The 5 Things I Learned in Search For a Startup Career

by Abel Lin

The past year of jumping into startups without knowing any better has had a remarkable impact on my life. After having an amazing experience at DocSpot, I now find myself back in the wilderness of unemployment, auditioning for the dream job.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting a ton of sharp people* in this space, and everyone’s given thoughtful advice on how to best market yourself. As I slowly shift through the landscape, I’ve begun to develop the knack of seeing people who could bring you to the Promised Land. You just knew that they were going somewhere, and you had to buy their stock. The proposition of turning a $1 into $1.10 or $1.25 if you’re lucky has brought upon an amazing response of innovation and flaming disasters in this city.

Here are the five things (er, technically four) I’ve learned to make yourself a better job candidate, and help the companies find you faster.

1. Ship something, anything.

Every single successful startup career that I’ve had the privilege of knowing began with a product. A website, mobile app, wire frame design. It’s not important that your project is successful, but rather you executed. There are  lot of smart people out here that can develop an idea, but have poor follow through. Make a portfolio that advocates you and your passions. This blog alone is one of the projects that I’ve been fleshing out to put myself out there. In three weeks, I am going to deliver a mobile app that caters to foodies.

Bottom line, make something out of nothing so when you show up in that interview, you can prove through example you are capable of delivering.

2. Have you shipped something?

I cannot emphasize this point enough.

3. Network for your life. 

As a marketing person, this one is a bit more personal, but relevant. I know nobody asked me to show up. Marketing is an expendable cost out here in startup land, and it is a very exclusive club. Founders and CEOs don’t go on Monster.com to find a marketing person, but rather they ask other founders and CEOs if they know of a good marketing individual who’s on the lookout for a job. Volunteering for startup conferences or industry events are also a great way to meet new contacts. One, you don’t have to pay the obscene $2000 registration fee to attend and two, you get up close to the speaker VIPs.

Basically, if you’re applying on Dice or Monster for a startup job, chances are you didn’t try hard enough to network and mingle with that company.

4. Put on different hats. 

Startups are all about versatility and being to put on multiple hats to share multiple points of view. You specialize on one indispensable skill, and then through personal development, expand the skill set. And people in this biz cringe when someone puts on their resume “Managed an information system flow”, etc. “Managing” is simply less “doing” and besides, that’s the job of the founder/CEO. It’s not different in corporations than in startups, except it’s quite unforgiving for the latter. Sink or swim, folks.

5. When in Rome… 

You have to play by their rules. The traditional career ladder is virtually dead (whether to your horror or delight) and the job market is evolving to where the money is going, which is this tech bubble. Update your Linkedin, clean up your Facebook, get a decent Twitter account going, learn a language.

Of course, in six months or maybe two years, that might be irrelevant. But I’ll be ready to ship projects, just like you. Here are a couple of great articles that I think are great resources for job seekers:

Sprucing Up Your Digital Resume
Build a Great Linkedin Profile
Startup Resume Tips

Do you guys have any life-hacking advice to the startup space or a career change in general? Or were any of the suggestions above misguided? Share your ideas below!

* JasonShen.com, MichiKono.com, UsabilityCounts.com, JennaLanger.com, to name a few!