Resumes For Startups

I run a jobs list in Boulder, one that is easily found when searching for a job.  People send in resumes and about 35 companies welcome them to town.

The list is just under two years old.  I read every single resume that comes through, and as a whole, people are pretty bad at getting a job at a startup.  Here are some tips.

  1. Know your specialty.  If you are a marketer, developer or designer, list that at the top.  List it in the subject line even.  “Rails Developer Looking For Early Stage Startup” would be a great title.  I should be able to glance at your coverletter and know what you are looking to do.
  2. Your resume should be named yourname.pdf (no word).
  3. Be creative.  One of the best cover letters I’ve ever read said “I’m amazing at creating buzzwords, drinking beer and finding adventure.  I’m also a kick ass Rails Developer, just coming off a long term contract.  Early stage startups are a plus.”  This sure as hell beats ‘I’m looking for a challenging and engaging environment to develop my talents.’
  4. In the history of startups, not a single ‘generalist’ has ever been hired.  They are called founders.
  5. Really, if you can’t focus on something, at least in your introduction, you have a <0% chance of landing a job.  Specialize!  Customer support!  QA! Development! Marketing!  Intern!  Product Development!  Design!
  6. Be a human.  The worst case scenario of getting a job is sending out a resume and getting no responses.  Be a human, ask questions that can be answered by friendly folks.  Keep the discussion going.
  7. Be clear.  You are looking for a job.  Cut the buzzswords, what is the best fit?  Steady?  Fast paced?  Live in Boulder?  Just say it.  Cut the shit.
  8. Ditch a resume.  You really don’t need one to work at a startup.  A simple email of ‘this is what I have done, I’m looking to join a team as a _________ to kick some ass’ is a great way to do it.  List specific projects and accomplishments.  Show that you can be on point, effective and humble.
  9. Comment on their blogs!  Company blogs are largely lacking in comments!
  10. Easy way to get into the CEO’s inbox is write a post about the company, saying how you admire / like them.  CEO’s look at the blogs, and if in your bio you are clear in what you are looking to do (Developer!) you might just get an expressway to an interview.
  11. Email is a way to see if you are on it.  Reply almost immediately.  The more out of the usual workday, the more important.  Keep them concise.    “Hey Sue just got your email, quite late here but I would love to respond, a) b) c) d).  Feel free to call if you have any quesitons.
  12. Have a personal blog.  Write posts about what you specialize in.  Get people to comment on it.  Stand out.   You control your personal brand, and if you don’t do this you are showing you don’t care.
  13. Really, have a personal blog.  Today.  Now. Get. On. It.
  14. Not caring is the #1 reason you won’t be hired at a startup.
  15. Hack on stuff.  I like to think there are great fits for people and startups.  When you find that special company, do what you do for them.  “I know you have processes to do things like this, but I couldn’t help but see your PPC campaign is missing some pieces.  If I was there I would help by doing _______”  is a great way to do it.  Consider it the interview the others were to lazy to do.  When getting a job, standing out helps, a ton.  Don’t do this for every app, nor spend too much time on it.
  16. Attend events.  Meet folks there.  Follow up from there.

Someone sent a picture of them doing an impressive flip as an addition to their resume, which in Boulder, is the best cover letter I can think of. Checking to see if he got a job today 🙂

Best Resume Ever

  • I hope you post the reverse for companies, regarding job postings, stating what they are looking for specifically, relocation requirements, etc.

    It is equally as frustrating to see companies posting – contact us if you kick ass!!1! with no specifics. Respect the job hunters time!

  • naomimimi

    fantastic. right in line with what i've learned over the last few months:

    1. resume writing is incredibly difficult
    2. i suck at it

    these tips will help 🙂 thank you, andrew!

  • These are all good tips. I'd emphasize: show your personality.

  • Three things I would add:

    1) Be active in communities, especially the communities you want to work in. Whether the Drupal, startup, Twitter API, Photoshop, etc communities. Making a name as a knowledgeable and known person is invaluable.
    2) Have consistant person branding. Domain, email, social handles, design, logo, etc. Make them sharp and standout.
    3) Crowdsource your resume/cover letter. I had 8 people consisting of personal friends, family, and peers from my development communities proofread mine and the extra polish added was amazing.

  • Great advice Andrew and I think the best long term plan is to never put yourself into a position where you'll resort to having a resume standout from the pack. The more unique you are, the larger web presence you have, the more you communicate and the more effort you put into branding really does more in the end than a resume.

    One idea that I've had for a while is creating an Animoto 3-4 min video of your own web presence and projects. The vid would include but not limited to important tweets, comments, blog posts, pics, short vids, testimonials or examples of hacks. It could serve as a great substitute for a resume/coverletter especially when targeting web/tech startups that could really demonstrate your personal brand . Any thoughts?

    And, Jason Cohen of SmartBear software has written a great post regarding cover letters titled, “How to write a cover letter that actually gets read”. Highly recommend it! http://workawesome.com/your-job/how-to-write-a-

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  • Andrew, I just came across this post as I am currently seeking a start-up to join in Boston. Definitely got me thinking out of the box and putting much less emphasis on my resume and much more on the cover letter and initial email.

    Thanks for the tips!

  • Hey, thought I'd let you know that I am following your advice on CV writing after trying to update my own (see my blog post for a good rant http://rushie.tumblr.com/post/477510550/a-rant-…). I think your blog is great and love the Startup Weekend idea – genius.
    Adam (Cardiff, UK)

  • ryanwanger

    Although I see your point, you also need to remember that, as mentioned, many startups are founded by generalists and need help in almost every department.

    We're not looking for someone who just wants a paycheck – we want someone who is also passionate about our idea, and can step in and be an expert at whatever they are already an expert at.

    You can do sweet mockups and code it out in CSS? Awesome, the guy who is doing mockups/html/css/sales/ceo work can now focus more on sales. Can you do Rails backend stuff in your sleep? Great, the guy who does that can focus on the front end.

    The first thing we ask anyone we talk to is: “What do YOU want to do?” If you're passionate about working on any one aspect of development that we need help on (which is most aspects), then you're WAY more likely to get hired.

  • Resumes that include a long list of “responsibilities included…” are plain boring, and not efficient in selling yourself. Instead of listing responsibilities, therefore, describe your professional achievements.

  • I believe that this post is a great guide for both budding as well as seasoned bloggers.

  • A creative resume is fairly important. Not only it resembles your personality, it also speaks your capability and creativity. Putting more effort and thoughts into creating an impressive resume is definitely worthwhile, as it is usually the first thing any employer sees before flipping through your entire portfolio

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  • Andrew keep it up the advice given by is very nice and definitely i will go with it..

  • Great tips on job searching. Thanks for the information shared here which would be more useful for the job seekers in finding their jobs.

  • yes i would like to go with career advice…

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