How to Get a Job at a Startup (with No Experience)

Thinking about getting a job at a startup? Then read this article until the end because I’m going to share with you five steps you can take to get a job at a startup with little to no experience. Having been a startup founder a few times, landed some startup offers as well as being on the hiring committees for different startup positions, I had the unique perspective of having been on both sides of the table.

Step 1: Scope out and define exactly what you are looking for

The nice thing about startups is that they come in all different shapes and sizes. What’s important though, is that you need to know what exactly you are looking for.

So to help you, here are a few questions that you might ask yourself. First, ask yourself what size startup do I think I’d like to work at? If you think you’d work better at a smaller company than a larger company, that’s an important consideration when you think about who to reach out to. So by figuring out this sort of sizing question, you’re going to be able to better identify the company cultures that you’re looking for. Generally speaking, smaller organizations will feel a little bit more familial, whereas bigger organizations will feel a little bit more corporate.

The next question ask yourself is are resources important to me at the startup that I work for? The reason to ask this is because if you need a lot out of your workplace, then a smaller startup might not necessarily be for you versus a larger startup that may be able to supply you with more support.

Another obvious question to ask yourself is what sort of work do I enjoy? Do you like sales, customer success, support, engineering, product, content. There’s a ton of different areas that you can explore in the startup world. You’ll want to ask yourself as well, what sort of culture do I think I thrive in? Do you want to look for that startup bro culture? Do you want to look for a chill vibe? Whatever it is you need to figure out specifically who you work best with.

And lastly, you’re going to want to also think about what are my non-negotiables when it comes to compensation or benefits. By setting the stage early, before you start your search around where your non-negotiables are, you’ll have a better understanding of whether or not the role that you’re seeking is actually a good fit for you.

Step 2: Brush up on your resume

If you don’t have a resume, then you don’t have a brag sheet. And if you don’t have a brag sheet, then nobody’s honestly going to hire you. You need to have some sort of materials to put together in order to share a perspective employer, to describe your talents or past accomplishments. If you haven’t already done so already, this can be a good time for you to update on some of the things you’ve been up to in the last six to 12 months.

This is where you’re going to want to make sure that you follow the STAR approach, which is to define the situation, the task, the actions that you took, as well as the results you got in, whatever it is that you have been working on. In the case where you don’t have any prior work experience that’s okay as long as you share some relevant experiences that you think are related to the role that they are hiring for.

Consider including things like different side projects you’ve done, side businesses, or even things that you’ve done in class that might relate in an entrepreneurial world. What startups generally like to see is somebody that can take things by the horn and really just start actually doing something. And so self-starter abilities are definitely something that you want to highlight on your resume.

Once you’re done with your first draft here, take a step back from the computer and then come back to it to do some proofing and then have a few friends or a mentor of yours review your resume to give you feedback.

Step 3: Find opportunities to give value.

The best startup jobs are actually the ones that aren’t actually listed. And the only way to get those is by adding value to somebody’s life. This can mean reaching out to the hiring manager, reaching out to somebody that leads a particular area that you’re interested in at a company, or even just reaching out to the founder or CEO of a business.

What you’re going to want to do, is you’re going to want to use the tips and tricks that I’ve shared in my cold email articles in the past to my channel and use those to add value to these people’s lives. This can be something as simple as sending some emails to CEOs, sharing some ideas that you have for them to accelerate their business or solve some sort of problem that you’ve identified on their website.

For example, if you want a marketing job at a company, a great way to get your foot in the door is to come up with three to five really good ideas for marketing for that company. And then send that to that company for review. By doing this sort of approach, you convey a great deal of confidence, as well as you demonstrate to this person, whether or not you actually have the chops of thinking differently and providing something new to their organization.

By taking this sort of initiative, you will likely turn at least one or two heads when you do this consistently, which will then open up opportunities for you for that job interview or for an opportunity. Having been a founder of several businesses, as well as being on the hiring committee even today, I have found this to be one of the most effective ways for you to stand out when it comes to getting a job at a startup.

What ultimately matters is your conversion rate to having conversations. And so if you’re applying to a ton of organizations and they’re all not getting back to you, then you need to change your approach. Taking the sort of value based approach can open up a lot of future opportunities for you, even if you’re not looking for a startup job, what you can do is set aside some time in your calendar every single week to reach out to a different founder or, or business to share some sort of ideas to further their business.

