3 Critical Steps to Land a Job at a Tech Startup: No Connections or Technical Skills Required

December 12th, 2013 by Sam DB

startup job search

So you just graduated from college. Or you’re stuck in the library dreaming about money. Ok, you’re just wasting away at a company that you don’t give a damn about. It’s the perfect time to find work at a tech startup. Not a developer? Never written a line of code? No worries. I got your back.

The idea of working at a startup is appealing, for sure. But if you don’t know where to start, things could get ugly. Here are three surefire ways to find and get hired by an awesome tech startup.


startup job search

Step 1: Remove the Weeds

According to one estimate, about 906,241 tech startups existed in the US as of 2010.

How the hell are you supposed to find a startup that is both building something exciting, and completely legitimate?

You know yourself better than I do. I won’t tell you what’s exciting (real-time data anyone?) and what isn’t. But once you’ve identified that, here are a few ways to pick a winner (and make a good first impression on your interviewers).

  1. Unsure of what you’re looking for? Search through portfolio companies of top Venture Capital firms to find startups that are well-funded and looking for someone with your distinct skillset.

  1. Know exactly what you want? Use CrunchBase, a powerful startup database, to find a company as specific as: a BioTech startup within 5 miles of Manhattan, founded after May 2000, with a maximum of 200 employees, and $1 million in funding (and other specific attributes).

  1. Willing to live in NYC and need to start ASAP? Check out Made in New York City to find all the currently hiring startups in NYC.


startup job search

Step 2: Expand Your Circle

You have an idea of where you want to work, but you don’t have any connections within the startup realm. It’s time to go to tech meetups and find tech-literate people. You probably want to stop reading this post right about here – but hang on!

We’re all in agreement that forced-networking is the most agonizing experience a human being can endure. Don’t worry. I’m not telling you to spam an event with your business card.

Get out there and get acclimated to your new universe. You’ll get a sense of whether or not you’re a good fit. And, you will reduce your anxiety about interviewing at a big, bad tech company.

startup job search

Step 3: Share YOUR Story

Speaking of interviews, when you’re sitting across the table from your future boss, she only really wants to know one thing. Can you fill the hole that’s plaguing the company?

Developers rely on a track record of building scalable systems or shipping web applications to prove their worth.

We (mere mortals) rely upon our ability to tell a succinct, compelling story. The chapters of your story are already there. It’s time for you to find the common thread, and sew that bad boy together. Your story, composed of your work and personal experiences, MUST align with the startup’s mission and requirements for the role.

Say, for example, you’re interviewing at a startup that wants to make life easier for small business owners, and needs someone with related experience.

When you’re asked to talk about your interest in the company, share your story of working at your mother’s clothing store every summer (if it’s true). Dig into the specific challenges she faced as a small business owner. Share the lessons that you can apply if you’re hired by this startup. Tie in how the startup’s product would have improved  visibility  for your mom’s store and increased sales.

It will break the ice, show your deep understanding of the product/mission, and force the interviewer to remember you. Who knows. It may even help you land the job.

So that’s all I’ve got for now. Feel free to sound off in the comment section and I’ll do all I can to help you land that job you’re working towards.

5 Responses

  • makarochkin says:

    lol, why is the guy sitting with the switched off mac? seems that he is typing something :))

  • Christopher Catoya says:

    There is also an element of “right-sizing” your choice startup based on your skills. Small, early stage companies will likely only be looking for engineering talent. Once a startup has some funding or revenue and a growing team, then they’ll look for generalists for all the tasks and responsibilities (like sales, marketing, biz dev, community management, etc.) that were often ignored because the focus had previously been on building product. Here, those soft skills and adaptability a non-coder possesses are key. Once a startup has grown past this middle stage they’ll start hiring specialists because they can afford to; require expertise for certain tasks; and/or need to show later stage investors that they’re equipped for the transition from startup to corporation. These specialists can range from engineering to sales; the key is typically that they have some industry experience they’re bringing to the company that generalists and founding teams may lack. Startups and companies look for all kinds of people to hire and timing matters when looking for the right fit of skills to needs of the company.

    • Christopher, you couldn’t be more right about “right-sizing” and timing. Also love the point about Startups looking for people that typically have industry-specific experience that current team members might be lacking. But, what hole do you think a startup is trying to fill when it hires a new-grad (without industry experience) for a generalist position?

      • Christopher Catoya says:

        Good question, Sam. It’s one I’m look forward to be answering in the near term. =) For now, I’d wager that these mid-stage startups *may* be looking for manpower cheaper than an experienced industry vet for positions that are either (1) relatively new in an evolving industry (like social media manager) or (2) don’t require specialized expertise or years of network building (like Systems Architect or Head of Sales).

  • Arashi Dipashima says:

    I was expecting the list of skills/useful books to learn/ essentials / must knows / etc for non technical folk (marketing, bloggers , photographers, etc) whom want to get into the startup scene
    Nice article but i felt it was missing something

    Thanks regardless!