How to narrow your focus, get a leg up on the competition, and look like the most prepared person in the room.
Below is an article originally written by startup founder and former GA leader Matt Cynamon for PowerToFly Partner General Assembly. Go to General Assembly's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
Working for a startup company can be one of the most challenging, exhilarating, sometimes heartbreaking, and oftentimes fulfilling journeys of your life. But wanting in and breaking in to this competitive industry are two different things. Landing an opportunity at a startup is about more than luck. There are terms to learn, steps to take, and skills to grow to make you a candidate who stands out from the crowd.
Whether you're a recent college graduate, someone with 10 years of executive-level experience, recently completed a career accelerator program, or are just making a jump from a more traditional work background, there is a pathway to a dream job at a startup for everyone. While there's no foolproof method for landing a job, we've compiled six proven tips that can help you narrow your focus, get a leg up on the competition, and look like the most prepared person in the room.
1. People can get you further than job boards.
One of the nice surprises about the startup ecosystem is how supportive and helpful some of the people are. In every city, leaders in grassroots startup communities host events, give educational talks, make introductions, and offer advice. These individuals can serve as your early guides as you start out on your journey.
If you're just breaking into the startup world, you may not have a strong network to draw upon. That's OK. Go to events, meet people, and listen. As a new entrant into the community you might feel like you have little to offer in return, but one of the biggest favors you can do for someone is just ask them questions about their work. Don't be too forceful, but where appropriate, invite people for a coffee. It may seem intuitive, but being generally interested in others and what they do will help you foster relationships that aren't only valuable, but fulfilling.
When it comes time for you to start applying, warm introductions from someone within the community will go much further than a resume submitted on a job board. Founders often cite hiring as the biggest obstacle to successfully growing their company. It's a timely and difficult process that they love to circumvent with a nice, warm introduction to top talent (aka you).
One of the most common mistakes people make when trying to get introductions is assuming that if people don't get back to you, hope is lost. Be prepared for repeated failure. Ninety percent of people will say they want to help you. Ten percent actually will. Why most people don't follow through is due to a variety of factors, but just know it's rarely about you. If you go into every conversation with this attitude, you will more easily be able to sustain your energy when your inbox sounds like crickets.
2. Polish your elevator pitch with a job-search thesis.
We're living in an age of self-driving cars, private spaceships, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, on-demand everything — and startups often lie at the center of these innovations. It's completely normal for someone starting on their journey to want to be a part of all of it. While you will encounter many people who are willing to help you in your job junt, you need to make it easy for them to do so. To that end, nothing will get you further than clarity and focus.
When you tell people what you are looking for, you want them to think, "I know who you should talk to." The easiest way to get there is to distill what you're looking for into three distinct points. We call this a job-search thesis.
The best job-search thesis will contain:
- Your desired company size.
- Your preferred industry.
- Your desired role.
For example, if you can tell someone at a cocktail party, "I want to work as a product manager at post-Series A company in the fashion industry," there's a good chance they'll remember you the next time they hear about a PM role at a company that makes smart athletic gear. Speaking about yourself with that level of specificity will instantly make connections in the mind of whomever you find yourself talking to.
3. Got experience? Great. Not so much? Then make it.
If you are moving into the startup world from a career in a different industry or type of role, make sure to play up your relevant experience. If you feel like your job title really doesn't translate to the position for which you're applying, break apart the components of your current role into the factors that would be relevant at a startup. For example, if you were a lawyer then you likely have strong attention to detail, analytical problem-solving skills, an ability to explain complex problems to many stakeholders, a strong work ethic, and a history of achievement. These are all things a startup would want out of a product manager. This exercise is especially important for more senior individuals trying to move into the startup world.
Of course, you don't have to rely only on your previous experience — the best candidates never do. Fortunately, the rules around experience have shifted and there are ways for you to start developing skills within a given field even if you've never worked in that field before.
Let's say you're really interested in doing digital marketing for a fashion tech company. For less than $50 you can start running Facebook advertisementsfor a friend's T-shirt website, cultivating skills in running paid social media campaigns. If you want to do UX design for an eCommerce startup, you can publish a series of UX critiques about popular eCommerce sites on a blog. Engineers rarely depend on resumes alone anymore; they demonstrate their experience by publishing their code to GitHub.
Even opening an account on Medium.com and writing commentary on the industry you're interested in can go a long way. Coupling this level of initiative with your previous (or nonexistent) work experience is the best way to demonstrate your talents and potential. In addition to gaining relevant skills that will assist you in a new role, you'll appear to be both passionate about the subject matter and a knowledgeable self-starter who practices it in your spare time.
