What does it take to join the hottest software startup? Yuliya Mykhaylovska, a university recruiter at VC firm Greylock, is constantly fielding these questions. It’s her job to scout technical students (primarily software engineers, product managers, and designers) and budding entrepreneurs at universities across the US and Canada and introduce them to Greylock-backed startups.
Helping students pursue their career dreams doesn’t just stop at making introductions to companies that could be a great fit. Mykhaylovska also connects potential startup founders with other students in similar fields, to investment partners for mentorship, and to other resources that may help accelerate their careers.
Finding ideal candidates, Mykhaylovska tells Thinknum, is more an art than a science — in addition to having excellent academics and demonstrated domain expertise, candidates who stand out must have the interpersonal skills necessary to explain complex ideas.
There’s no better way for a new grad to prepare for the entrepreneurial journey than to join a startup and learn from some of the industry’s best founders. The competition to land a role in a cutting-edge startup is fierce, especially in this environment. For example, a stealth-stage company with fewer than a dozen employees received over 500 applications for a product design internship that was circulated on only a few channels.
To stand out, here are some tips to land a great startup job, according to Mykhaylovska.
1. Don’t be afraid to join a startup.
Startups have a reputation among job seekers as being risky and providing limited job security. Mykhaylovska says that’s a myth. “When you have larger tech companies doing layoffs, you realize just because the company has a ton of funding and a lot of employees, it doesn’t mean [your] job is secure,” she says.
Instead of prioritizing dollars raised, it’s far more important to consider factors such as the demand for the startup’s products (is this a product that will be in demand regardless of the economic climate?), the background of the team building the company (are they uniquely positioned to succeed?), and the industry itself.
In terms of industry, Mykhaylovska recommends students consider working in enterprise software, an often underestimated area. While many junior employees flock to apply to consumer software startups where they can work on a product they know and use daily, candidates can find strong career growth in enterprise businesses. Enterprise SaaS companies have outperformed consumer companies in the public markets over the last five years and demand for enterprise software tends to be less elastic during economic downturns. Due to enterprise software’s current growth, candidates may find more job openings in companies delivering security software, ML/AI enabled business solutions, and cloud infrastructure. Candidates can build lists of interesting potential employers by reviewing market maps and investors’ portfolio companies.
“What we saw with the last economic downturn was that a lot of the best companies were born at this time. They were started during the last recession. I think very much a similar thing is going to happen this time around" - Mykhaylovska
“What we saw with the last economic downturn was that a lot of the best companies were born at this time,” Mykhaylovska adds. “They were started during the last recession. I think very much a similar thing is going to happen this time around. Startups being funded today are solving essential issues that will need solutions regardless of the economic climate. There’s also so much amazing talent that’s joining startups, so you have the right people working on the right problems. Companies that weather this pandemic will be very successful, kind of like how they say with New York: if you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere.”
2. Keep an accurate record of anyone involved in your job search and don’t forget to close the loop with a thank you note and an update on what you ended up doing.
If you spoke with anyone about your job search, whether it’s at a networking event, an informational interview, or even via LinkedIn, don’t forget about them. You may have follow-up questions down the road, or you may just want to share the good news with them that they helped you find a great position.
“This is something I see fewer than 5% of candidates doing, and it’s a missed opportunity,” says Mykhaylovska. “When you circle back with someone and show them how their investment in your career has paid off, people are even more willing to help.”
Closing the loop with every individual involved in your search is not only the nice thing to do but it can even open new doors, as people may offer new professional connections and resources to help you succeed in your next role.
3. Set Google Alerts to track industries, people, and companies.
It’s important to stay informed and be the first to know whenever there’s a new development in your industry. Google Alerts can tip you off on potential job opportunities that aren’t made public yet.
“Anytime that a startup announces a new deal with a major party or they have a new round of funding, you’ll be the first to know about it,” Mykhaylovska says. “Also, when you get an interview with a company, you’ll be ahead in preparation — you’ve already been studying that company and that industry.”
4. Engage meaningfully on LinkedIn: don’t just “like” — comment on LinkedIn posts.
Be sure to use LinkedIn as a job search tool. Follow relevant people in your industry, and read their LinkedIn posts. Liking posts is helpful, but leaving a thoughtful comment just might make you stand out and catch a recruiter’s eye.
“Recruiters, when they see a candidate with a relevant headline, they’ll click on that response,” Mykhaylovska says. “It’s a very easy way to get your name and brand out there. If students do this, they should make sure they have a LinkedIn headline that makes it clear who they are and what they’re seeking.”
Mykhaylovska also stresses the importance of following others on LinkedIn. Blindy connecting on the platform doesn’t necessarily lead to a job — it’s online interaction on posts that leaves an impression on people.
5. Follow up.
The initial cold email tends to be the most important one, but a follow up or two ensures your chances of a response much more than a single email. Following up shows you’re genuinely interested in the topic at hand, whether it’s a job application or a coffee chat.
Additionally, it’s important to follow up to ensure people follow through on what they promised to do. “So job seekers, if you’re talking to an alum of your university and you’re asking them to pass along your resume, don’t just assume it happened,” Mykhaylovska says. “Follow up three to five days later and say, ‘Hey, did your contact at so-and-so company have any feedback?’ Because the reality is maybe that email was overlooked. You should follow up and make sure that actually happened.”
6. Don’t wait to apply.
Job listings can stay posted online for months, but there’s no guarantee that the company is even looking at applications after the first week or so.
“I am shocked by how much time people take to apply to jobs sometimes,” Mykhaylovska says. “People need to realize that the first two or three days after a job is posted is really essential time. So you really want to apply to a role as soon as you see it.”
“I am shocked by how much time people take to apply to jobs sometimes. People need to realize that the first two or three days after a job is posted is really essential time" - Mykhaylovska
Companies tend to examine the first pool of applicants for the best candidates, and may never return to the incoming applicants who sent in their resumes too late. Those first few days can be crucial. Mykhaylovska says the same goes for informal conversations.
“Time is of the essence,” she adds. “You want to be applying as early as you see the opportunity. Likewise, if you hear something informally through a conversation, follow up within 24 hours. I see a lot of students not respond quickly enough. A heavily delayed response makes you wonder how interested the candidate is in the opportunity discussed. The quickness of a candidate’s response shows that they’re eager to do the job and be in that industry in particular. Startups move at a breakneck pace and this often requires time-efficient hiring processes. Recruiters will not boil the ocean when looking for candidates so being at the front of the resume pile increases the odds that you will receive adequate attention and mindshare from the recruiter.”
7. Control the narrative, emphasizing the kinds of work you enjoy.
When introducing yourself, especially via email or LinkedIn, have a paragraph ready that describes you in the third person. It helps others when passing along resumes or information about you.
“It’s really important for a candidate to have a paragraph or a few lines about themselves and what they’re seeking that they can easily forward along to another person,” Mykhaylovska says. “You don’t ever want to put somebody else in control of your narrative, and you don’t want to have somebody else to describe you. The reality is that they may make mistakes.”
"You don’t ever want to put somebody else in control of your narrative, and you don’t want to have somebody else to describe you. The reality is that they may make mistakes” - Mykhaylovska
8. Talk about what you do with pride.
Lastly, be passionate about what you do, or hope to do. “One way to attract more opportunities into your orbit is by speaking about the work you do with pride,” Mykhaylovska says. “People will think of you proactively for passive opportunities that aren’t even out there [yet].”
Show others that you’re not just looking for any old job. If you really are passionate about an opportunity, it’ll show through and others will find your passion infectious.