Archive for November 1st, 2011

Getting a Job at a Start-Up

In business school, we all learn a lot about how to go through the recruiting process. How to create a resume. How to position ourselves in an interview. And how to do case studies. All relevant stuff.  But the standard process isn’t all that important when you’re talking about the start-up space; or at any non-traditional employer. So one question a lot of people at Kellogg have is how they can get a job at companies like these?

In recent blog posts, I’ve written a lot of articles about the campus visits of consulting firms, like BCG and McKinsey, banks like Morgan Stanley, marketing firms like P&G and Pepsi, and a host of other companies that people at Kellogg are interested in. And as the semester continues, more and more people seem to be attending these events and applying to these firms.

But in today’s age, an increasing number of smart people are also going to the tech and media industries. And today technology companies are coming to MBA campuses in hordes. In particular big firms like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and other big names you’ve probably heard of.  Like the consulting firms and marketing shops, these companies come to campus not only for information sessions but also to host receptions, have atrium hours, provide free open bars, and do their best to lure students in. As such, the school and career center make sure that people have resources to recruit there. But that’s not necessarily the case for startups.

There world of start-ups is unlike most industries in business school. In terms of recruiting, there’s no database of companies. There are no lists of alumni. No formal list of questions to ask in interviews, or skills that you should emphasize when talking.  Instead, you have to figure out a lot of it on your own. Ironically, in the same way that you might if you were working at the small firm, you’d have to figure out what you need to be working on to stay competitive.

Given that process, the question that many people will have over the next few months then is, what do I have to do to get a job at a startup? And can I get one of those job from Kellogg? Or from another top MBA program?

While the answer to that question is yes; the caveat is that getting one of those jobs won’t be easy. Especially at a cool start-up. In some cases, getting the job might be harder than getting a job at a prestigious traditional employer.  So the questions is, what does it take to successfully navigate the start up recruiting process?

In general, it’s not a question I’m necessarily qualified to answer, but a few simple things come to mind right away. Learning to sell. Understanding the business models for small companies. Understanding technology, and specifically the technology that specific companies use. Knowing how to leverage video and multimedia. Understanding who the customer is. Understanding the added value of a product or service. And then, figuring out how to show a startup, who doesn’t have as much time to spend on recruiting, that you can actually do these things well.

But perhaps more important than all of this is that you also need to understand the process of recruiting for a start-up. After all, many startups and other small business aren’t really hiring or looking to fill an open job post.  They don’t have a job board, don’t have a required number of people, and don’t have slotted pay grades. As such, you have to learn to navigate the job process. So doing things like going to the right conferences, going to networking events, meeting people in the industry and staying informed on what’s happening.

And finally, you also have to learn how to wait patiently. Startups and smaller companies tend to recruit at the tail end of the year. So while all your friends are getting jobs at big companies, prestigious firms, and high paying industries, you’ll have to sit back, watch them enjoy the ride, lay the groundwork, and get ready to start hitting the ground harder midway through the year. In fact, many of my classmates and friends didn’t get jobs until the final weeks and days before the school year ended. So you have to be ready for that too.

In sum, getting a job at a startup is different. The timing, the process, and the skills needed. I’m no expert on the topic, but I do know that it’s something you should not take for granted.

Good luck!

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011 Careers 1 Comment

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The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect the views or position of Kellogg, Northwestern Law, the JD-MBA program, or any firm that I work for. I only offer my own perspective on all issues.
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