any that are very useful.

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After this, you should have a list of companies that you want to get in touch with. If you went through the meetup route, you probably already have a contact at said company. Your next task is to research the company to decide whether they might be a good fit and what information you might be able to use to your advantage in getting an interview and eventually a job. Check out my previous article, The Difference Between Dating and Job Hunting, for a detailed walkthrough of this stage. The younger the startup, the less information you’ll find online, but you need to find anything and everything.


Good Luck!

Startup life is scary, but it is so much more exciting and opportunity-rich than corporate life. If you are ready to leave your comfort zone, it might be time to take the plunge. If you aren’t sure, go to a meetup group and just talk with some startup employees. Who knows, that networking might even land you an opportunity before you even officially start your hunt.

If you’ve decided to join the startup world, I hope this article has helped prepare you for the unique job hunt.

If your location, your field, or any other aspect is preventing the above resources from working for you, please reach out. I’ll help if I’m able. If not, I’ll try to put you in touch with someone that can.

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