For the past few weeks, I’ve focused on recruiting more team members for our offices in Sydney and Manila.
We’re hiring senior and junior engineers in both places, and communications and sales managers in Sydney. It seems as if everyone wants to work at a start-up: I’ve been flooded with applications from qualified people for all roles. More than 80 applied for our communications position.
Despite this, I find it hard to recruit good people. Landing a job at a start-up offers a career breakout opportunity. You’re on the frontline, creating an impact, making a name for yourself, working with a small, ambitious team. You’re help build a product you love and will share in its ownership.
The ability to sell yourself seems obvious yet I’m astounded by the inability of most applicants to achieve this. Most people approach the application and interview process with the same lacklustre indifference usually reserved for a government job.
If you’re one of those who applied for a role at Posse in the past month, and especially if you’re one of the 20 or so who made it to the interview stage but didn’t get a call back, then you may see some of yourself in the stories I’m about to tell.
Please don’t be offended – this is just my experience and I hope my feedback will help you in the future and lift the quality of applicants for other start-ups. I also hope it will save founders (including me) from trailing through time-wasting applications and interviews with people who just aren’t right.
When I think of the applicants who impressed me – particularly the ones I’ve hired, it’s clear to see a few simple things they did right. I can imagine most young job hunters would be intimidated to know that more than 80 people applied for the same position.
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Yet from the employer’s perspective, at least 75 of the 80 applications will be hopeless: Misspelled, badly punctuated and so on, often to the edge of illegibility, so you’re really only competing with a handful of people.
Before you apply to work at Posse or any other start-up, read these tips. They’ll help:
1. If you don’t want to work at a start-up, don’t apply
Landing a job at a start-up is a special opportunity, but it’s only right for a few people.
Start-up teams consist of ambitious, creative people who’ll do whatever it takes to succeed. You’ll be thrown in at the deep end and expected to swim without much training or support. You’ll need to hustle for an organisation that no one has heard of and motivate yourself when things get tough.
The upside is that there’s very little process – everything is agile, you get to make up what you do every day and there’s often a big payoff both financially and in terms of skipping several rungs on the career ladder if you’re successful. This lifestyle isn’t for everyone, so before you apply for a job, think long and hard about whether it’s for you.
I look for people who are seeking this kind of opportunity and they’re easy to spot.
They’ve usually created some kind of project early in their career. Perhaps they started a business themselves, built a blog following, or created something in the not-for-profit sector.
If you’ve done something like this, make sure you lead with it in your cover letter. I look for people who are obviously ambitious and have accomplished something difficult where they’ve had to overcome barriers – preferably something they’ve created themselves.
I look for evidence that they’re hard-working, so lots of extracurricular activity is a good sign. When you get to an interview, don’t ask about the office hours (start-ups don’t have any, and if you ask then you’re the wrong kind of person). And don’t, as someone admitted in an interview with me last week when I asked what his biggest weakness was, reply, “I’m a bit lazy.”
Although I gave him credit for being honest, I deducted credit for being stupid by admitting it in an interview. Start-ups aren’t the place for lazy people!
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