Working at a startup is a whole different experience than most corporate jobs.
The culture, common goal, room for rapid growth and potential for a big payday down the road make working at a startup an exciting but risky endeavor—the vast majority of startups fail, but for those that don’t, employees stand to benefit from the organization they helped build.
The risk doesn’t deter many job seekers, but landing a role at a hot startup can be challenging. Here’s what recruiters from several major startups told us they want to see in candidates.
Prior experience may not be needed
To secure their dream job, a candidate doesn’t always have to be qualified on paper—it isn’t uncommon for early-stage startup employees to make the jump from one career to another—but it can help.
As fintech startup Tala’s VP of People, Lisa Fernandez, told The Org, “While prior fintech experience is helpful, it's not absolutely necessary! For a company like Tala that is trying something that’s never been done before, we actually value adjacent experiences from different sectors.”
What matters beyond a resume and past experience is a candidate’s ability to show that they are willing to check their ego at the door, roll up their sleeves and do what it takes to make the startup succeed.
“If you hire someone who is just looking for a job, they will not be as committed and willing to deal with the inevitable headwinds, stresses and tough moments that come with working at any high growth company,” Bubble’s people leader, Colleen Tucker, revealed to The Org.
Doing what it takes
An employee’s willingness to act as a force multiplier by proactively taking on tasks outside their job title and using current tools in new ways is what startups thrive on. “All startups have specific core values that they want in their employees, including traits like altruism, collaboration and grit,” Sylvia Wamboi, a talent acquisition partner at Maze, told The Org.
“These values are demonstrated as ‘show rather than tell,’” Wamboi stated, “and I will look for examples of these values in previous jobs and throughout. The recruitment process is an opportunity for candidates to shine and while qualifications matter, being keen, adaptable, and dynamic within a startup team is vital in the interview.”
This sentiment was echoed by Juliana Arbelaez Velez, a talent development manager at Gooten, who added that being creative, resilient, scrappy, resourceful and comfortable with ambiguity are all traits she looks for in candidates.
“Having the ability to use to the full potential all the resources we have available, both in terms of tools and connection with teammates and finding new ways to use them so we can provide a better service or even create new tools and processes with limited resources is a trait that is key to succeed at any startup,” Arbelaez Velez told The Org.
Work isn’t everything
But a job isn’t all work, and Arbelaez Velez also prizes a candidate who doesn’t take themselves — or their work — too seriously.
“We are a very communicative, outgoing, outspoken company filled with fun, energetic people that are working on building an e-commerce platform in the garment industry, we are not building the next super cool space rocket,” she told The Org. “That being said we encourage our teammates to have fun with one another, to make mistakes and learn from them and we hold ourselves accountable for working hard and effectively and having fun and a good time while we do so.”
Show them what you’ve got
It can be hard for applicants to show off intangible attributes, but there are tactics startups job seekers can employ to increase their chances.
Actions speak louder than words when displaying traits like grit, resilience and drive. As an applicant, be sure to talk about times when you fought through setbacks or doubts to accomplish a goal. This doesn’t always need to be an example from the workplace — it could be anything from rebounding from a sports injury to picking up and mastering a new hobby (this shows you can both be a self-starter and stick with something).
Applicants can also show off their drive to work for a particular startup before the interview even starts. “I had a candidate who wasn’t interviewing for a technical role but they actually took the time over the weekend to build a very basic application using Bubble, which showed a level of interest and commitment that you can’t fake,” Tucker said.
Adaptability can also be hard to show on paper, but it doesn’t just need to be a one-time example—a job seeker can display adaptability in other ways. “The candidate is in a situation that requires adaptability from the outset,” Marie-Agnès Deharveng, talent manager at Early Metrics, said to Welcome to The Jungle. “A person who enters into a recruitment process must adapt to the date and the conditions of the interview.”