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Written by Candor Team
May 11, 2022(edited on September 20, 2022)

How to Stand Out When Applying For Your Next Startup Job

And get the job you want 



Whether you’re switching industries or diving into the startup scene for the first time, a job in tech is rewarding. Huge focus on the mission. Great compensation. Flexible work-life. Ability to try different roles. Emphasis on culture. Fast-paced and product-centric environment. Progressive management practices that focus on autonomy and empowerment. We could go on for days. 

It’s no surprise that a lot of these jobs are very competitive. That’s why it’s super important to put yourself in the best possible spot to stand out when applying. Hiring managers can spot an applicant who is firing off 20 cover letter/resume combos every day. Full disclosure, the below approach is not for that kind of ‘scatter gunning’ that won’t help. If you want to stand out from other applicants when applying for your next startup job, then you need to think about optimizing your application, interview approach, and positioning so that you can make yourself the no-brainer choice before your favorite tech company even announces an opening on their team. 

If that sounds like what you’re looking for then, grab a pen, or flick open your notes, and let’s do this! 


How do you stand out from other applicants? Do Your Research 


There’s a BIG difference between the applicant who's already immersed in the company and one who's throwing their resume at every open tech role. When applying for a role, make sure you know this company inside and out and reflect that in your application. Sounds obvious, but most people don’t. Mainly that’s because they research the wrong stuff. Here’s a quick outline of 8 things to research to land your next job in tech and ensure your application stands out from everyone else:

1. Understand the company values. 
You can usually find values on the career site or their blog. You can be sure these will come up in culture-fit interviews later on in the process, but it’s a good idea to understand them straight off the bat and see whether you vibe. If you do it’s a good idea to try and come up with a strong example to demonstrate why you vibe with each of them and include some reference to this in your application (more on that later). 

2. Look at the language they use in their mission statement
You can usually find the mission statement in the footer of their website. 9 times out of 10 this will be written by the Founders so you are getting a real window into their thinking. They tend to describe the problem they are solving now and how they will tackle it in the future. It’s a good idea to absorb this, check you subscribe to the logic, and if you do think about how you can reflect their passion and language in your application and stand out from other applicants. 
 
3. See what investors have to say
You can look at press releases via Google or the company site and usually find out what VC firms and journalists have to say about why they invested. This is a really good way to understand the strengths of a business and why it is attractive to investors. This often provides a useful thread to weave into your application and it’s a surefire way to demonstrate you can wear commercial and strategic hats. This is a great way to ensure your application stands out. 

4. Understand their business model
In simple terms, this is about being able to concisely express how a business makes its money. You can usually work this out by scanning their website or walking the customer journey. 

5. Put yourself in the shoes of their customers
If you can empathize with the customers of the startup you want to join and you’re able to demonstrate why you’re able to in your application, you will be head and shoulders above the rest. Your application will stand out from other applicants like a beacon. 100%. Affinity to customer problems is one of the best signals that Founders look for when assessing prospective candidates, especially those early on in their careers. If you aren’t a target customer yourself then it’s a great opportunity to go and find a friend who is and understand why they would or would not use the product. 

6. Find out who the competitors are
You don’t need to understand the full competitor landscape but if you can demonstrate some appreciation for broader market dynamics then it’s a great way to impress. It’s also a good idea to have an opinion here. If one candidate is expressing excitement for your product because they understand the gap you are shooting for between competitor A and competitor B then as a founder, you want to talk to them. You can’t help it!

7. What’s the history of the business? 
It’s awkward when an applicant doesn’t know a startup’s latest funding round or can’t chat about some of the big company milestones. Make sure you know where the company's roots lie, its mission, and some of the ‘why’ in terms of company formation. Often this is what’s called ‘Founder story’ and you can get this by checking socials or the mission page on their website. 
 
