This is the complete guide to finding startup jobs.
Here you will find everything you need to secure your next role in an exciting, high-growth business, whether you are already at a startup or if you are moving from the corporate world.
Looking for your first startup job is very different to moving from one growing company to another, so we have split this guide into two halves – one if you already work in startups and are looking to move, one if you are looking to make a change and get your first startup job.
Click on the links below to jump to a specific section that interests you or scroll down to continue reading.
Already working in startups?
Identifying the right startup
As you are already part of the startup ecosystem we won’t delve into too much detail about how to find interesting startups. Do have look at the in-depth guide later in this article, though, if you feel you need some additional inspiration.
We will, however, look in more detail about how you go about choosing the right kind of startup for your next career move.
The main question to consider is:
If you have cut your teeth in a small organisation and had a real, measurable impact, moving to a more established business might give you a chance to test your skills in a more structured environment and benefit from working with more senior staff.
In a very early stage business you may well have sole responsibility for significant areas of the company and limited guidance or support to help with your decision making. Thus, while you be constantly learning on the job, you may lack the sort of mentorship which will help you to develop and grow professionally. Moving to a more established company will enable you to take this next step.
If you are currently in a more mature startup there may be greater opportunity to take on responsibility and test yourself in a smaller organisation with fewer decision makers and greater individual autonomy.
Another factor to consider is a job’s risk/reward ratio. In a smaller company, the chance for fast, significant growth (and the associated financial rewards from share options or salary increase) is likely to be higher than in a larger business which has already reached a size that has enabled it to create more structure.
The flip side of this, of course, is that the chances of a company failing are much higher in a younger business than in one which has proved its model and has more significant funding and/or revenue.
Familiarise yourself with the company’s growth plans and where they aim to be in the next 3-5 years. Do these match with your ambitions? Is it realistic? And what will such growth mean for you personally if you take a job there?
Startup hiring process – CV and interview
Moving from one startup to another gives you a great opportunity to demonstrate exactly what you can offer and where you have succeeded in a similar environment.
Unlike a candidate moving from the corporate world, you will not have to anticipate and deal with objections around your transition to startup life during the hiring process.
You will, however, be expected to demonstrate the direct impact you have had on your current company, complete with goals and metrics.
When compiling your CV, be clear on your areas of responsibility and (where possible) reference tangible goals and outcomes for each of these. This gives your potential employer a clear sense of how you have contributed and, crucially, that you understand the importance of measuring your impact.
Be prepared to build on this information in interview. How did you go about tackling your areas of responsibility? Why did you do it that way? What went well and what didn’t? And how important were you in achieving the goals that were set?
While you don’t necessarily need to have all the facts and figures related to your work in your head, it is important to have key metrics to hand (and be able to explain why they were important), particularly for your current or most recent position.
Given startups are focused on testing and developing ideas, you should also have clear examples of what you have learnt from being in a similar environment.
This can be from a personal perspective (“I developed my understanding of basic HTML in order to get our newsletter out without requiring IT support”) but should also cover business-wide learnings that you can bring as a value-add to the new role (“We tested LinkedIn advertising extensively with limited success, so I would be hesitant about investing significantly in it as an advertising platform”).
Negotiating your startup job offer
Once you get to offer stage, there are still many areas to consider.
Basic salary, soft benefits, bonus scheme, profit share, share options – there are potentially lots of moving parts to factor in.
You should, therefore, have a clear idea of what your current package is worth overall in order to make a fair comparison with any offer you receive.
As a rule of thumb, moving to a growth-stage startup should mean a greater basic salary (assuming you have comparable responsibilities) but may reduce your potential earnings from performance-related pay (such as profit share).
It may also mean fewer (or even no) stock options but this might be offset by their greater value. If you have existing options, take into account how much vesting is left: the closer they are to being fully vested, the more they are worth to you.
The reverse of this may be true if you move to an early-stage venture: your basic salary may not increase but areas such as profit share and share options may offer greater long-term reward.
With a clear (and realistic) idea of the value of your current package, you will be in a stronger position to negotiate with a new employer. Be clear what you are sacrificing and understand where you will potentially gain from a move.
Want to move into startups?
Making the move from the corporate world to the altogether different one of startups is not for everyone but it can be an incredible rewarding step (both personally and financially).
