5 Key Things Startups Look for in Job Applicants

JobNow Contributor
April 3, 2021

job applicant


Startups are looking for more than a degree and work experience from job applicants. Startups are looking for candidates with character. After all, they're not just looking for standard "employees," startup founders are looking for people who can help turn a vision into a reality. So what are the key traits startups look for in job applicants? 


1. Passion

Startup founders believe in their business ideas, and they want to be sure their employees do too. After all, why else would these founders invest their savings, give up lucrative careers, and lack sleep to turn their ideas into reality? Startups are not only someone's idea but also their dream. So, of course, founders don't want to bring anyone on board who doesn't seem invested. It takes passionate people to grow a company, and startups can't afford complacency. Wanting a job isn't enough, and neither is someone who needs extrinsic motivation. Startups need people who rely on intrinsic motivation and can articulate the company's mission. Showing a personal connection to a company's mission and vision will speak volumes during an interview.


Show, You've Got It: 

One of the easiest ways to authentically show passion is by only applying to companies and positions you genuinely feel excited about. Startups can require long hours and sometimes without a huge paycheck. Be sure that a startup's mission or product is something that can keep you going for the long haul. When interviewing for a startup, be sure to research their company ahead of your interview. If a cover letter is required, make sure you discuss how you first came across their company and what you love about their product or service. Offer some suggestions for what you could personally do to take their company to the next level. Being a consumer of their product or service is a bonus!


Read More:

The top 10 startups to work for in Auckland

What are your strengths and weaknesses? Answering the question for job interviews

5 job interview questions that will help you understand a company's culture

9 common job interview questions you should be prepared to answer


2. Out-of-the-Box Thinking

Great thinkers aren't always the people with the highest test scores and best grades. Great and brilliant thinkers ask why and how something can be done better. These thinkers see the whole picture from all angles and combine raw intelligence with ingenuity, experience, and resourcefulness to get results. It's important to note that your boss and colleagues may not have a set path laid out for you when joining a startup. It will most likely be up to you to figure out for yourself and what approach works best for you with your team. Founders also want their employees to have exceptional critical thinking skills because they will run into problems. Sometimes, founders won't even know the answers, so they need people on board to help get to the bottom of an issue and solve it.


Show You've Got It: 

Talking about how you solved a big problem at a previous position is a great way to show your critical thinking abilities. An even better way to not only show but demonstrate your out-of-the-box thinking is by seeing if there are any opportunities to dive in and help the company solve a current problem.


3. Humility

Startup jobs come with their mistakes, and sometimes a lot of them. Founders need people who can recover with optimism. Also, it's no secret that joining a startup sometimes involves having to take on multiple roles. Chances are, despite the original job description for the position you applied for, you're going to be doing things you've never done before.


Show You've Got It:

Be sure to highlight that you are a fast learner and include adaptability in your soft skills. If asked what your greatest weakness is, don't be afraid to be vulnerable and genuine with your answer. When sharing your greatest weakness, be sure to also mention how you are working to improve.


4. Drive

This one is cliché, but for a good reason. Startups depend on hiring people who are driven. If you're looking for a job where you can clock out at 5 pm on the dot and don't want to take on work that is "outside of your job description," then the startup life probably isn't for you. Startups are looking for applicants who are always willing to jump in when needed and people who are eager to help the company move forward. 


Show You've Got It: 

Nothing shows you are a driven person more than having something you created on your own. Of course, it doesn't have to be a full-blown company or product. It can be something as simple as a blog or contributing to an open-source platform. What startups want to see is proof of your ability to dedicate yourself to something and constantly make it better.


5. Culture Fit

Believe it or not, most startups won't hire someone if they aren't quite a cultural fit for their company despite having the right qualifications and skills. Startups are looking for people they know would make working for their company even better, whether it be someone's infectious enthusiasm or contributions.


Show You've Got It: 

Culture varies from company to company, so make sure to do your research beforehand. Many startups will have a page on their website dedicated to their company culture, explaining what it's like working for them. If you're lucky, you may even find the company on websites like Glassdoor, where you can see reviews from previous and current employees.


Working in Startups: Key Traits

If you're looking into startup jobs, you need to offer something a bit different than you would when applying for jobs at established companies. We hope our guide to the key traits and qualifications startups look for in applicants gave you some further insight.