How to Get Your First Startup Job

Lee Lubner, Tim Atkins (COO, CancerAid), Kanav Bhama (Business Operations, Dovetail), Ellen Dinsmoor (Head of Operations, Vow), Will Dennis (APAC Commercial Finance Director, Afterpay), Chris Quirk (Investment Manager, rampersand), Jess Rogers (Strategy and Operations Manager, Snap Send Solve), Amelia Crawford (Legal Counsel, TikTok), Darryn Rabec (Venture GM at BCG Digital Ventures), Matt Thurin (Growth, AirWallex)
Tim Atkins (COO, CancerAid)

How to find a job at a start-up:

  1. Job ads 
  2. Using your network
  3. Cold reach-outs


1)  Job Ads

  1. Job boards: We have a whole article with a list of job boards here.
  2. The normal job sites i.e. Seek.com.au.


2)  Using your network

Lots of jobs go to friends-of-friends. Start-ups often don’t have the resources to run comprehensive recruiting processes, so they value recommendations from people they trust. If you start building relationships early, it will come off in spades.

Some networking tips from the crowd:

  • It's not a tit for tat. If I can help someone in my network I will with no expectation of return (Lee Lubner)
  • Start networking before you need a network. Start by helping someone with something. Then do that a few more times. It’s easy to say when you aren’t looking for work, but I don’t like the idea of networking with an endgame in mind. If life were simple I’d just want to meet a bunch of cool people and become friends with them, the rest will sort itself out. (Darryn Rabec, Venture GM at BCG Digital Ventures)
  • There are plenty of startup groups around. Someone also suggested twitter to reach founders and to showcase your thinking. Start networking early - get a sense of the ecosystem and what areas are hot right now and what they are lacking (that you may help with) (Darryn Rabec, Venture GM at BCG Digital Ventures)


3)  Cold reach-outs

This is how I got my first start-up job, so I know it can work. If you cold-email a start-ups general inbox with your CV, a compelling cover letter and something to make you stand-out, you’re in with a chance. 

Say the founders happen to be thinking about their Ops issues, but haven't started the process for hiring an Ops person - if the right person (you) landed in their lap at the right time, you may get the job without the role ever going to market. Or, they might just keep you in mind for when they are ready.

One thing - try not to feel disheartened if most don’t reply.


Other tips

  • HOT TIP: Startups hire usually after raise - anytime you see $ raise or hear company raising $ they will need people to scale. Get in front of these companies! (Lee Lubner)
  • Lots of jobs go to friends of sales reps that get jobs (Tim Rosannis, GM, Head of Growth - Retail & New Verticals A/NZ, Uber)
  • Looking at VC portfolios and raise announcements is a good way to find startup with money to hire people (Chris Quirk, Investment Manager, rampersand)
  • Have a look at the big VC’s website to find businesses (ie Square Peg), Also, don’t forget your standard job boards (Seek and Linkedin). Airwallex have had great success on Seek. (Matt Thurin, Growth, AirWallex)
  • Message companies and people in companies that you care about, most may not answer and that's okay! Some will! (Lee Lubner)

Will Dennis (APAC Commercial Finance Director, Afterpay)

Getting into the flow of start-up opportunities is a positive first step, which could be done through networking or joining an incubator program.

Once you have found a company that you want to work at, find a contact to reach out at the company and make a connection! People want to hear from other like-minded people who support their mission and purpose.

Amelia Crawford (Legal Counsel, TikTok)

LinkedIn. Set filters for job alerts and start searching for positions that you might want one day. Look at the career history of the people who hold those roles: where did they start, what’s their experience, what roles have they had?

Network. Explore programs like Startmate or look at your existing Network. Who do you know, or who do you know that might themselves know someone that could give you insight into an industry, company or role. It’s all about paying it forward and you’ll be surprised how many people are happy to chat! I’m not saying these people will necessarily give you a job but it’s always good to build your network for when that opportunity does arise and you’ll also be gathering valuable information from people who have travelled the path that you want! 

Apply, Apply, Apply! Power in numbers. It can be exhausting but don’t be hesitant to apply for multiple jobs if they fit the bill for you. You don’t want to miss out on an opportunity just because you are progressing another. 

Jess Rogers (Strategy and Operations Manager, Snap Send Solve)

If you can, try and meet people from the start-up you want to explore. A warm introduction through someone you know is ideal.

But if you can’t, don’t be afraid of a cold reachout. It can be scary but you’d be surprised how far a sincere message (whether by email or LinkedIn) introducing yourself and outlining well thought out, specific reasons about why you’re interested in the start-up can go. Start-ups are looking for hungry and hard-working people so being proactive and seeking out the companies you're interested in reflects really well. Also, people in the start-up world can be a lot more collaborative and helpful than in corporate. Everyone knows the feeling of being a beginner (because that’s what start-ups are) and is usually happy to help where they can.

Michael Batko (who's the CEO of Startmate) sees luck as a system. It’s readily applicable to looking for a job in a new area and I really like his thinking. 

Keep in mind that hiring and roles at start-ups can be more flexible than you expect. Don’t be afraid to pitch a role to a start-up if you identify a gap that you think you can fill. Start-ups move fast and the needs of the business change all the time. Clearly explaining what you bring to the table can prompt founders to think about how you can add value to the business (rather than needing to reverse engineer your skills into a predefined role).

Also, venture capital firms generally have talent boards that aggregate all the job openings at their portfolio companies. You can usually create a profile and be alerted when a relevant opportunity comes up. 

Kanav Bharma (Business Operations, Dovetail)

I won’t say networking because that can be easily interpreted as a social structure of humans gathering for shallow interactions - that’s not meaningful. What I’ve found valuable is instead taking a “how can I help?” mindset with interactions with people in the start-up community. That mindset can sometimes help unlock unique opportunities to work with or in startups as a side hustle, often organically leading to longer-term opportunities. Some of the best early stage startup jobs are rarely ever advertised. 

I’d also recommend specific programs and communities to get involved with that can expand your radius of community with which you can have meaningful interactions. Programs like the Startmate Fellowship are awesome in that light. 

Ellen Dinsmoor (Head of Operations, Vow)
  1. Set LinkedIn and Google News searches for specific companies, jobs, etc. 
  2. Try to connect (thoughtfully) with people who work in that industry.
  3. Join any online workshops, sessions, seminars, etc. that are in areas you’re focused on.
  4. Try to build skills that will be relevant to your “dream” role. Data skills (e.g., SQL, Python) are always a plus.


What have we missed? Please hit 'Contribute to the Guide' to give your perspective and help others into their first role.

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