How To Approach A Startup When Looking For A Job

A friend recently asked me a good question:

What’s your feel on whether or not to contact a company without a clear position opening. There are a few startups I really dig, but they don’t currently have a job opening that fits my role. Is it worth it to shoot them an email to introduce myself and possibly talk about carving out a role if they like me enough? Or should I not waste my time?

My answer:

Best to naturally network and get to know people in real life like you have done with me, rather than reach out cold knowing they aren’t hiring for your skill set and hoping for the best. They’ll probably just think it’s spam and not respond – that’s what I do.  Most companies/startups hire for personality + skillset, and the only way to find that match is to meet them first and get to know them over time, illustrating your value.  So.. find a way to get to know the founders and employees of the startups you like first, then work the angle of getting a job at their company.

Reaching out to startups in an effort to connect and get to know the company is definitely a great idea.  But cold emailing thinking you will be able to land a job is a longshot at best, and shows you have no savvy way to integrate yourself within their operations.  Especially if they display on their website they are only hiring for certain positions- and you don’t see a good role that fits your skill set. (If they DO show they are hiring exactly for what you are great at, by all means reach out to them!)

The secret to getting hired at a startup is to get to know the people within the company by any means necessary. This effort will provide an opportunity to determine if you are a good culture fit – and you might find out there isn’t a good fit after all.  And just like a lot of things, that happens over time. It’s all about learning as much as you can about the founders, the employees, their product and what type of office environment they have. No startup I know of will keep the best engineer in the world on staff if they are also the biggest asshole in the world.  And vis versa, no person will want to work with a company/founders who have no idea how to treat employees with respect.

Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.

And that is the root of networking – connecting with people in your industry.  “Networking” has gotten a bad rap and has been misconstrued in today’s fast paced transactional world. It’s not about the one night stand and getting hired as soon as possible.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  It happens over time and over repeated positive interactions with various people within the startup, to the point where numerous people are asking “what does that person do and why don’t they work for us?”

So if you want to get hired by great founders in the industry, get out there and make sure they know who you are and why they should want you to join their team.

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