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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It Just Got Even Easier To Find Talent At SURF Incubator

logo_104x60One of the most common challenges for early stage startups is finding talented and willing people to join your startup.   In the early stages, finding the right developer can be the difference between success and failure for a young startup.

Today, SURF Incubator announced how they are addressing the recruiting challenges of its tenant companies by partnering with local recruiting agency Capability IT.  With an intellectual partner like Capability IT, startup entrepreneurs are empowered with intellectual resources and a robust network to find culturally and technically capable employees, enabling them to more quickly secure talent and get back to work.

Although the Puget Sound region has proved itself to be home to a world-class high-tech workforce over the last few years, with several companies either opening Seattle engineering offices or expanding their engineering departments, it still remains a tough hiring environment for early stage startups.  Especially since the competition can promise an immediately rewarding salary with large signing bonuses, full benefits and various amenities like a famous executive chef at Google.  But through a partnership with Capability IT, SURF startups will receive greater access to a network of developers and potential growth opportunities, making their lives a bit more pleasant in the process.

Over the past year, Capability IT has made solid traction in the tech community, by adding superior talent to a number of Seattle based startups.  Not only does Capability IT provide more access to developers, they can also help startup entrepreneurs identify and secure contract assignments. It is quite common for entrepreneurs to take on technical consulting projects while their startup gains traction, enabling entrepreneurs better cash flow and sometimes even finance their startup. Because Capability IT works with companies ranging from early-stage startups to publicly traded companies, they are able to efficiently source opportunities for fledging entrepreneurs.

Being a SURF tenant startup founder myself, I can validate how important this move is for all the startups within the SURF Incubator community.  During the early prefunding stage of a startup, founders have little more than their dream to pitch to prospective early talent.   We also have limited time and energy to somehow go and find this talent., which requires scouring online profile databases, attending local meetups and events, searching through our own networks or simply asking around.

At times those can work, but where I see Capability IT really helping is farther up the funnel, providing founders with a larger pool of applicants/names to sort through.  Even though we might still be looking for a needle in a haystack, Capability IT will give early stage startups more haystacks to look through and in the end helping us find better talent to join our teams.  In this way, Capability IT’s partnership with SURF Incubator is just one part of SURF’s mission to be a community-supported space for digital startups.

SURF will be celebrating this announcement with a happy hour event, including beer and wine as well as a few startup pitches from resident companies.  Everyone is welcome to attend, if you are interested – RSVP here.

Launch Event – When & Where

Thursday, January 24th, 2013 from 5:00 – 8:00pm PST

Exchange Building – 821 2nd Ave, Suite 800

5:00 – 6:00pm          Hosted wine and beer

6:00 – 6:15pm          Partnership announcement

6:15 – 7:00pm          Startup demos

7:00 – 8:00pm          Entrepreneur conversations