Skip to main content

How to get hired: 4 key things that startups look for in employees

startup job hire hunt scaleup start up job qualities traits employee employees

Have you decided that the unique opportunities presented by startups — rather than established powerhouse companies — are what you want for your future career? Good choice!

After all, 67% of people who moved from a large company to a smaller one reported feeling more appreciated, and 35% feel like they can make a real impact in their company.

If you’re looking for an “in” with a startup, we’ve got some tips that can give you a step up when it comes to getting hired. Let’s see which boxes you check off! Without further ado, here are 4 things startups look for in their potential employees.   

☑️Do you have the skills? 


Startups often have limited resources. So, they want to ensure you have the skills required for the position! Do a thorough read-through of the job posting and be honest with yourself about whether or not you have most of the listed technical skills — especially if you’re looking to get on board with a tech startup.

If not, keep in mind there are lots of tools to help beef up your skills outside the 9-5. Take online courses, practice and level up so you can speak to the effort you’re putting in when you land that next interview!

However, we often remind our clients not to get caught up in ensuring their candidate has everything they ask for in the job posting. If something can be taught and you hit some of their other more critical boxes (such as culture fit — more on that later), then they may still choose to hire you. Be realistic, but don’t take yourself out of the game too soon, either.  

Bonus: Startups will also be looking for people who are quick and willing learners. This is great if you’re the kind of person who looks for developmental opportunities in the workplace.   

☑️Are you passionate about the company?  


Rather than hard skills, most startups want to know whether or not you’re passionate about what they do. This makes sense, considering startups are scrappy and often find their beginnings as passion projects.

What’s more, startup teams that reported high levels of previous experience but average to low levels of passion and collective vision were overall weaker. So, if a startup takes a risk on hiring you, they need to know that you’re in it for the right reasons. 

Even if you’re not passionate about their exact product, you need to be driven to work in a startup. Make sure your research into the industry and excitement to make a difference shines through as you navigate the application process.

An easy way to do this is by creating a one-page “cheat sheet” to reference during your interview. Write down information you learn about the company and why it’s interesting/relevant to you. For example, if a company just won an industry award, make a note to mention it and tie in a question or personal story to emphasize your interest.

☑️How do you think?


The answer here should be “outside the box”. Startups need people who can work outside their designated role — especially when they’re brand new.

Often, the roles in a startup aren’t siloed as they would be in a traditional company. They’ll be looking for innovative people who can multitask, aren’t afraid to take on new roles and challenges, and can think beyond just the day-to-day of their job description.

If that doesn’t sound like you, a startup might not be the best fit. However, if you can demonstrate to the company during your application process that you are a dynamic person who can help move the company forward and continue its growth trajectory, you will be a strong contender.  

Reading the resources we provide to hiring companies can also give you an inside look at their thought processes… Here are five other traits we advise startups to look for when hiring.  

☑️Are you the right fit?  


One of the most important things to a startup is whether or not you’re the right culture add. For them, a mismatched “puzzle piece” can lead to turnover, which comes with a hefty price tag (nearly $30,000 to replace an entry-level employee).

Being the right fit is also crucial for your happiness at work! If there’s a mismatch between what you want from a company and what the startup can offer, then you’ll feel less fulfilled at work.

Of course, everybody puts their best foot forward when it comes to hiring. Most of what you’ll see comes tied up in a big beautiful bow called employer branding — meant to show you what it’s really like to work for the company, but also to entice you to apply.  

We’ve put together a resource to help you understand what a startup’s employer branding is really saying. If you realize the company isn’t the best fit for you at any point during the interview process, don’t be afraid to say so politely. At the end of the day, you should feel happy to be there!

From general culture add to personality aspects like drive, willingness to learn, and problem-solving, there are definitely a few moving pieces that hopeful startup candidates need to consider when it comes to getting hired.

This list should have you feeling like you’re in the fast lane for making your startup dreams come true. If you’re looking for more, don’t forget to peruse the rest of our content. We offer resources for both companies and job seekers that can give you a leg up on the competition.   

Related Posts

16 Resources to Help You Become an Expert at Employer Branding

We say it time and time again. Investing in your employer brand is SO important. But we won’t lie. It’s not something you can easily check off your to-do list and be done with. It’s something that takes time, energy and nurturing to get it to where it needs to be. Luckily for you, we’ve …

Keep reading

Join our Community

Return to top