The benefits of working for a startup, from level of autonomy to job satisfaction, are well-documented. If you are reading this guide we presume you already have a good sense of them, so here we will aim to give you a comprehensive overview of the process of transitioning to a startup job, from identifying exactly what a startup is to the hiring process and negotiating an offer.
Definition of a startup
Ultimately, there is no single unifying definition of what a startup is.
This is perfectly demonstrated by the fact that behemothic companies valued at over $1b claim to be startups, seemingly putting them in the same category as pre-revenue two-man bands working out of someone’s living room.
It has been argued that a ‘startup’ can be defined on a wide range of bases:
Number of employees, profitability, age, or even management structure. You could also say that it is more of an approach than a definition, temporarily testing an idea moving and towards a more permanent existence if it works.
So ‘startup’ covers a multitude of sins but for the purposes of this guide we will narrow it down.
While you could argue a multi-national organisation with hundreds of staff could still be a startup if it has grown very quickly, the majority of self-declared startups you will find on a job hunt will have under a hundred staff, limited profit, and be under five years old.
How to find startups
There are a plethora of routes to finding suitable startups where you can see yourself working.
Given the lack of clear definition and the number of companies in the Capital, there is no definitive list of London startups but AngelList and Crunchbase are a solid place to start to get an overview of companies, with filters by industry, funding, size etc.
If you know you are looking for a more established startup that has gone through several funding rounds, websites of venture capital firms are another good source of leads.
Each VC firm will list their portfolio of companies, some will also allow you to filter by factors such as industry or stage of development (like Balderton’s portfolio page). The VentureLoop website is also a dedicated job site for vacancies within VC funded firms.
Another avenue is the numerous awards dedicated to successful startups.
Some are more prestigious (and therefore a better marker of quality) than others. The startups.co.uk annual Startups Awards is a good starting place, with its alumni including a number of now household names. The Growing Business Awards is a similar concept also boasting an impressive array of previous winners. If you are looking in a specific sector, most have their own awards too.
Another potential source of interesting companies is public pitching sessions.
One of the best known of these is Pitch at the Palace, a highly competitive event which seeks to connect entrepreneurs and early-stage businesses with potential supporters, including CEOs, influencers, angels, and mentors, with the final held at St. James’ Palace. It’s a great place to identify up-and-coming businesses that you think could be a good fit for you in your next job.
Virgin also run a competitive pitching competition, Voom, with the chance to pitch to Richard Branson and £1m in prizes up for grabs.
Although it’s not what you would consider a traditional ‘pitch’, crowdfunding sites such as CrowdCube are increasingly being used by startups to raise funds from a broader pool of public investors, and are therefore another great place to find growing startups.
What skills startups are looking for
Before launching into a range of startup job applications, it is worth pondering whether a) you possess the right sorts of skills to move into the startup world, and b) how you can best convey them.
We’ll deal with the latter in more detail in the next section but first and foremost, what are startups actually looking for from new hires?
Here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of key traits that startups typically value highly:
- Action bias
Essentially, do you wait around for all the information you need to make a decision and rely on the green light from someone else, or do you accept sometimes you need to get started on some work even when you are not entirely sure how it will turn out? Startups move fast – you need to lean towards getting things done to succeed.
- Ability to execute
While it is always good to come up with great ideas, this means little in the startup world if you cannot actually implement them. As such startups will look for evidence of your ability to get things done and take something from concept to reality.
- Ability to work independently
There no no deep-rooted management structures and even fewer support staff at startups. If you can’t get something done on your own, you are of limited use.
- Ability to fit into a small team/cultural fit
Counterintuitively, while independent working is important, arguably even more crucial is your ability to fit into what is likely to be a small, close-knit team. Startups can be intense environments and more often than not involve long hours. If you don’t get on it with people around you it can be tough.
- Work ethic/drive
To succeed, startups usually need to squeeze as much value out of all their resources as possible. Employees are one of a startups biggest assets; they need to be driven and work hard to justify their position.
As already alluded to, startup life can be tough. Having a passion for what you do and for the company can be key to successfully navigating the long hours and setbacks.
- Leadership/leadership potential
Whether you are experienced or not, the earlier you join a startup, the more leadership skills you are likely to require. Assuming the company grows as anticipated, you can expect more hires to come in after you who will look up to existing staff for support and guidance. Demonstrating leadership (or leadership potential) is therefore important.
