A Twitter follower from the UK sent this question about working for a startup:
@DominicTarn asks “I’m a graduate looking to get into the world of startups… my main question would be about how to get their attention? Or develop the sort of skills or experiences which would achieve that?”
It’s a great question, mainly because traditional resumes won’t cut it with entrepreneurs. To a time strapped entrepreneur, each resume looks just like the last. And face it, as a recent graduate you’ve probably got a lot of “strong communication skills” type bullet points that will only get you a job in a phone bank.
What you need to provide is a solution.
Problem Solved: Hoehn In On It
Shift your thinking from what you’ve done in the past to what you can do today for your targeted entrepreneur. Figure out what problem you can fix that this entrepreneur either didn’t know he had, or didn’t have time to deal with.
Charlie Hoehn is a master of this technique. And it’s served him well. You may not have heard of this 25 year old before, but consider him your new job search sensei. Since graduating from college, Hoehn has landed work helping such super star entrepreneur authors as Tim Ferris (The 4-Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Body), Tucker Max (I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell, Assholes Finish First) and even marketing super-guru Seth Godin.
He’s also written an ebook, Recession-Proof Graduate, which has been downloaded a gazillion times. (Hint: that’s a gazillion job seekers who are already ahead of you…get reading!)
Hoehn, who “approached his job like a mentorship” went after the entrepreneurs and authors that he believed were the very best.
And then he told them what they were doing wrong. And how he could fix it.
“I just wanted to learn from the people I respected and who were doing stuff that I thought was really cool,” Hoehn said in an interview. “I went to each of them and offered them things that I thought were of value.”
And he offered those things for free.
The ‘put me in coach, I’ll do anything’ approach won’t get you the job. In a startup environment, the entrepreneur doesn’t have time to find a job for you. You have to tell the entrepreneur what they need.
And more importantly, that you can do it.
By pointing out weak spots in the potential employer’s business, website or marketing strategy, Hoehn was showing by example that he had the chops to do the job. And that it would take very little effort for the entrepreneur to bring him on board.
In each case, Hoehn offered actionable solutions.
“I had very specific things that I could offer to them,” he explains. “And I made it very clear. Look, I can help you in these areas. This is what I plan to do, this is the result, this is the impact that it’s going to have. AND, I’m going to do it for free.”
Hoehn got his foot in the door with this approach, and transitioned that free work into a paying job, on all but one effort. (Ironically, the one person that turned him down later sought him out for advice.)
Hear him talk about his experiences in more detail in this great interview with Lewis Howes.
Sketch it Out
The clearer you can make your suggested solutions the better. It’s not good enough to point out a problem and just say you’ve got the answer. Hoehn suggests actually fixing the problem. (Example: mockup a better product label, rewrite direct copy, recode a slow website)
Although many entrepreneurs are open to input from any and all sources, remember that you are still pointing to their baby and saying do you see that hairy mole?
Be even-handed with your compliment to weak-spot ratio. Lead your communication by explaining all the positive reasons you want to work with the entrepreneur.
Relive Your Childhood
Entrepreneur and author John Warrillow says he is more impressed with entrepreneurial examples from childhood than with traditional resume boosters like advanced degrees.
It might sound crazy to mention the paper route you had when you were 12 in a job interview, but if you were creative in your marketing or selling of this route, it might the wow factor you need. Maybe you found a simpler, more effect way to distribute the papers that could get you into an operational roll at the startup of your dreams. (Note: I disagreewith most other points Warrillow makes in the linked article).
Get to the Point
If you have to go the resume route, make sure your cover letter sings. And make sure that the tune is as simple and straight forward as the mind-numbingly annoying ‘Wheels on the Bus’ children’s song.
The entrepreneur you are trying to impress won’t have the patience to seek out the goods. Make sure your cover letter:
- Highlights successes: less fluff, more facts
- Uses metrics: be specific about any results, even if they were for your lemonade stand
- Bullets out important details: even your cover letter will only be scanned
Research shows that most communication gets only 51 seconds of attention before the reader moves on. Make sure the ten words the entrepreneur reads are the most important ones.
The good news is, once you’ve done it, you’ll do it again. Once you’ve been in a startup, once you’ve gone through the early stages, once you’ve helped launch a business or two, the opportunity to do it again will present itself.
Believe it or not it’s a small entrepreneurial world out there. If you’re doing a good job, word gets around. People will seek you out.
And if they don’t? Well, now have the metrics to prove what you can do it for the next entrepreneur that’s in your career scopes.
Want to Work for Wonka? Know this: There will never be a busier time in a person’s life than when they launch a business. Studies show that entrepreneurs lose an average of 700 hours of sleep in the first year of their business. That’s more than a new mom. So if you want to get this person’s attention, bring them something that will make their life easier. Bring them a solution. It may be the answer to your job search as well.
Any entrepreneurs out there want to chime in on what turns your head? What would make you hire a recent grad? Any and all tips are welcome!
[Photo credit - newspaper want ad - Flickr ssstevo.o]