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Leadership / Job Seekers

Doing These 7 Things Can Help Jump-Start Your Startup Career

Recent graduates might be surprised to find so many similarities between landing jobs at startups and industry stalwarts.
Doing These 7 Things Can Help Jump-Start Your Startup Career
Image credit: jamesteohart | Getty Images
- Guest Writer
Head of Recruiting for Farmers Insurance
5 min read

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Getting that first job can often be the most challenging task you'll face as a recent graduate, even today when the labor market is the strongest it has been in years. Landing a gig at a startup can be even more difficult. For the new grad, it's the all too familiar Catch-22: To get a job, you need experience, but to get experience, you need a job. A blank resume doesn't bode well.

Related: 7 Skills to Leave Off Your Resume

But, fear not, young entrepreneur, for many of the same rules of engagement that exist at the largest corporations also apply at startups. Here are seven tips I've learned while at Farmers Insurance that can help you find success in the startup job market:

1. Know the product.

Whether it's the latest app, a physical product or insurance, companies need to know that you understand and believe in what they're selling. You don't need to spend hours reviewing the fine print, but a little preparation goes a long way. Review their website, promotional materials and perform a Google search to learn more about the company and the public's perception of its product.

Related: 7 Tips to Make Sure Your LinkedIn Picture Is Helping, Not Hurting, Your Prospects

2. Focus on soft skills.

Remember that your prospective employer knows you're a recent grad. They probably won't expect your resume to provide a lot of work-related achievements. However, they may be looking for soft skills and personal qualities that provide hints about your potential. These include qualities such as leadership, curiosity, problem-solving, writing, communication, organization and collaboration.

3. Individualize your application ... to a point.

Plenty of viral stories of job applicants demonstrate how candidates found unique and creative ways to express their individuality within a job application. However, I've reviewed plenty over the years ranging from the inappropriate to the downright bizarre. Don't get caught up in proving how interesting and indispensable you are as someone with little to no experience. Instead, talk about your hobbies and interests to tell the story of what makes you, "you." Startups may be more receptive to the former, but don't let that justify taking unnecessary risks.

Related: The Interview Question That Employers Should Stop Asking

4. Demonstrate your savviness via social.

It's a cliché but it's true that "it's not what you know but who you know" that opens doors. Some advisors go so far as to recommend spending 75 percent of your time networking and only 25 percent looking through job boards on the computer. You should already be on LinkedIn, but consider additional platforms like Twitter or Facebook to communicate your personal brand by sharing relevant, interesting content. Remember: quality over quantity, provided you remain active and attuned to the most recent trends. It goes without saying, but be discreet about what you post on social. One of the worst things one can do is to use social to trash competitors and alienate your audience and potential employers.

5. Let people help you.

Monster.com recommends making extensive use of your alumni network. You'll be surprised how willing older grads are to meet with you and provide contacts and advice. Also consider joining the local chapter of a professional group. As a young college grad, I joined the local chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management and began attending meetings. That landed me an internship, which eventually turned into my first job in HR. There are plenty of networking opportunities for startups in most major cities, and though daunting as a new grad, you have to take the first step.

Related: Want to Be Engaged in Your Career? Be Indispensable.

6. Culture is crucial.

If information about a company's culture isn't readily available, be sure to ask about it in your interview. That will demonstrate curiosity and will show the interviewer that you've given some thought to the type of corporate culture you would be most comfortable in. Startups often have wildly different interpretations of this, and sites like Glassdoor.com provide firsthand accounts of employees' experiences. You may be spending upwards of 50 hours per week at your first job, so don't wait to find out if you'll be trapped in a constant culture clash.

7. Finally, if you don't get your dream job, consider taking one that's offered.

Having that first job on your resume shows that you've demonstrated value to at least one employer. Even if it isn't the next Silicon Valley unicorn, you're gaining invaluable experience that will serve you throughout your career until the dream job comes calling. And in the meantime, you can hone your soft skills, take classes and continue networking at startup-related events on your way to your next job and to a fulfilling career -- where you will then be able to offer encouragement to a new batch of fresh-faced entrepreneurs.

Related Video: 3 Tips to Crush Your Next Job Interview

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