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The dos and don'ts of landing a job at a startup

Before resume fluffing and interview prepping, lay out a path to the finish line


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With millions of college graduates entering the workforce this summer, hiring managers and HR professionals at companies across the country are already fielding a flood of resumes. While there's a laundry list of well-meaning recommendations to help new grads nail the job search, there’s just as much bad advice to derail it. In a competitive job market like Denver, every step of the job search is important – from perfecting your resume, writing cover letters, dressing for the interview and even sending thank you notes afterward. After more than a decade in human resources, I’ve seen it all – the good, the bad and the ugly.

So, before you resort to the standard resume fluffing and interview prepping, don’t miss a few tried and true tips to help you stand out from your fellow job seekers.

DO Keep Your Resume Simple

The top third of your resume is prime real estate, so be intentional about how you use those first few inches. That means no headshots and no fancy design elements like infographics, borders and wonky colors to try and stand out. Let your experience do that. Unless it somehow relates to the job for which you’re interviewing, just keep it simple. Flashy visuals take the attention away from what will ultimately land you the job – your skills.    

DON’T Add Unnecessary Details

Speaking of skills, not everything is one. We don’t need to know if you’re proficient in Microsoft Word or texting using only emoji’s. It’s easy to get long winded about the duties of your past jobs. After all, you’re trying impress your would-be future employer with applicable knowledge and experience. But leave that for the actual interview when you can expand upon your accomplishments instead of trying to list every single one. A one page resume should offer enough space to adequately highlight your career.

DO Your Research, But DON’T Be Creepy

Take the time to research your potential employer, what they do, how they do it, the interviewer(s), their career history and how the company’s values overlap with your own career experience. Once you’ve identified connections, leverage them to stand out in an interview and make your value add to the business crystal clear.

The caveat to doing your research, though, is that sometimes it backfires and candidates get overly personal too soon. Maybe don’t mention that you both attended the same concert three summers ago, a fact you uncovered from a little Facebook recon. Unless something comes up organically, it’s best to keep the conversation focused squarely on why you’re there – the job you want. You can talk about that Adele concert once you’re hired.

DON’T Ask About Perks (Too Soon)

As the frat-house startup culture immortalized in Silicon Valley (beer on tap, ping pong tables, nap rooms) has made its way to the rest of the country, we see a lot of candidates walk through the door with a very skewed perception of startup life. The last thing an interviewee should concern themselves with, especially during a first meeting, are a company’s vacation packages, work-from-home policies, sick time and other job perks. If you’re asking these questions straight out of the gate, before you’ve even discussed job expectations, company mission and salary, you’re displaying a lack of motivation, and honestly, a poor ethic. If you go down this path, don’t hold your breath on that call back.

DON’T Mislead Recruiters

Job searching is tough. Finding the right position, applying, interviewing – it’s a long and arduous process. Which means you may be in talks with more than one company at once. And this isn’t a bad thing to say during the interview process, as long as you’re honest with the respective hiring teams about any other offers you have on the table. Having that insight shows us your integrity and also, just proves what a catch you are. Win-win!

DO Have Questions for the Interviewer

You’d be surprised how often we get to the end of an interview and ask a candidate for questions, only to hear they don’t have any. Word to the wise, this should NEVER be your reaction. Come up with a short list of questions to ask your interviewer in advance, and have them ready to go when it’s your turn to take the lead. This shows both thoughtfulness and a sense of curiosity, two characteristics any good hire has in droves.

DO Follow Up, But DON’T Bombard

After a candidate puts time, effort, stress, and sometimes even their own money into the interview process, they want to know where they stand. Are they still in the running? What are next steps? What additional information can they provide? While following up is expected (and for the record, ‘thank you’ emails are more than fine), you never want to inundate the HR contact with a dozen “just checking in” emails and calls. We want to know you’re still interested, but we don’t want to have our inboxes and voicemails filled up.

There’s no perfect approach to finding and landing a job. It’s a complicated process, even with all the ‘do and don’t’ advice columns in the world. But hopefully knowing some of these hiring pet peeves and understanding what we look for can help make your path to the finish line – and an offer – a little easier. 

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Alison Meadows

Alison Meadows is chief people officer for Ibotta Inc., a Denver-based startup that employs more than 400 people. She joined Ibotta in 2016, and is passionate about attracting and retaining top talent, while creating a culture that promotes innovation and collaboration. Meadows began her HR career at Noodles & Company in 2006, where she led the development of people strategy for the company's 400+ restaurants. She has a bachelor's degree in finance and marketing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. When she's not busy shaping the careers of Ibotta employees, you can find Meadows on the sidelines of her son's soccer games.

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