By doing this, you’re going to continuously add value. And you never know some cases, these people are going to think of you when either they have an opening or if their friend who also has started a company has an opening related to the work that you have interest in. Multiple times in the past, I have pulled from somebody that I previously had a conversation with and advanced to actually listing the job that I had available, just because I knew that this person would likely be a good fit for the role. And so if you can create these sorts of moments of serendipitous meetings or value-based meetings with these people, then you will likely have a great opportunity of landing a startup job.

Step 4: Set clear team expectations

This is something that I wish I had done years ago, but I genuinely believe in the next five to 15 years, that personal brands are going to be more important than ever. So if you haven’t already it’s time for you to start sharing your thoughts or your work related to what you want to be known for.

Build up your expertise in something that way, that when you actually are looking for a job, people can look at your body of work and understand how you think, how you approach different problems and what you’re all about. For example, if you’re looking for a marketing job, this can be as simple as starting a medium page, where you just write about some sort of case study on something you find interesting in marketing that week. By creating this sort of body of work consistently over time, you will give yourself more opportunities for people to notice you. And again, be so good that they can’t ignore you.

For example, maybe you want to start a podcast where you interview different startup marketers and learn what they do in their day-to-day work. By simply digging into these stories, you would have a better understanding of what sort of startup marketing work you yourself would actually like.

And also you’re going to be on the radar of these people so that when each of their companies is hiring or somebody they know is hiring for a marketing role, you’re going to be one of the names that comes up. All you need to do though, is create an opportunity to make it a value add experience for the other person.

The great thing about this sort of approach of publishing your work publicly is that it demonstrates to a future startup that you have what it takes to think like an owner. Ultimately, when startup founders are looking for building their early team members, they are looking for people that act like owners and not employees.

And that’s exactly what you would be doing if you follow along with this step. Literally sitting down every now and then to record my YouTube videos, I’ve had companies reach out to me for consulting services, as well as YC backed companies that have marketing budgets that want to sponsor videos for me going over their product. But this would have never happened if I had never published in public. The important thing here is to just start. So start small if you have to. If you’re still in school, put together a website for your portfolio of different projects that you’ve done in school-related to entrepreneurial ventures or whatever it is that you are looking for a job in.

Step 5: Being so good that they cannot ignore you.

Ultimately you want to do things that help you stand out from the rest of the pack. There are tons of applications that are getting flooded into every organization every day for jobs. So the only way that you stand out is by thinking differently. For example, one time I had a guy FedEx overnight deliver a handwritten thank you note immediately after his interview, I hired that guy. Another time I had a person write an awesome cover letter where she detailed her 30, 60, 90 plan to how she would kickstart our marketing efforts from where they had been left off.

So simply by taking the time to actually demonstrate that you’re serious about helping this business in whatever way possible, you will be able to be so good that they cannot ignore you. More recently, I was looking for my next startup role and in order to do so, I took this exact approach. What I did was I identified opportunities that were interesting to me related to go-to market strategy and growth efforts. And what I did was I just reached out to CEO sharing three to five ideas that I had for them to accelerate their business. It was by being willing to do this sort of work upfront, that I was able to get my foot in the door.

In fact, I was able to get an over 50% conversion rate of all the CEOs I reached out to in learning more about their businesses and the role at hand. And it was from this experience that I was able to approach things from a place of abundance, where I had different opportunities in front of me. And I was able to choose the right one for me. You only get these sorts of opportunities, though if you create those opportunities for yourself.

Big takeaways

There are two things that I want you to remember when it comes to working at a startup:

  1. The first one is to build in public and share your expertise. By taking a value-first approach to looking for a job, you will open up more opportunities for yourself and give yourself optionality when it comes to actually finding the one you want.
  2. The second big takeaway is zero in on exactly what you want and then go get it.

If you liked this article, be sure to check out my YouTube channel to get new videos every single week. I’ll help take you from zero to self-starter as you grow your business, get more customers, and hone your business acumen. Also, feel free to share this with anybody that you think might benefit from learning how to get a job at a startup.