How to Land a Job at a Hot Startup

This simple approach will have startup founders lining up to get you on their team.

Dear job seekers, especially those of you who’ve never experienced the startup world before...

I want you to find an awesome job ASAP, and I don’t want you to waste your time getting there. What follows are 3 essential things you need to know, followed by 3 immediate actions you can take right now to land your next startup job.

Understanding the Founders

Fact 1: Startup founders are REAL PEOPLE

They go out drinking with their friends.
They get annoyed by people on the subway.
They watch cat videos.
They have routine panic attacks about whether their startup will burn through its cash this year.
And sometimes, they do all of these things before 8 am.

Fact 2: Startup founders do ALL THE THINGS

They must constantly decide whether each thing is worth their time.
They ask themselves, “Will this result in 10–100x ROI?”
They must choose which of 500 new emails to open.
They hate emails that require over 15 seconds to read.
They hate emails that require over 15 seconds to answer.
Consequently, they love when things are short, insightful, and immediately actionable.

Fact 3: Startup founders are PASSIONATE

They work 100-hour weeks for no pay because they love what they do.
They spend their weekends teaching themselves new skills.
They frequently forgo sleep, meals, and friends in order to bring their vision to life.
They may be insane.
They may hold you to those same standards.

Building the Hiring Relationship

Now that you have a glimpse into startup founders' passion and priority stacks, you can reverse engineer your path toward working with them.

Step 1: Become a Pro Stalker

Find the founder’s email.
Google them.
Tweet them when they're most likely to respond.
Read their last 5 blog posts.
Read their company’s latest press.
Read their industry’s latest press.
Read about their top 5 competitors.
Check for mutual Facebook friends and LinkedIn contacts.
Find them on OkCupid.
For the love of god, get a personal introduction.


Use these five tools to help with stalking and introductions.

“If you want to be part of a startup environment, get yourself IN that environment. Integrate yourself into the social fabric. Learn to speak their language.”
Alessandro Gandini

Step 2: Master the Intro Email

Send an email directly to the founder. In it, you should:

Be specific & direct:
“This is how I learned about you / why my trajectory led me to you.”

Make it easy for them stalk you:
“I used to work at Dateworking (more deets on my LinkedIn) and my recent work with Jobsuitors got me thinking about your space.”

Provide immediate, tangible value: 
“This is my take on your industry and here’s a major opportunity I think you could totally [leverage my expertise to] capitalize on.”

Include a call to action: 
“I’m obsessed with what you’re doing and I’d like to do XYZ to help. Let’s talk ASAP. My number is (xxx) xxx-xxxx. Are you free Friday at 4?”

Keep it short: 
Reread your email. Could you get through it in under 30 seconds? As a rule of thumb, it should fit on a single smartphone screen with no scrolling.


Read Mattan Griffel’s more in-depth piece, How to Get a Busy Person to Respond to Your Emails

“Our two interns hustled their way into jobs via thoughtful, spirited emails that pinpointed a specific thing we could improve at and how they could help. We’ve never posted internships — those emails were the only way we found them!”

Derek Flanchraich
CEO, Greatist

Step 3: Learn the Art of the Followup

Even the best emails can get buried or lost. Maybe the founder is off traveling. Maybe they read your message while walking out of the subway, were totally floored, but then got into the office and discovered that their servers were down and had to spend the next 2 days in a shitstorm. These things happen.

Send a follow-up after 2–3 days.
Follow up again in a week, or whenever you think you can add additional value to what they’re working on.
Publish to your networks on their behalf.
Hell, create a website dedicated to driving them, (the customers). They won’t forget it.
Once you become invested in their story, it won’t be long before they invest in you.

“After applying to VaynerMedia, I created a YouTube video in their style and ran Twitter ads to it that said, “Working at VaynerMedia? Take a break and check out this video.” I targeted people who followed the company’s twitter account, and I got about 50 employees to watch it and reach out to me. The hiring manager called me in for an interview over Twitter after seeing the video.”

Gregg Clunis

What We've Learned

At the end of the day, people are people, but startup founders, in particular, are very busy people. To gain access to their time and attention, you simply need to a) get on their radar and b) deliver enough value for them to justify the risk of working with you.

At that point, getting hired will merely depend on whether they’re actually hiring for a role that fits your current availability and skill set. If they’re not, then it never hurts to ask them for a referral to a similar company that could benefit from your passion & skills!

Now go forth and get hired!

*Special thanks to Alessandro Gandini, Ph.D., Middlesex University (Media) & Centre for Digital Ethnography, University of Milan, for his insights into how this approach applies across state and national borders.