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Getting a Startup Job as a Non-Technical Person

I’ve reviewed hundreds of resumes for non-technical positions and am the first non-technical hire at Pulse. In looking for more non-technical people to join our team, I’ve found some common threads that hinder fantastic people in their job hunt. Before I begin, I’d caution that you should not want to work at just any startup, but one that suits your skills and interests. If you can’t be passionate about one or a few startups, it’s unlikely that you can make it for the long haul. Here are some tips on getting the job once you know what you’re looking for:

1. Explain what you’ve accomplished, not what you’ve managed: I often see that people emphasize “managing” rather than “doing” on their resumes and cover letters. I could care less that you managed a team of five marketing people. I’d rather see examples of the  marketing materials you worked on and what effects your work had on sign-ups and overall company growth. Most startups are not looking for early non-technical hires to manage people. Instead, they’re looking for fantastic individual contributors that can set a direction and execute (and maybe manage people when the time comes). 

2. Explain why you want to work at the startup you’re applying to: Surprisingly, many candidates often explain that they want to work at “a small startup” because they will have “impact and room for personal growth”. I could care less that you want to work for a startup. Why do you want to work for our startup? If all small startups look the same to you because you feel like a cog at {insert big company name here}, do your research and save yourself some time. All startups are not the same and you won’t get the opportunity to work at one if you treat them as such. 

3. Show a startup what you’ll do for them: It’s fairly easy to tell whether technical team members are performing ( i.e. are they committing clean code? ).  It takes much longer to tell whether you’ve hired a bad business development person or PR rep. At Pulse, we ask all non-technical hires to complete a project of some kind. For a community manager, this project could be creating a user survey on a recent product update. For a business development manager, it could be articulating a value proposition and finding target partners for the launch of a new product. To clear any doubts about whether you can actually accomplish what you say you will, take the lead on a project you would like to own at a startup you’re interested in. This will give you insight on whether you like the job you might land and show you can get stuff done.

4. Do your research: When interviewing at a startup, you should know about every  completed product and feature release. If you’re interviewing for a marketing role, you should know how a company marketed its last release and you should have ideas for improvement. Nothing kills an interview faster than being on a phone screen with a candidate who says “I downloaded your app for the first time yesterday” or “Oh, you guys have an integration with Nike already?”. No matter what space the company your interviewing with is in, you should learn as much as you can about the industry. While domain expertise isn’t always necessary, a startup should be able to tell if you have the skills to figure it out on your own without significant hand-holding. 

5. Above all else, be passionate: More than anything else, show passion in everything you do. Take time to compose a personalized thank you email after your interview. Request detailed referrals from friends or colleagues of team members at the startup you applied to. Show your excitement about a startup’s problems and how you can be part of the team that solves them. You can’t teach passion.

7 Notes

  1. edagyeman said: great read, Cristina!
  2. cristinacordova posted this