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How to get a job at a start-up

Start-ups are enjoying a great image nowadays, and people are looking for ways to get a foot into this promising sector. In this article, I will explain the advantages & disadvantages of working in the start-up sector and how to apply successfully. 

The charm of the start-up industry

Many of us are associating start-ups with a modern work environment, flexible working hours, and the promise to have a real impact on the company’s product and services. Media all across the world is contributing to this hype, stressing the success of the so-called unicorns (start-ups who made it and are evaluated with millions of dollars). Working in a start-up can be like a rollercoaster, and many are intrigued by the fast-paced environment and tremendous growth rates . 


Most start-ups market themselves as hip, urban, diverse and attract employees with a great skillset. Learning curves seem to be extremely high and a highly-ambitious, committed, and goal-oriented work culture is promoted. 

Are you ready to join this corporate culture? Do you have what it takes to be successful as an entrepreneur? Are you enthusiastic about the speed?

Here are some indicators to check before applying at start-ups in your city: 



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So, if you are interested in committing yourself 110% to the job keep on reading. If not, you might want to reevaluate your thirst for working at a start-up. The start-up atmosphere is consuming and will ask everything from you. Take a moment to reflect on what is important to you in your life, think about how vital work-life-balance is to you, re-check the pros and cons and decide if this is the path you want to follow. 


To summarize we can state that working at a start-up is more than „just“ a career – it’s a lifestyle. It’s a 100% commitment to making it work and to let it be fulfilling to yourself. Research companies you are interested in and ask their employees out for a coffee to get a better feeling for what it looks like. Each start-up is different, depending on so many factors (size, industry, founder structure, location, funding situation, etc.) so there is plenty of different „lifestyles“ to chose from. 

Typical jobs at a start-up

Let’s see what kind of job positions are offered within start-ups and what kind of skills are required. If you find your skillset check out the different job title that are used to describe the position. This will help you finding the right postings on the job portals. 

Web Development

These guys are the backbone of the whole company and put ideas into real code. 

Useful skills:

Front-end web development (HTML,
CSS, JavaScript, responsive design,
JSON, AJAX, AngularJS), back-end web
development (Ruby on Rails, APIs, Node.
js, Heroku, MongoDB), collaboration,
problem-solving, product development,
programming fundamentals

Job Titles:

Chief technology officer, VP of engineering, senior web developer, junior web developer, software developer, full-stack engineer, mobile developer

UX Design

Take on the customer’s view of the company and make his experience as smooth as possible. Think about user flows and making the service as smooth as possible. 

Useful skills:

User research, interaction design, interface design, wireframing, prototyping, usability testing, customer journey mapping, card sorting, information architecture, affinity mapping, service design, product design, collaboration, working with clients

Job Titles:

UX designer, user interface (UI) designer, product designer, user researcher, information architect

Product management

Usually, product managers work very closely with the founders and are responsible for product development and making it beneficial to the company. 

Useful skills:

Customer development, Agile and Lean methodologies, SWOT analysis, communication, prototyping, user interviews, wireframing and storyboarding, business model design, market research, project management, pricing and financial modeling


Job Titles:

Chief product officer, product manager,
product lead, product owner

Data sciene & Analytics

Data is the modern currency of all businesses worldwide, and Data Scientist knows how to read data and turn it into useful information to improve the product. 

Useful skills:

Python, machine learning, SQL, UNIX, Git, R, Tableau, Excel, modeling techniques, data visualization, big data, natural language processing, statistics, critical thinking, storytelling and presentation skills

Job Titles:

Data scientist, data analyst, quantitative researcher, machine learning engineer, data science analyst, data engineer.

Digital marketing

Digital marketers combine traditional marketing know-how with modern technologies. They evaluate success on the basis of data and rethink traditional marketing as a whole. 

Useful skills:

Email marketing, branding, content strategy, social media, paid social, customer relationship management (CRM), search engine marketing (SEM), search engine optimization (SEO), marketing analytics, business strategy

Job Titles:

Chief marketing officer, director of digital marketing, digital marketing manager, email marketing manager, digital marketing coordinator, content producer, content marketer, content strategist, social media manager

When is the best time to join a start-up?

As stated, start-ups are developing very fast. You are either growing a 100% quarter-to-quarter, or you are out. Therefore working in a start-up is very time conscious business. It is essential to think about when to join: Are you more the brave explorer who wants to be in the company from the very beginning, being ok with earning less but working more? Or do you prefer at least some kinds of processes and routines and want to join in a later stage?


Here is a chart of the different funding stages you can find in a start-up. Each stage brings along changes to the company’s culture, employees‘ responsibility, and a different form of seriousness. 

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If you are an expat who is not yet equipped with a work permit, you might find it difficult to join a Series A or B company, as they most likely won’t have an HR department who can help with such things.

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How to get a job at a start-up company

I have been to a couple of events about this topic, and I want to share with you my Top 4 takeaways. If you are serious about applying for start-up jobs check where you are at the moment and take the time to invest in your preparation. Competition is definitely real, but it’s all about mindset and preparation:

1. Know how to tell your story

Networking with people is definitely more efficient than browsing through job boards. Especially in the start-up sector, it is all about going out there and selling yourself. Be prepared before showing up at networking events. Especially here in the US, people are very interested in helping you out. However, you have to equip yourself with a short, sexy, catchy elevator pitch. Something like a little tweet that summarizes: Your preferred industry, your desired company size, and the type of role you are looking for. In my career workbook for Expat Partners, I have a whole chapter on how to establish a successful elevator pitch. Check it out here

interview, start-up, get a job, job hunt
interview, start-up, get a job, job hunt

2. Gain instant experience before applying

Many of us are thinking about applying for a start-up while working the traditional corporate 9 to 5 job. Hence, we have to proof, that we can translate our skills to this new working environment. Break down your current tasks in bullet and check which ones are useful in the new work environment and which will be hard to sell. Think about how to add knowledge of a new industry without working there: Make yourself an expert, read, tweet, and write about it. Connect with people in the industry and learn what’s important right now. Become the best client in the industry you are looking forward to entering. Learn all about the customer experience, the competition, and have ideas for improvement handy before the interview. 

3. In the interview: Become the master of the number game

As stated, start-ups are acting in a highly competitive field with a „winner takes it all“ attitude. Hence, successful founders, no matter how emotionally attached to the product, are very number-focused. They wake up in the morning checking the spreadsheet with the most critical KPIs (Key Performance Indicator), and they are getting to bed doing so. Get yourself in the position of the founder: What KPIs are relevant to this specific business? How important are return rates of goods and how could they decrease it? What about customer loyalty? What is done already and what could be improved. Show your ideas in the interview and get a feeling for what KPI is important and then think about: How could you as an individual contribute to the company’s success?

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4. The importance of funding cycles

Most founders will spend the majority of the new gained budget into their workforce. So if you want to ride the golden wave look out for start-ups that are about to get their new funding or just transferred to a new funding stage. Worst timing is probably when funding is running low, and you can’t be hired even though you would be a perfect match. 

Here are a few of my favorite resources to stay on top of venture capital news: 

Start-ups & Expats

Different factors are making start-ups either a best or worst choice for expats and expat partners. While it is more about your personal mindset, here are my pros & cons from an expat partner perspective:  



So, what do you think about entering the start-up sector? Interested? Ready to take action? Or are you more aware of your personal attitude towards the company culture now? Let me know in the comments below. I truly hope you find this post helpful to decide and get the job that you want!

Thanks for sharing the love and stopping by

Kate from Share the Love, expat, expat wife, expat life

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