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by Vault Careers | April 12, 2011


Startups have two modes: growing, and dying. Assuming you target the growing ones, they're going to be hiring—and they just might be the perfect place to grow and develop your skills, independence, and overall career.

We visited Friday's NYC Startup Job Fair—created to help startups find the new hires they need—to ask companies who they're hiring, and how you can up your odds.

Here are some of words of wisdom, straight from the startups:

1. Speak their language

A rep at MediaMath, a digital media trading tech company, says that geeking out on a company and its industry is the number one way to get their attention. "Without even looking at their resume, if they know what we do, if they can speak our language, if they can show that they have drive and motivation towards our industry and they're energetic—that's the first checkpoint in my book."

She also adds that not understanding a company's business function is major faux pas. "Know what we do—don't come to the table without knowing what we do first," she says. For the record, all companies Vault visited at the fair had websites, no matter how small—inform yourself!

2. Be Driven

Startups are built on energy, so you'd better bring some to the table. "You've just got to want it," says Jesse, a legal associate at Gawker Media. "That should be your tag line. I want this job, here's why. And don't stop. That kind of drive will get you so much further than a good resume."

Something as simple as attending a job fair demonstrates that kind of interest, according to Sarah Robinson, a recruitment coordinator at SecondMarket investment group: "It shows me a lot when somebody takes the time to come out to a career fair and say I just want to put my face to my resume," she says. "And definitely they outshine anyone who's not taking that extra step to get the job."

3. Know—and hone—the necessary skills

Ben Sussman, an applications engineer at ZocDoc, a healthcare finding service, is the company's 35th hire, and takes pride in his pioneer status. So as the company grows, he's protective of spirit of the original team—as are many quality startups. "When you're a small company, those first hires really make a big difference," he says. "And those hires are going to dictate the future hires. So we really think it's important to keep the bar really high—especially in engineering."

That said, if you're applying for a position at a startup, you should know and love the functions of the job. In a small company, there's no place to hide if you can't pull your weight. Says Sussman, "We have a lot of these very complex conversations in the office about which algorithms to use, which new tools to use, whether not this data structure is appropriate, whether or not we can speed up this or it's not worth it—pros and cons to each individual detail. So if you hire someone that isn't able to keep up, it's going to bring the whole team down."

4. Look in the right places

Not sure where to find new companies? Try getting involved in your industry first. Says a MediaMath rep, "We have just built out our marketing department, so we've been at panels, conferences, we have new platforms, there's constant newsletters or updates. So all over ad-exchanger, you can read about us in many different magazines and writings." Bonus? You'll have plenty of great conversation material when you land an interview.

If it's openings you're hunting for, ZocDoc co-founder Nick Ganju suggests startup-specific job boards and newsletters. "There's one called hacker news that's not just a job site—hacker news has a weekly posting of just jobs, any startup can send in jobs, and they compile them once a week…" He also suggests checking for new postings, and reading industry news blogs, like Tech Crunch for IT startups.

5. Ask questions that show you mean business

Again, just because a company is small doesn't mean you should know a bit about them before applying—or approach them at a fair without showing interest in what they do. "If someone just hands me a resume and says, "what positions are open?" it kind of shows me that they're just looking for any job," says Robinson at SecondMarket. "On the other hand, people who mention something specific they like about the company are "the most engaging, and who I definitely remember and keep in mind for open positions that we have available," she says.

ZocDoc's Sussman suggests using questions to show you're serious about working for the company. "If someone's like, hey, how does ZocDoc work? How does the engineering team work? What is the hierarchy like? Those kind of questions imply that that person's really thinking about what it's like to live there, to do that job."

Read More:
How to Choose Between Startups and a Big Corporation

--Cathy Vandewater,


Filed Under: Job Search

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