How to Get a Job At a Startup

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Do you love professional challenges? Are you a self-starter, equally comfortable working independently and on a team project? Is "mission accomplished" music to your ears? Then you have the right stuff to take a startup from launch to orbit.

What is a Startup?

Most people picture new tech companies with a shoestring budget and a great idea. Any new company operating on the theory that they have the right product or service to fill a perceived need qualifies as a startup. Until the product or service starts raking in profits, most startups will hire workers with little experience as long as they have the right skills. Wise startup owners also hire older, more experienced workers — even if they do not have the most up-to-date skills. Both groups of workers will cost the company less to train and retain.

Why Work for a Startup?

Say you are one of the first 500 employees of Future Megacorp. You could be making millions in a short time if the company is the next Google, eBay or Amazon. Did you accept stock options instead of higher pay? Congratulations! You're a millionaire.

Startup firms created over 1.7 million jobs between March 2016 and 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Close to 86 percent of all newly self-employed workers were over age 40. Instead of waiting to be hired, these entrepreneurs decided the risk of failure outweighed the potential rewards. They gained a sense of accomplishment, a chance to use their wisdom and experience to fund their retirement and the satisfaction of proving age does not reduce usefulness.

How to Get a Job at a Startup

Those willing to take the risk of building a company from the bottom up have no problem investing sweat equity. This means work and a lot of it. For newcomers to the workforce, this gives you the opportunity to gain the experience you lack while making the best use of your skills and education. Just expect lower wages than you would receive in an established company. Attractive alternatives to compensation might include multiple impressive-sounding titles, workplace perks and stock options.


Let the hiring team at your chosen startup see your technical skills in action. Instead of the traditional resume with cover letter, submit a video resume instead.

If you don't balk at risk, you might consider starting your own company. Say you love building rat rods, or customized cars made to look old and rusty on purpose. You assemble a team and name your new company "Goblin Racing." Now your chopped 1974 Gremlin is an instant tax shelter.

But the long-term financial success of a startup also requires creativity, ingenuity and a savvy understanding of timing and the demands of your marketplace. Imagine visiting the local arts and crafts fair and seeing that Old Joe's wooden Jesus wall plaques are jumping off his table faster than he can cut the jigs, then he totters off to a quarter-million-dollar home, financially set for a timely retirement. Recognizing the opportunity to fill the gap he may leave soon, you buy everything needed for a wood shop, and Heritage Wooden Specialties is born.

How Many Startups Are Successful?

Venture capital-backed startups have a 25 percent success rate, but it depends on how you define success. Another 45 percent of startups returned only a portion of the investments made. Small startups with 500 employees or less were still in business six years later, according to a study by authors Bruce D. Phillips and Bruce A. Kirchhoff. In the end, if you don't shy away from hard work or risk and have an eye for long-term success, jumping into the startup game may be your golden ticket opportunity.