Susan Zheng is the co-founder and CEO of Lynxsy, a mobile recruitment marketplace for companies to hire junior, non-technical talent. Previously, she was an early employee at Tough Mudder where she helped the company grow from 10 to 200 in two years. She graduated from NYU Stern with a degree in Finance and International Business.
Career advice: Take chances, and don’t worry if your career doesn’t follow a formula. The most successful people in history have had non-linear careers.
“No way I’m applying to a startup! I don’t even know how to code.”
If there’s one thing November 18th’s Lynxsy sponsored “Insider Tips to Land a Startup Job” panel hammered home, it’s that this assumption is as outdated in 2014 as MySpace, Sarah Palin’s political aspirations, and meeting men/women without first swiping right on your phone. Startups need smart people, regardless of background, who can solve problems quickly, keep their cool, and think about challenges in a critical and balanced way.
Panel speakers included Co-Founder of Kinnek, Karthik Sridharan; Head of Biz Dev and Ops atTriggermail, Max Bennett; Co-Founder and CEO of Matter.io, Dylan Reid; and VP of Marketing at Bettercloud, Taylor Gould. While attendees got to learn what startup hiring managers are looking for in non-technical applicants, the rest of the world’s 6 billion people were unfortunately not able to fit into that tiny room. Luckily I’ve taken it upon myself to summarize their advice for the other 99.9999% of the planet’s population.
1) Leave your ego at the door.
Part of working at a startup is doing gruntwork! In a 6 person company, who else is going to cold-call and enter data? It’s an ultimate “the buck stops here” situation and founders want to make sure you’ll do whatever’s needed to grow out the company.
Applicants from consulting and finance backgrounds often emphasize the wrong things when transitioning to startups. It’s not as crucial that you closed a healthcare deal worth 10 billion dollars. What founders do care about is that you got assigned a project at 2 AM and finished it before 8…that you can become an expert in a random area in three days time.
Max from Triggermail attributed this willingness to get his hands dirty as the main reason for his meteoric rise in the startup community, “I didn’t care that I was doing linear algebra in college, I’ll still do cold-calling all day.”
2) Don’t be a jerk.
When a startup is in that hockey stick growth phase, jerks cause seismic quakes of BLEH in an organization. If one person doesn’t mesh, the rest of the team suffers. The last person a hiring manager wants to onboard is an overly critical, super obnoxious, culture-killer who makes others afraid to express good ideas. Dylan from Matter.io warned of hiring a specific breed of employee who doesn’t have the same commitment as the rest of the team, “People who aren’t committed force everyone else to question, ‘Why am I here working my butt off when this guy is at the Red Sox game?!’”
3) E-mail the founders!
As opposed to huge banks or tech behemoths, startups are lean. They usually don’t have set HR departments or hiring protocol, which means if you want to connect with the founders directly you can usually just e-mail info@STARTUPSNAME.com.
Even if there’s no job listed, startups can always use smart, enthusiastic people, so it never hurts to try to make your case. Do your research beforehand and see which startups just got funding. Odds are they have money to spend on hiring. However, this isn’t an invitation to send over an overly formal e-mail or blast out boiler plate “cover letters.”
Karthik from Kinnek put it quite well, “I don’t really need to see a good cover letter in a formal sense, but if you sent me a little blurb that says ‘Hey, I found you on AngelList, I’m really passionate about small businesses, nothing on my resume really communicates that but I think I’d be perfect for your company.’ I would definitely meet up with that person.”
4) Don’t worry about your title.
If you’re joining a startup to be a VP of Whatever or if you just want to add Senior to your resume you’re not going to get hired. At a company composed of 20 people there aren’t really managers or direct reports, as strict bureaucracy would just slow down innovation. You want to convey that you’re more worried about accomplishing a specific mission than updating your LinkedIn profile. Karthik, (again, the CEO of Kinnek) even changes his e-mail signature to “Customer Service Rep” when dealing with customers because he wants to make sure they’re not intimidated.
5) Be a confident communicator.
Aviod typoz at alll costs. So much of working at an early stage startup is communicating with all types of different people. Whether you’re selling the company to new clients, resolving the issues of current ones, or communicating internally with your team, it’s important that you express your ideas in a clear, professional, and articulate manner. Contrary to popular belief, your English major friends may actually have an upper hand! As Taylor from Bettercloud made evident, “Writing skills are huge. You need to effectively communicate what we’re trying to accomplish. I don’t ever want to have to edit someone for grammar or spelling.”
6) Don’t appear desperate.
Founders for the most part don’t want to feel like they’re hiring someone desperate for any job. They want to feel like out of all the companies that were hiring, the candidate was compelled to choose them. The ideal candidate makes a hiring manager feel lucky to have found that person. A way to convey this is to do your research about a company, express true passion, and ask probing questions about the business. As Dylan conveyed yesterday “There’s a lot going on behind the scenes at any company…There’s a lot in a black box that no one really knows about. If you’re not curious about what’s going on behind the scenes then from my perspective there’s something off. Are you really interested in working at MY company or are you just trying to get a job?”
As you can see, there’s a ton of different ways you can market yourself to startups! Though, before you can impress founders with your passion, intellectual curiosity, and go-getterness, you need to figure out what startups are out there and how to reach them. Let Lynxsy do the heavy lifting and make sure you get your foot in the door with the startups that matter.
Hear from more industry professionals Monday February 17th at Making It In: Tech & Wednesday March 4th at Women In STEM Career Panel