One of the great thing about being part of a startup is the fact you will learn to do new things (often out of necessity), from soft skills like presenting to more tangible things like putting together an HTML email newsletter. If you are to make an impact, you need to be able to learn quickly.
The hiring process for startup jobs – from CV to interview
As you might imagine for startups, the hiring process is less formal than the corporate world.
At the initial application stage, it is relatively rare for startups to require a full, formal cover letter. If they do require information beyond your CV, it is far more likely they ask a handful of targeted questions to gauge your suitability or request a quick optional cover note.
Whatever information you provide, it is important to be targeted and concise. Assume the recipient is time poor and that they value the ability to convey relevant information without waffle or extraneous detail.
Assuming all goes well, the next step is often an introductory phone call which acts as a semi-formal first interview. Again, this is geared up to saving time and ensuring there is a basic match in terms of skills, personality, and outlook, to justify a full face-to-face meeting.
This is sometimes backed up by a task or test to allow the hiring company to see you in action. Often this is a piece of work or challenge that they are currently facing, rather than a contrived test that may not bear much relation to the reality of their every day work.
The final hurdle is likely to be a full interview, often with a range of team members, to gauge you in much more detail and see how you might fit in with the team. While this may include some competency based questions, do not be thrown if the overall format feels more ‘chatty’ than formal interview.
Finally, it is important to remember that many startups will still be creating and defining their hiring processes as you move through them. Do not, therefore, be surprised by unexpected delays, additional requests, or very fast progression. Essentially, expect the unexpected!
Negotiating your startup job offer
Unlike a standard corporate job offer, which might just consist of basic plus some form of bonus, startup job offers can come with a lot of moving parts.
The basic salary will naturally fluctuate based on size of company but can be lower than an equivalent role in a more established organisation, so when applying for a startup job it is important to consider the basic salary as part of the broader package you are being offered.
This broader package will often include a bonus. Almost always directly related to performance, it is a chance for companies to incentivise staff to do well and minimise their risk if things do not go as planned.
A bonus might be solely pegged to your personal performance and whether you hit agreed targets, it might purely relate to the company’s performance, or it might be a combination of both. When considering this part of an offer, it is important to get a clear sense of how achievable the targets in question are and whether you will be rewarded with a percentage of the bonus if you do not quite meet them.
Another form of bonus that is often included in an offer, particularly for more senior candidates, is a profit share scheme. Naturally the value in this is dependent on the company’s performance but if you join a team all working together to a common goal, it can be very rewarding. Make sure you establish the terms of the profit share and any limitations attached to the scheme (for example is it capped if the company does exceptionally well).
A particularly attractive aspect of some startup job offers is the share options scheme. This essentially gives you a small stake in the company if you stay with them for a set period.
If the company grows quickly or goes through additional funding rounds, this can be a great way to see your efforts to help grow a company rewarded. Do bear in mind, though, that it can be hard to put a value on the long-term value for early stage companies.
To get a sense of how options can make up for a lower basic salary, the social media company Buffer provide a good breakdown of their formula for calculating remuneration here. There is also very clear guidance on calculating what stock options are worth to you here and a good benchmark for % of options you might expect to receive based on seniority and stage of company here. For those looking to do some really in-depth research, this is a great starting point (albeit with a US-focus): http://stockoptioncounsel.com/blog/si7tycc4xau33e69oa8y5jerj9z2ql/2013/3/4
Many startups also offer perks that go beyond traditional remuneration considerations, partially driven by the likes of Google and Facebook and their drive to create incredible work environments.
While some of these are faddy and pretty frivolous, you might want to take notice of more concrete offerings. If you are provided lunch every day, for example, this can add up to a good saving (you’d struggle to find lunch for under £5 in most normal Central London office haunts so arguably this could be worth £100/month!).
It is also important to ask what pension scheme is in place (this will shortly be a legal requirement for every single company) and what contribution, if any, the company makes. Not as sexy as free nights out but far more practical and valuable.
You should now have a clear idea of how to identify and impress your next potential employer, whether you are currently in the startup ecosystem or not.
For the chance to get interviews for a wide range of marketing, operations and sales startup jobs in London, sign up to Kandidate.