How to Get Hired at a Killer Startup

Don't be afraid to be bold.


Startups and small businesses are looking like the ideal places to get hired right now. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent employment situation report, the unemployment rate has fallen by 0.4 percentage points, making it 8.6 percent—the lowest since March 2009. Almost half of the survey sample is comprised of companies with 20 employees or less. Now the real question is: How can you get hired at one of these places?

CEO of 2tor, John Katzman, a legendary entrepreneur who also founded the Princeton Review, gave us a little insight on the people he hires for his company. He instilled a “No Asshole” policy, which means exactly like it sounds: Their company doesn’t hire assholes. They encourage employees to be kind to each other and look out for each other. They don’t trade competence for character because they want people with both.

[See The 50 Best Careers of 2011.]

For a company that’s just over three years old with nearly 350 employees in multiple offices around the world, they must be doing something right.

“We often rely on our own employees and their personal networks to find potential hires and have found it’s the best method as we have a wonderfully unique work culture at the company,” Katzman says.

Jeremy Johnson, chief marketing officer at 2tor, also provided tips on getting hired at an awesome startup:   

Be bold. Be comfortable reaching out directly. Entrepreneurs who start companies appreciate guile and the ability to communicate in a straightforward manner. Being direct also demonstrates assertiveness and initiative.

[See How Blogging Can Help Your Career.]

Do your research. Beyond understanding what may be the most obvious function of the company, dig further. Try to understand what the company’s mission is. Gain an understanding of its market, what the competition is, and how they differentiate themselves. Rather than simply browsing a company’s website, consider reviewing news articles on the company for more insights. Failing to prepare is really preparing to fail.

Mine your loose connections. Use LinkedIn to find a few people connected both directly and indirectly to the company you are interested in, and request introductions. Being introduced through someone who is already trusted will give you a leg up. Personal references mean more than a resume.

[See 8 Reasons to Continue Your Holiday Job Search.]

Get excited. Showing passion for the company and its industry is a great way to show a potentially picky interviewer you have something extra to offer and you’re not only looking for a paycheck. Let your enthusiasm, personal interest, and curiosity about the field shine through.

What other advice you would give for getting hired at a startup or small business?

Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager, and founder & president of Come Recommended, a content marketing consultancy for organizations with products that target job seekers and employers. She is also the author of Lies, Damned Lies & Internships (2011) and #ENTRYLEVELtweet: Taking Your Career from Classroom to Cubicle.