According to a recent Accenture survey, only 15% of the class of 2015 said they’d rather work for large a corporations than small to mid-sized companies and startups. But so much of the wisdom and training out there for entry-level job seekers reflects the values, needs, and hiring processes more common among traditional employers.
Startups are often different on all of those grounds, and positioning yourself for a startup job often takes a different approach. Here are a few tips on getting yourself noticed when you apply to work at a startup:
Ask someone who works at a startup about what they do, and there’s a good chance they’ll reply, “What don’t I do?” The early days at a startup can be equal parts exciting and terrifying. With few established ground rules, employees usually need to be jacks-of-all-trades more than those at larger businesses. The upside? Being forced to improvise and think on the fly in a fast-changing environment can hone career skills that might otherwise take years to learn.
Set yourself apart from the pack by learning the kinds of versatile skill sets startups are looking for. Don’t try to do everything, but pick a core area–from coding to design to sales–and build out from it in multiple directions. Seek out internship experience that lets you make connections across a range of disciplines. (That may mean interning at another startup.) When you apply for a startup job, make sure you have enough material so you can emphasize that resourcefulness.
Startup life often gives employees the opportunity to experiment and see their ideas from conception to execution. Unlike more formal corporate structures, which rest on several layers of approval and oversight, startups are typically much less rigid. As a startup employee, you’ll need to take ownership of projects, balance big-picture thinking with the nitty-gritty details, and contribute directly to the success (or failure) of each initiative you handle.
That takes an entrepreneurial spirit and an excitement for creating things. Did you build a website during your college days or develop an app? Showing that you have the initiative to turn ideas into reality proves you can take the lead on whatever projects are thrown your way. You might also consider preparing an idea or two to pitch the hiring manager during your interview. Having that kind of forward-thinking attitude shows you can make an impact by coming up with creative solutions on your own. It also shows you’ve done your homework on the sorts of things the company already has in the works and indicates you’re excited to build on them.
The opportunity to regularly stretch the limits of your job description can help you build plenty of professional skills that can push your career ahead during your early years. What’s more, being a part of an early (often small) team creates personal connections that simply can’t be matched in other work settings. These early-stage employees tend to be more cohesive and loyal, both to the company and to one another, because those bonds are forged during the tumult of getting the company up and running.
Show you can roll with the punches–not just on your own but as part of a tight-knit team. A confident, positive attitude can go a long way in showing you can be counted on. Make sure you can speak about other situations where you needed to come together under pressure to pull off something important. As a recent grad, it’s okay if that challenge happened in an academic environment, as long as it showcases your mettle and helped you learn something meaningful.
The biggest and possibly most important lesson you can learn from working at a startup is how to mess up. Failure simply comes with the territory. The excitement that pushes you to try new things can also backfire, but learning how to move forward afterward is critical–not just to your career but to the success of the company.
Demonstrate how your own failures have helped you grow. Share any relevant stories about how you’ve overcome stumbles and missteps–and taken the time to understand why you made them. It isn’t about making excuses for past errors. It’s about analyzing failure and learning from it, then showing you can move forward in a mature, professional manner.
If you’re like many millennials, the startup environment more closely matches your workplace values and personal style than more established companies. Working for a startup can help you expand your horizons and gain diverse experience quickly during the crucial early years of your career. Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll be well on your way.
Alicia Navarro is CEO and cofounder of Skimlinks, a content monetization platform that helps websites get rewarded for the purchase intent created in their content. Prior to launching Skimlinks, she worked for over 10 years designing and launching mobile and Internet-based applications in Australia and the U.K.