8. Know the job spec inside out
Lastly, know the position you’re going for. Look at both the prerequisites and the ‘nice-to-have’ bullets. Speak about why you have these things in spades and if you don’t acknowledge it and explain why other things you have in your wheelhouse are just as good or better! Equally, being self-aware about what skills and expertise you’ve not acquired yet is a powerful way to demonstrate character. It’s okay to say “I have experience in a, b, and c, as evidenced here, here, and here but I’ve never done anything like ‘d’ before and frankly that excites me!’  Remember a good manager that wants you to grow professionally is not looking for someone who has done 100% of it before. By being authentic and demonstrating a little bit of vulnerability you can ensure your application stands out from the crowd. 

To summarize, a candidate that does their research will always go further than a naturally bright candidate who just wings it. They want to see your investment in the company, and coming in with a ton of knowledge clearly says, ‘I want THIS role, LET’S GO!!!’ 


Try the Product 


Do you know what’s super awkward? Getting the question: “so what do you think of our product?” and having to respond with an ‘erm, I’ll get back to you on that, I’ve not tried it yet’ #instantfail. It sounds so simple, but you’d be amazed at how many applicants forget to reference this.

If it’s B2B and difficult to get your hands on the product, see if you can read the knowledge base, blog posts, or watch Youtube/Looms that show how the product works.  If you can get your eyes on it, this is a great way to source and suggest improvements to the customer experience. Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes: if you speaking to someone who is talking about all the opportunities there are to improve the product based on first-hand experience of trying it the night before the interview versus chatting to someone who hasn’t bothered, what would you be thinking? Yup. Hire the first, bye-bye the second. 


Reach Out To Someone On The Team


Reaching out to someone on the team is a great way to demonstrate how keen you are on the position as well as being a brilliant way to get a headstart and understand a bit more about the culture. 

Find someone in a similar role as the one you are applying for at the company and shoot them a quick DM asking if you can ‘grab 10mins over zoom with a coffee.’ We’re big fans of being upfront and saying that you applied for *insert role* and just have a couple of questions about the role. Chances are, if they think you are a good fit for the culture and the team, they’ll be more than happy to put in a good word. 


Go Beyond Your Resume And Share How You Work


Your resume is a sales tool, but it’s not the only tool you have to showcase the value you bring to a team (thank goodness!). 

We’ve got your back here, don’t sweat it! People want to know who they’ll be working with and what that person is like to work with. That’s why, when you create a profile on Candor, you’re sharing insights on not just what you do, but how you do it and the kind of teammate you are. You’re also demonstrating that you are the type of person who is completely open to feedback and okay with publishing your personal growth journey online. This is a unique lens and a strong indicator to Founders that you are coachable and have a growth mindset - 2 vital attributes startups look for in the early employees. We are of course biased here but we do think it's a novel and unique way to ensure your application stands out from the rest. 


Share Your Portfolio 


Creativity is crazy in demand. Whether you have past projects or are working on passion projects, sharing your portfolio is a must when it comes to showing potential employers what you’re capable of. Show them things you’ve written, web design projects, or open-source projects you’ve contributed to. Create a personal website or simply craft some Google slides that show off your clarity of communication.  

Make sure your portfolio is relevant to the position you’re applying for. If you have tons of projects (go you!), choose the ones that match the kind of work advertised in the job description. 


Send The Founder A Personal Message


Even if this one feels a little daunting, companies are different these days. Gone are the hierarchies and strict guidelines for hiring. In many tech companies, specifically early-stage start-ups, the founders will likely be owning the whole hiring process. 

Send the founder a DM on social media or an email introducing yourself. This might express:

  • What do their product and mission mean to you? 
  • Your value and how you can provide value to their team aka what problems can you solve. 
  • Share how you work and what you’re working on that makes this a perfect match. 
  • Share a concrete example of a project that shows the value you can deliver. 
  • Attach your portfolio/samples of work and resume
  • Ask them when would be a suitable time to chat with you directly on a short call. 

This is an incredible opportunity to make your application stand out from other applicants. 

Takeaway


When it comes to standing out in the application process, there are several things you can do. You need to do your research, try the product, understand the job description inside out, contact the team, send the founder a personalized message, and demonstrate how you work and the unique value you bring. 

If you do this, you put yourself in a great position to make your application stand out and land the dream job you deserve and skyrocket your career.  




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