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Guide to Finding a Startup Job

There are so many startup companies looking to add members to their team, but it’s sometimes hard to find where and how to apply. After all, these companies are just getting off the ground and may not have the name recognition of, say, Google, Uber or Facebook. But all those companies began as startups, and many members of their leadership teams have been working there since before anyone had heard of them. Joining a startup company is an opportunity to be part of something new, different and innovative. You get to help a company grow from the ground up. Working at a startup could potentially lead to a lifelong career at a successful company that appreciates you sticking with them from the beginning, partial ownership in something you guided from beginning to end, or even the foot in the door at the venture capital firm that funds your startup company.

What is a Startup?

A startup is any entrepreneurial  company that was just recently started by its founders. In the earliest stages, the funding for the business may come solely from the founders themselves, their friends and family, or crowdsourcing. As the company develops, it seeks investments from venture capital firms or other businesses– but it can only attract these investors by proving their product or service will be profitable in the future. It may take years before the company reaches the point of profitability, if they ever reach it. Failure rates are high, but some of today’s most successful tech companies are or were startups.

There are six stages in startup development:

1. Pre-Seed Stage: Sometimes called the “idea phase,” this is at the very beginning or before the startup is even formed. Someone, usually the company founders, identifies a problem in the market and firmly believes their product or service could be the answer. Analyzing the potential profitability and assessing the severity of the problem are key to developing a startup that is successful.

2. Seed Stage: Seed stage is when the company seeks validation of their idea by investment from third-parties, be they family, bank loans or incubator programs. It’s also when the company conducts internal research and tests on the concepts developed in the pre-seed stage. Depending on results, the pre-seed business plan may need to be re-worked or scrapped altogether.

3. Early Stage: Now that the idea is fleshed out and the first round of investment is over, the company must develop a minimally viable product (MVP) that is ready for the market, but doesn’t have to be the final design of the product. MVP is essentially a “first draft,” and this stage is used to test the product and inform development of future editions. This is also the stage where a startup typically needs to grow team size to more than just the founders, i.e., they need to hire people to work there. A new round of funding among venture capital firms usually commences so the company can accommodate labor and production costs. Series A has to be raised before the company can leave early stage.

4. Growth Stage: getting customers and scaling up the business is the name of the game in growth stage. This stage is where most companies fail because they are unable to attract enough customers to make their product profitable, or are unable to manage their business profitably. But being part of a company successfully navigating the growth stage is exciting: the company size grows exponentially, company culture emerges, values solidify and the company can begin strategizing where they will go next. This is where series B, C and sometimes D funding occurs.

5. Expansion Stage: when a start-up grows up it becomes a “scaleup,” defined as a company that has grown at an annual rate of 20% or more over the last three years. In essence, everything gets bigger and wider: company size, revenue, you name it. The strategy developed in the growth stage takes the company to new markets, industries or other countries. New departments or divisions are made, and new workers hired to staff them. Subsequent funding rounds are D+.

6. Exit Phase: startups that are modeled to grow into long-term companies do not enter this optional phase. However, the goal of many start-ups, once they reach profitability, is to sell the business to another company. Once they negotiate a successful sale, the company then “exits” the market.
Startups have different hiring needs in each stage. They make key hires that set the foundation of the company in the early stage, try to bring in more senior and experienced talent in the growth stage, and mature and birth new departments in the expansion stage.

How to Look for and Find a Startup Job

Startups post open positions on the usual job sites, such as LinkedIn and Indeed, but they also recruit from their own professional networks or use start-up exclusive job sites like our own Startup Search. And since startup positions need to be more flexible and cover a wider array of responsibilities than the same position at a larger company, many hiring managers at startups tell us it's easier to find the candidates they’re looking for by using sites dedicated to startup companies.

To find startup jobs near you, check our current listings here.

Finding the best job for you and assessing career opportunities

Not every “good” job is going to be good for you. While it can feel imperative to take the first offer given to you, every job applicant should take the time to consider how the job will work for them before committing. If you’re balancing multiple offers from different companies, compare them and assess which offer meets more of your needs or desires. Especially in startups, which can sometimes demand long hours, high bandwidth and few material benefits in the early stages, applicants need to ask themselves: do I believe in the company’s product, the founders and their business model? Is this a place where I wouldn’t mind the occasional all-nighter, for work I’m passionate about? Is the compensation worth it? Could I grow here?

Entry Level Jobs

Almost everyone starts their career in an entry-level job, no matter the industry. These jobs require the least amount of qualifications or experience, and are “bottom rung” in the company ladder, both in terms of responsibilities and compensation. But that doesn’t mean all entry level jobs are being some executive’s coffee runner or sorting company mail. Entry level jobs at startups are a valuable way for recent graduates to gain experience in their industry, work with future business leaders and get paid to do exciting work. Startup entry level employees also tend to be promoted in less time than their peers at larger, established companies.

When you apply to a job at a startup, you’ll likely be communicating directly with the hiring manager as opposed to a recruiter or human resources department common at bigger companies. And your job description may be more varied and hold more responsibilities than a position with an identical title at an older company. But, that means even entry level workers can gain more experience and develop their career faster than workers at a legacy company.

Salary can vary depending on the industry, the role and the company’s funding situation. But it's common practice among startups to offer even the most junior new employees some equity compensation– which could lead to a high payout down the road. If you’ve received an offer from a start-up and want to understand your compensation package, read our guide here.