4. Do your homework. Then, do some more.
With a solid network, clear thesis, and foundation of experience, it's only a matter of time before you start landing interviews. Most recruiters will tell you at this point to spend 12 hours preparing for an interview. We think that's child's play. You aren't interviewing to be a cog in a massive corporate machine. You are being assessed on whether the founder or manager would bet the future of their budding company on you. Make them comfortable — and confident in you — by being the most prepared person in the room.
Find founders on Twitter, LinkedIn, or in the blogosphere and consume every bit of content you can find. The information you'll find there is priceless because you will gain a deep understanding of how founders think and feel about the world. You can even head to Facebook and see if you have any mutual friends. Does all of this seem a little overboard? Perhaps, but startups expect a different level of commitment than many traditional careers. So if this sounds like a lot, you'll be in for a big surprise once the job begins.
5. Play the numbers game. Ask metrics-driven questions.
In an interview with a startup, you really have three goal goals: 1) Clearly communicate why you're capable of doing the job, 2) be the most passionate person in the room, and 3) ask the best questions. You certainly should ask standard interview questions, like "What makes someone successful in this role?" or "What will the first 90 days look like?" But what you really want to do in the interview is discover the metrics the company cares most about.
Sure, a company's public brand may be all about changing the world, but we can guarantee that every night before they go to bed and every morning after they wake up, the person interviewing you is checking a dashboard with a handful of key metrics, such as cost to acquire a customer, lifetime value of a customer, net promoter score, or churn. When they leave your interview, they'll probably check it again.
Metrics dictate performance, and in the uncertain conditions in which startups live, having insight into how well the business is doing is essential for a small team that has a lot of impact.
When you go into your interview, don't be afraid to ask:
- What metrics are you checking daily?
- What metrics are you checking weekly?
- What metrics are you checking monthly?
- What do you see as the biggest levers for improving those metrics?
- How are you doing against your goals?
- How can this role help you get there faster?
The answer to those questions will give you everything you need to know to position yourself as the best fit for the job. For example, if you're applying for a marketing job and learn in the interview that high product churn is keeping the founder up at night, you can follow up with an email with three ideas on how the company can immediately improve retention.
6. Pay attention to startup funding cycles.
Fundraising impacts everything about a startup, and understanding it can also serve as a huge advantage for you in your job hunt. When you read that a startup raised $15 million, it's safe to assume it isn't looking for a safe, high-yielding savings account to put it in. The company is going to put almost every cent to work by increasing marketing, improving the product, and, most importantly building the team it needs to take the business to the next level. There is literally no time when the ground is more fertile for you to land a job than immediately after a startup raises money. So it's on you to stay on top of the news.
TechCrunch is an excellent resource for keeping up with fundraising news. The site will report on just about every dollar raised in the startup world. If you're interested in a particular company, set up Google Alerts so you can be the first to know whenever a new round of funding comes in. If you want to be ahead of the curve, AngelList has a directory of all startups looking to raise their first round of funding. It's also an excellent job board.
These tips are just a start — for more expert insight, download our free guide, How to Get a Job at a Startup. Discover firsthand tips on how to break into a startup career, clear up confusing industry jargon, and learn about important resources that will aid you on your journey. Good luck!
Below is an article originally written by PowerToFly hiring partner General Assembly and published on December, 21 2017. Go to General Assembly's page on PowerToFly to learn more.
Anthony Pegues was a part-time janitor in the suburbs of New York City who sought a way into a rewarding career. He saw tech — and web development specifically — as a viable path, but didn't have the resources to get the skills he needed to be ready for a job in the field.
Unfortunately, Pegues' situation is all too common. There are plenty of tech jobs available, and people who are eager to fill them. But many passionate, prospective developers from underserved and overlooked communities do not have the resources, time, or opportunities to pursue their passions and get the skills they need to transform their careers.
At General Assembly, our central mission is to create pathways so that everyone with the dedication and commitment to reshape their career can do so, regardless of their prior experience or ability to pay for the training they need to get there. To this end, we've spent the last few years launching and refining strategies and programs that break down barriers and contribute to the diversity of the tech sector.
But there's still much more work to do.
We've made some important strides toward our mission this year. To date, 500 students have participated in Immersive programs at GA at no cost to them. These individuals come from a wide variety of backgrounds and life experiences — 50% are women, 37% are black or African-American, 20% are Hispanic/Latinx, and 38% have not completed a four-year degree.
After his four months of training, Pegues was honored as valedictorian of his class and gave a rousing speech that spoke to their journey, and the bright future ahead.
"We've all come from different parts of the world to learn something absolutely foreign to us," said Pegues, who, after completing the program, was hired as a developer at the clothing startup MM.LaFleur. (Read more about his journey on Fast Company.) "We all have an individual story to tell, but during this program, I think we can all agree on the same story. It's tough. Exciting. Will-testing. But at the end we can all say, 'I'm a developer.'"
