When I was at university, many of my contemporaries told me they planned to one day get into startups.
“I’ll do a corporate job for a while and learn how the business world works and then I will be able to do anything.”
Which all sounds sensible, but it’s not actually true. Many startups don’t care if you’ve got corporate experience because working for a startup requires so many skills which aren’t necessarily natural to the corporate environment. And here’s the thing, the cushier your corporate job, the less fun you’ll probably find your transition to the world of startups.
Working for startups is stimulating. I love it and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But it’s hard in a way I could never have imagined. There’s nowhere to hide and no-one to pass the buck to. And you often find yourself getting involved in lots of different areas.
So where can I find a startup job?
Most students don’t know where to start when it comes to getting a job at a startup. They don’t create “Graduate” roles. Startups are rarely present on campus and finding internships can be difficult. This is because not all startups have the time to spend training up new recruits. They need people who can do the job right now.
You won’t find many startups recruiting through LinkedIn or at job fairs. Websites like AngelList can be handy – as can going to as many in-person startup events as possible.
The good news is that startups always need help – even if they aren’t advertising for it. So there are lots of opportunities for getting involved and getting promoted quickly.
First off, you need to think about which area you can help a startup with. A typical startup will comprise a team of software engineers, designers, operations people, sales, marketing and management.
As someone who is just about to graduate from university, you probably won’t be doing management, unless it’s you’ve got your own startup. So you can leave that. And unless you come from a software or programming background, you probably won’t get hired as a software engineer straight off the bat.
In my experience, the main areas where young people can bring value to a startup (if they haven’t studied engineering or design) are sales and marketing.
These are non-technical roles, but they are hugely important to a startup.
In the marketing sphere, roles can break down into growth hacker, marketing manager and content creator. In the sales sphere, many junior staff can help with business development or account management.
Explaining the terms
Most of the terms in the startup world are pretty self-explanatory, with the exception, perhaps, of this one:
Ever wondered how some startups launch, go viral and seemingly make their first million in about three weeks? Often that level of growth is attributed to the work of growth hackers. Growth hacking is essentially an area of marketing.
Growth hackers help attract lots of users very quickly, normally via a panoply of techniques. The technique used will depend on what the product is and where potential users hang out but the aim is always the same: grow quickly. I’ll give you the role in one word, ‘resourcefulness’.
If you want to get into growth hacking, you’ll need to be the kind of person who loves learning new techniques/hacks for marketing.
This probably doesn’t need too much in the way of explanation. Content creation has become an essential part of marketing and involves creating content that resonates with a startup’s target audience. It could be video, written or audio.
This kind of role is ideal for a graduate who wants a role that will flex their creative muscles. It can also be a good way into becoming a professional writer.
I’d recommend you get up to speed with social media scheduling software, do a blogging course and learn how to edit videos. These are all available online for free or nearly free, so there’s no excuse.
When it comes to business development, it can come down to anything from cold emailing and cold calling, to pitching, network building and/or managing partners or generating leads. As someone who is working in business development, you’ll need to get acquainted with customer relationship management software and get good at demo-ing your product or service. For those just starting out, the role often includes plenty of research.
A marketing manager might overlap with content creation. But they may also have to get involved in paid Google adverts, or running Facebook adverts and email campaigns.
The role is often focused on bringing in high-quality leads and measuring the effectiveness of different approaches. Leads are often in the form of email addresses from ideal customers and there are many ways to go about doing it. With so many channels out there and so many new practices emerging, marketing managers often have a hard job keeping up, which can make it a stimulating (if sometimes, rather demanding) job.
Sales is a real team effort at a startup as you are starting from zero. But the role of a sales manager is key. The role can include cold calling but it often involves helping turn the leads generated by marketing, into sales. As with business development, this means getting up to speed with customer relationship management and working on your sales patter.
Do you want to work for a startup abroad?