If you join a company early enough in its existence, you can not only make money if you receive equity, but you get to go on what can be an exciting (albeit sometimes nauseating) ride.
Getting hired at a start-up requires more than just a willingness to work in a fast-moving, not-always stable environment; in many cases, it requires a special set of skills. If getting hired at a start-up is a dream for you, there are ways to enter the market, develop the needed skill set, and get the job you want.
Of course, before taking the steps to get hired at a start-up, it's worth really thinking about if it's what you want. While movies like The Social Network can romanticize start-ups -- not every company experiences a meteoric ride to the top. Many start-ups fail, and others have a slow, tortured path to success, or at least survival.
If you're willing to take the ride, though, getting hired at a start-up can bring rewards well beyond money. It's a job where you can be part of building something new, and that can be a life-changing experience.
Unfortunately, it's not always easy to get hired at a start-up, and outside of cities including New York, Seattle, and San Francisco, it can be hard to even find job listings. There are start-ups in nearly every market, though, and if you take the right steps, and are willing to do what it takes, you can increase your chances of getting that start-up dream job.
1. Meet the right people
While major technology hubs like the cities mentioned above or other major markets may have a more organized start-up scene, most markets will have ways to meet entrepreneurs. In some cases there may be organized meetup groups or a start-up incubator.
If your market has an incubator it's often possible to look up what companies are participating. In addition, local media can be used as a source to find news of companies getting funding or ideas that are just starting.
Once you know where the start-ups are and who's running them, you have to be bold. Go to entrepreneur events, reach out to companies where you have applicable skills, and ask for an informational interview or to meet for a cup of coffee. Be bold, put yourself out there, and prepare for a lot of rejection.
2. Be good at more than one thing
Whether you work your way into meeting entrepreneurs or apply to a job listing, in many cases working at a start-up requires having the ability to fill more than one job. For example, the marketing director may also be involved in sales or the public relations person may have to help with copy-writing.
If you can demonstrate to the person doing the hiring that you have more than one skill that can be a big step toward being hired. That's especially true at early start-ups where many job functions are needed, but don't require a full-time hire. If you can perform your main role while also completing tasks that aren't necessarily related, it makes it much more likely that you will get hired.
3. Be willing to do any job needed
Sometimes at a start-up it's not just about skills, it's about willingness. You may be a sales genius, or an amazing accountant, but in any given moment the task at hand may be something outside your expertise that just needs to get done.
Being willing to answer the phone, make coffee, or roll up your sleeves and pitch in stuffing envelopes makes you more valuable. Many start-ups have more work than workers and expressing a willingness to do whatever is needed makes you much more employable.
4. Leave your ego at the door
Startups tend to be fairly level organizations, especially in the early days. That means that there's no room for the ego or arrogance that may be just fine at more-established organizations.
It's not always the case, but start-ups, especially ones in the early phases, tend to take on an all-for-one attitude. That often means going without the perks you might get at a bigger company. Your desk may be the same as the intern's desk, but it will also may be the same as the CEO's. To get hired at a start-up, if you've been important elsewhere beforehand, it's important to show that perks, pats on the back, and other you-first trappings are less important to you than mutual success.
5. Be willing to work
While all start-ups follow different paths, the one thing they all share in common is that there's always something to do. Getting hired at a start-up often means being willing to be all in. That can mean forgoing weekends, not taking vacations, and sometimes working long hours.
Startups are in many cases a lifestyle. You will enjoy what you do (don't do it if you won't) but your job becomes the central thing in your life. That can be hard on relationships, and it's not the life for everyone, but it can also be incredibly rewarding as you can experience things you never would at a "normal" job.
If you get the chance to interview at a start-up, showing a willingness to work hard may be the difference between being hired or not. In many cases, the line between fun and work will blur, but getting a company off the ground requires committed people unafraid of long hours, near-impossible tasks, and having to overcome major obstacles. Show you can be one of those people and it goes a long way toward getting hired at a start-up.