Thanks to collaborations with nonprofits like Per Scholas, government partners like the New York City Tech Talent Pipeline, and more, we've been able to refine and evolve our understanding of the social and technical support individuals from underrepresented backgrounds need to succeed in tech — and provide financial support they need to realize their vision.
Below are some highlights from our work this year to further these goals, and empower more individuals like Pegues to pursue work they love.Expanded opportunities for veterans.
Expanded opportunities for veterans.
While on active duty in 1997, GA President and COO Scott Kirkpatrick served as a military social aide to President Bill Clinton in the White House.At GA, we're already helping veterans start their civilian career journey through our Opportunity Fund scholarship and discounts toward part- and full-time programs in in coding, data, and design. But we're deeply proud that veterans are now also eligible to use their post-9/11 GI Bill® benefit for GA's Web Development and User Experience Design Immersives in New York, and we're in the process of securing approval in all of our eligible U.S. markets.
General Assembly President and COO Scott Kirkpatrick knows firsthand the daunting experience of leaving the armed forces and re-entering civilian life. Read about his journey from the U.S. Coast Guard to graduate school (with the help of the Veterans Assistance program) and a new career path in education.
New financing options for students.
Many people interested in a career in tech have the drive to learn the skills they need to succeed — but not the means to pay for the training. They may also have a low credit score, making it hard to secure a loan, or face other barriers to securing funding.
With our income-share agreement (ISA) pilot with Opportunity@Work, a nonprofit supported by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, 15 students in Washington, D.C., who were ready to learn at GA but could not afford the program are taking the Web Development Immersive at no upfront cost. They are also being provided with additional supportive services and living stipends. When, and only if, they secure a job after graduation, they will pay back a portion of their income, benchmarked to affordability for the individual.
Currently, we're exploring how we can make ISAs available across our campuses to remove obstacles for students with credit scores too low to take out a loan, or who are unsure about whether they can repay a loan after graduation depending on their employment outcome.
Partnerships with industry leaders to transform talent pipelines.
Our Data Science Standards Board meets at GA to chart a path toward transparency in the field.Businesses in every industry are facing skills gaps due to rapid technological change, resulting in confusion around the competencies needed to fill fast-developing roles like digital marketer or data scientist. Companies need clear skills requirements to better gauge their team's competencies, determine skills gaps, and define opportunities for growth.
This year, we teamed with leaders at major companies to help illuminate transparent pathways for both employers and job seekers through the creation of standards boards in digital marketing and data science. Board members include experts from Booz Allen Hamilton, Nielsen, Priceline, Google, and more, and together we will leverage decades of experience to define skill requirements and establish performance thresholds for workforce-relevant credentials in these fields.
In addition, to help businesses optimize their workforce, we've partnered with L'Oréal to launch Digital Marketing Level 1 (DM1). This robust assessment tests foundational digital marketing skills and has been taken by more than 15,000 professionals worldwide. The assessment is being used to benchmark current talent, create roadmaps for development, as well as evaluate potential hires.
New efforts to increase diversity in tech.
Our commitment to diversifying the tech space comes from not only the need to have different points of view within the industry, but also in the world at large. Throughout 2017, GA has been vocal, and in many cases signed on to amicus briefs, about issues that affect our community, including net neutrality, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), workplace discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community, and more.
We've invested our energy in social impact programs that pioneer new, accelerated training models — like CodeBridge with Per Scholas — aimed at empowering underrepresented communities in technology, including, but not limited to, women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and veterans.
Many of those investments also leverage General Assembly resources. To support the San Francisco-based nonprofit Code2040 as they work to give black and Latinx technologists educational and professional opportunities in tech, employers that hire the program's fellows — including Airbnb, Twitter, and more — will use GA's Web Development Level 1 skills assessment to evaluate candidates' competencies. We've also donated our web development curriculum to Code to Inspire, a nonprofit organization that teaches female students in Afghanistan how to code to increase women's economic and social advancement in the country.
Our efforts this year led to an Optimas award for corporate citizenship from Workforce magazine, as well as a World-Changing Ideas award from Fast Company for our efforts toward building diverse talent pipelines for companies. General Assembly was also recognized by LinkedIn as one of the top 50 most desirable startups to work for in 2017.
Key to advancing diversity efforts is having a clear understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). We recently published a thoughtful post by DEI facilitator Meg Bolger that addressed the differences between these key terms so people can develop a shared understanding and create goals and action plans for themselves and their organizations.
We could not have made this progress without the help of generous donors including Adobe, AT&T, BNY Mellon, Capital One, and Focus Brands and our amazing partners Jobs for the Future, LaGuardia Community College, the NYC Tech Talent Pipeline, Opportunity@Work, Per Scholas, and RealJobs Rhode Island.
As we head into 2018, we're excited to continue these initiatives and work with our communities to increase access to careers in technology and help individuals, and the tech community at large, thrive.