How to Win Over a Start-Up (and Seal the Deal): From Full Stack Programmer Skills to Personality

Why go start-up? Is it the frenetic energy? The constant sense of achievement? The prospect of incredible earning potential? A start-up is all this and more, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy to get your foot in the door. Start-ups look for a very particular set of skills, and that puts you in a highly competitive arena.

Tailoring Your Resume: What the Start-Up Is Looking For

A start-up is almost invariably looking for a full stack programmer. For other industries, the value of a full stack programmer has come and gone; for start-ups, however, they are a necessity. A full stack programmer  is not a “jack of all trades, master of none,” a full stack programmer must be a master of everything. They should be able to handle everything from quality assurance and testing to security concerns and user concerns; essentially, they should have a very broad and diverse set of skills.

When you apply for most positions, you’re trying to tailor your resume. When you apply to a start-up, you’re trying to look like the best, greatest and most diverse employee they can get. You should be broadening as much as possible and drilling down to the specifics of what you’ve done in every area. Essentially, you need to be the master.

Retraining and Certifications: Getting Your Skill On

If your resume is looking a little sparse in some areas, it’s time to go back to school — however briefly. Getting training and certifications for areas that you have knowledge, but not experience in, is an excellent way to get your foot in the door for a start-up position. Certifications can often be acquired in as little as a couple of hours as long as you’re comfortable with the material. Online courses with companies such as edX and Coursera offer additional information in things such as API configuration or mobile programming. Your goal is to get a taste of everything you would be doing as a developer at a start-up… which is everything.

And don’t forget that these full stack programmer skills will serve you well even in other, more conventional positions, should you go after them in the future.

In It to Win It: Why Personality Matter

The phrase “company culture” gets thrown around in most corporate environments, but it matters more in a start-up. Most start-ups are comprised of a small amount of individuals that are going to be spending their days and nights together for the foreseeable future. Having a personality that meshes with the rest of the staff isn’t just a nice perk; it’s essential. And that’s why displaying your personality, drive and motivation in an interview with a start-up is more important than any other interview.

Let’s face it: programmers often get a bad rap as antisocial curmudgeons, often because others don’t quite understand what it is they do. In a start-up, it’s not enough to show up and do your work; you often need to be enthusiastic and driven to meet a common vision. And if you truly believe in what the company does, it really helps. If you can tie it into your personal hobbies, interests or past business experience, all the better. Look for start-ups that really seem to reflect your own personality and drive. Not only will it help you land the interview, but it will also make you a lot happier in the long run.

Don’t Forget the Particulars: Negotiating Your Salary

Start-ups come in many flavors. Some start-ups are well-funded (even over-funded!) by angel investors, and they can offer huge salaries off the bat. Other start-ups are lean, and can offer stock options to round out low wages. Whether it’s a good deal or not depends on your faith in the enterprise. There are benefits and drawbacks to either option. Being paid a lot right off the bat gives you a sense of financial stability, but there may not be a lot of room for growth (and the company may quickly become top heavy). Being paid in stock options gives you an interest within the company and can potentially pay out in extraordinary ways… but should the company fail, you’ll be left with little more than experience.

Weigh out all of your options when dealing with a start-up because it’s a much more complex situation than most hiring environments. Remember that part of the beauty of working with a start-up is that you’re not dealing with raw salary. You can negotiate benefits such as flex-time, additional vacation time, childcare and other perks. Don’t be afraid to think out of the box. Start-ups are (in)famous for “low salary, but you can bring your dog to work,”-style negotiations.

Remember, start-ups come and go, so there are constantly new opportunities entering your area. Keep moving, keep submitting, keep interviewing and keep negotiating — you’ll eventually find the perfect environment for you.

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