You’ve tried everything. Bootcamps. Meditation. Hypnosis. But no matter what, it just doesn’t change the fact that you are not a computer programmer and probably never will be. So what does this mean for your career? Should you just give up now and move to some remote island where electricity hasn’t been invented yet?
While it’s true that developers are the rock stars of the start-up world, that doesn’t mean that you have to be fluent in code to land a job at one. Guest writer Luisa Zhou shares a few tips for finding and landing a non-technical job at a start-up.
Free food, nap rooms, massages, and unlimited vacation time. Oh yeah, and amazing career growth opportunities that you probably won’t find anywhere else.
Sound too good to be true?
Not so fast! In fact, this is the standard at many start-ups, which have to provide such amazing benefits to attract top engineering talent. So how can you get in on all that goodness, even if you’re not a computer programmer? Here are the four steps I took to land a non-programming job at a hot pre-IPO startup:
Step 1: Find start-ups in the “sweet spot”
In tennis, the sweet spot is a small area on the racket that results in the most powerful serve, and is considered the optimum point of contact for the ball. Similarly, start-ups have a sweet spot for optimal time to apply for a job.
When a start-up first launches, money is tight and life outside of work is nearly non-existent. Not only is this stage not lucrative (unless your company is the one in a billion that IPOs at a life-changing stock price), but most start-ups at this point will be focusing single-mindedly on programming and development hires.
On the flip side, apply too late into a successful start-up’s life-cycle and it’ll have grown into a large corporation or have been sold to one. That’s why you want to aim for the sweet spot, which is a start-up that’s been founded within the last three to four years. In this stage, the start-up has already proven its business value, is rich in venture capital (translation: sweet benefits), and is in serious growth mode (translation: hiring like there’s no tomorrow).
If you’re wondering how to find these companies, I’ve got you covered. One of the most comprehensive start-up databases is Crunchbase, which allows you to filter for companies based on criteria such as year founded and funding stage. Here’s what I did:
- Visit the Crunchbase search page
- In the “General” menu, select “2010” for the drop-down labeled “After” under the Founded section
- In the “Funding” menu, select “Venture” for the drop-down labeled “Type” under the “Funding Type” section
The search results are the companies in your sweet spot. Take a look and choose at least five that interest you.
Step 2: Search for job openings
Now that you’ve identified at least a handful of companies in your sweet spot that you might want to work for, visit their sites and review their job openings for entry-level positions. Be on the lookout for jobs with the following features:
- “Associate” in the job title
- “Junior” in the job title
- “Entry-level” in the job title or description
- One-word job titles such as “Analyst” or “Coordinator”
Also, be sure to check out this list of tech jobs for non-technical people, which could help with your search.
Of these, start noting the ones that interest you. If you’re worried that you aren’t qualified enough, keep in mind that you don’t have to meet 100% of the job criteria.
If you can meet 60%, consider yourself eligible. I speak from experience as someone who’s also been on the hiring side of start-up job applications (remember what I said about amazing career growth opportunities?), and can tell you that candidates who don’t meet all the requirements are often hired over those who do.
This is because start-ups would rather have enthusiastic employees who are willing to learn and fun to work with than arrogant or unfriendly perfect-on-paper workers.
Step 3: Apply
This part is no different than applying to any other job. Focus on:
- Tailoring your résumé to the job description. Hiring managers don’t necessarily expect recent grads to have relevant job or internship experience, but they do want to see that you have the basic skills required for the job or at least the ability and willingness to quickly learn them. For example, if you are applying for an analyst position, show that you have quantitative thinking skills through either your academics or extracurriculars and that you’re willing to quickly learn whatever is necessary.
- Writing a good cover letter. Hiring managers will usually only spend a few seconds scanning your letter, so don’t stress out too much. Just make sure you follow basic best practices and come off as professional and not arrogant.
Step 4: Ace your interviews
Again, a start-up interview isn’t that different from any other job interview. Which means that you should gather as much information as possible on the company’s interview style. Glassdoor is a great resource for researching previous candidates’ interview experiences.
It’s common among start-ups to have PowerPoint, Excel, and/or brain-teaser challenges, especially if the role is more analytical. I knew beforehand that the company I was interviewing with always asked brain-teasers, so I bought a brain teaser interview preparation book and studied it. Hard.
After you’ve spent so much time landing the interview, don’t mess it up with easily avoidable mistakes. Show up on time, be professional, and convince those interviewers that they’d be lucky to have your enthusiasm and professionalism on their team.
Homework time! If you still have time before you graduate, do an internship or volunteer at a start-up. Your college’s career fair and career center are great places to look for summer opportunities.
Next, work on your brain-teaser solving skills. Practice and get comfortable solving problems under pressure so that you knock it out of the park in your actual interview and get that dream job!
About the author: Luisa Zhou is a success coach for professionals and entrepreneurs. Visit her at www.luisazhou.com for business tips and inspiration.