So, you want to work at a hot startup? | Here’s how...

So, you want to work at a hot startup? | Here’s how to impress a startup founder, in an interview!


This article was first published on Medium by Senad Dizdar.
startup-photosSo you want a great job at a hot startup?

That’s good. Because founders like me need good people like you.

My problem is: good people are hard to find.

In this article, I want to share with you what I think is the best way to land the job of your dreams.

There are two things you need:

  1. Become a true “A-player” and have the talent to back it up
  2. Ace the interview

What’s an A-player?

A-players are the top 5% of the workforce.

They are the people startup founders need the most, especially in the early stages of their business.

A-players have intrinsic passion for their work. They work for reasons beyond “having a job.”

Most people don’t approach their careers that way.

For most people, “finding a job” is the point. They don’t think much about the companies they apply to. The main questions they ask are:

  • “Am I qualified?”
  • “Will I make more than I make today”
  • “Will this give me a more prestigious title?”

A-players ask a different question: “Will I love this work?

How to Become an A-player

You don’t need a special degree to become an A-player. You just need to change your thinking.

Stop thinking: “How do I get a better job?” or “When will I get promoted?”

Start thinking: “What do I love?” and “How can I gain new skills that will let me contribute more those areas.”

Commit to Becoming a Top Expert in Your Field

Read a book a week about your industry or about leadership in general. Read this one if you don’t know where to start. Then read this one next.

Take training courses on your own time. Subscribe to industry magazines and read them. Get active in industry chat forums.

Take control of your own career development, in other words.

Do what the B-players don’t do.

Promote Yourself Like a Business

Businesses care deeply about their image, especially their online image. You need the same approach if you want to land a great job.

Google yourself and see what comes up. Take a hard look at your social media profiles too.

What do you see? Would it look attractive to a startup founder considering you for an interview?

If you really want to impress me:

  • Get some professional photos of yourself and use them on your profiles.
  • Make sure your LinkedIn profile is complete. Reach out to friends and former colleagues to get recommendations for each job listed on your profile.
  • Build a website for yourself. Check out Wix for a simple, free tool to do this.
  • Set up an profile.
  • Publish a handful of thought-leadership articles. You don’t need a blog for this. You can publish for free on or LinkedIn.

When I go through applications, these are the things I’ll be looking for. Whether good or bad, the impression I get from your online presence will influence whether or not I call you for an interview.

Nailing the Interview

You changed your approach to your work. You learned new skills. You look like an all-star online.

A friend introduces you to the founders of a promising startup in your area. They’re looking to hire. You get an interview.

Here’s how to “wow” them:

1. Sign Up for the Product

If you’re interviewing with a company that makes a product you can use, sign up and use it.

This one is so easy, yet it’s often missed.

Don’t let money stop you from signing up. Most SAAS products have free trials, but if it costs $30 to sign up for a month, pay the $30.

That $30 might be the thing that lands you the job you’ve been searching for.

2. Thoroughly Research the Company

Before you interview, research the company. Try to find out:

  • Is it backed by venture capital?
  • Is it bootstrapped?
  • Has the owner built companies in the past?
  • Were these past ventures successful?
  • Who else works at the company?
  • What’s the company’s primary target market?
  • What’s its key competitive advantage?
  • What do other employees say about working there?

4. Pitch Yourself Based on What You Learned

Once the interview starts, use what you learned about the company.

Bring them ideas on how they could be more successful in their market. If you did your research properly, you’ll have all kinds of questions about the company.

Ask them.

What’s the product roadmap? Do they feel they have product-market fit? If they’re investment-backed, how much runway do they have?

In my experience, it’s rare that a potential employee comes to an interview this prepared to talk about a company’s strategy.

When it does happen, it’s impressive.

5. Show How Your Passion Aligns With the Mission

Finally, founders like me want to hear what will get you excited to go to work every day.

Tell me about work you’ve done that made you lose track of the hours.

Tell me about the people you’ve helped with your work — either through a previous job or as a volunteer or during school.

Tell me about what you’re doing to advance yourself and your skills beyond where they are today.

These are the things people like me look for as we decide whether or not to make a job offer.

Everyone has a great resume these days.

That fact that you went to Stanford or MIT doesn’t impress me. It’s your approach that makes you stand out — or not.

Handling Negotiations

Finally, let me give you some advice about negotiations.

A good founder expects that you will negotiate a good work arrangement for yourself.

In fact, when you negotiate, it establishes you as a professional — someone who’s serious about his or her work.

I want my employees to be happy with their work arrangement, including their salary and benefits. That way they come to work thinking about their projects, not the terms of their employment.

Here are a few pointers for those of you who aren’t experienced negotiators:

1. Nothing Is Free

First, you’re not just negotiating the base salary number. You’re also negotiating your work duties, work conditions, equipment, and more.

Start by negotiating the big stuff: salary, benefits, and responsibilities.

Anything that requires more responsibility, you should get more compensation. For example, if you’ll have to work odd hours or be on-call 24–7, that should be rewarded appropriately.

2. Set Anchors

Do some research about what people in this role tend to make.

Sites such as are great starting places. But don’t take those estimates as fact.

The best way to get salary data is to network with other people who have the same type of job. Ask them if they’d be comfortable talking with you about their compensation plans.

Some won’t, but many will. This primary data will give you much more confidence when you start talking numbers in your own negotiations.

3. Leave Small Things to the End

Once you’ve agreed on the big stuff — salary, benefits and responsibilities — ask for a few perks.

What you ask for is up to you. But a few options could be:

  • Extra vacation
  • Personal days
  • Telecommute days
  • Special equipment (e.g. a cell phone or a MacBook Air for the road)
  • Training budget
  • Expense budget

The Payoff

If you are passionate about your work and willing to become an A-player, there is no reason you can’t have a job you love.

Jobs like that result from a magic combination of a company’s mission with your personal passion and skills.

And they’re not usually found by replying to listings you found on

Instead, do what it takes to become an A-player. Find a company that’s doing work you can get behind. Reach out to let them know you’re interested. Use the skills I described above to wow the founders in an interview. Then negotiate a situation you can be happy with.

Do those things, and you’ll be much more likely to find your dream job.




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