How to look for a job at a startup

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If you’ve been following the hiring trends over the past several months, you’ve seen a dramatic shift in tone as start-ups and big tech prepare for a possible recession. Layoffs, rescinded offers, and dwindling job postings have shifted the tides, especially in the tech and startup spaces. It’s a stark contrast to the hiring boom and candidates’ market seen in early 2022. Overall, the unemployment rate ticked up in August, but that’s no surprise as companies and investors begin to brace for a looming recession.

If you’re a job seeker (particularly if you’re interested in working at a startup in tech), prospects may feel dismal. However, there’s still reason to have hope and plenty of potential. Navigating a successful tech startup job search at this junction comes down to assessing the company’s stage, understanding how to lead your search with your own unique story, and looking to your network for assistance.

Understanding internships

It’s easy to hear news of widespread layoffs and assume it’s an industry-specific predicament sure to hit all players at some point. While you can’t recession-proof an entire industry, it’s important to look at trends and available data points to really understand what’s happening.

While VC investing as a whole has slowed, seed-stage ventures are still exhibiting continued growth. Seed-stage funding has actually increased 11% from the average monthly investment rate seen in 2021, despite the 22% decrease across all funding.

Joining a seed-stage startup presents its own set of risks, but these trends show from a financial standpoint, it’s actually a safer bet at this moment to identify a seed-stage tech start-up rather than one of the big tech companies. There’s a lot to be gained from getting in on the ground floor of a startup, too. Impact, position mobility, and the ability to try something new are just a few of the benefits.

Find your how and why

Employers are eager to get to know potential hires and want to hear their stories. Hiring is shifting to include a personal touch that focuses on transferable skills, not just the experience shown on an applicant’s réesumée. This is an opportunity for you to sell your skill set, passion, and mindset while showcasing your own unique career journey against those of other applicants.

Highlight your soft skills and lean into ways they’re applicable to the role you’re applying for. Career trajectories are rarely linear, so remember position mobility doesn’t have to be a one-for-one. Rather than relying on your réesumée to showcase why you’re the right fit for the role, actively lead with the elements of your career journey that make you uniquely qualified for the position. The applicants who are able to connect the dots and explain clearly how their skills match with those required for the open position will win. The cookie-cutter candidates are not stealing the show;, those with proven value (in the variety of forms it may take) are.

Referrals are the new way to stand out

Up to 70% of open positions are never posted and are filled through networking. It’s a harsh reality, but one that’s been proven time and again. In uncertain times, it’s all the more important to seek alternate avenues to help you put your application first for consideration.

Networking takes a lot of different forms these days, so activate your connections in whatever way feels most authentic to you. Be upfront about what you’re looking for, your non-negotiables, and, as uncomfortable as it may be, your salary expectations. Chances are there is someone in your network whose workplace is either hiring or knows someone who is hiring. Having a personal connection that can vouch for your performance and value is essential in navigating a leaner job market.

Hiring trends have shifted over the past year, but there’s still hope if you’re searching for a new role at a startup. Be thoughtful, unafraid, and open to utilizing your connections. Most of all, remember the potential you have to offer, and make it your key selling point.

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