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8 tips for getting your dream job at a startup

We spoke to recruiters from some of Amsterdam’s most sought-after companies to get their practical advice and inside perspective on how to apply for a job in startup, from choosing where to apply in the first place, to what to include in your cover letter and how to ace your interview.

Whether you’re looking to change jobs or trying to get a foot in the startup world door, applying for a new role can throw even the most experienced professionals into a spin. Enter StartupAmsterdam’s helpful guide to job hunting, applications and interviews - with practical tips direct from the people who'll be reading your applications. Read on for some great advice from startup recruiters Lina Kucinskaite (VanMoof), Marie Chaproniere (Hubs), Martina Badinková (EVBox), Toma Skimelyte (Mollie) and Jurriaan Graaf (Aidence).

Tip 1: Know what you want

One of the things all recruiters agreed on was the importance of making a considered decision about where to apply. Doing your research is one of the most important parts of finding a job in startup, and this applies both to deciding which roles to apply for at which company, and to the application itself. Start by thinking about whether a company is the right fit for you, and vice versa. “I think it’s really important to begin with good research before you start applying,” says Lina Kucinskaite, technical recruiter at e-bike pioneers VanMoof. “This will help you to understand what company you want to work for and define your job hunt focus. You can start with things like: what does the startup landscape look like? What kind of companies are based here? Which companies are growing, which companies are hiring? Once you have a good understanding of how this works, continue by thinking about what is important for you in a company and your next step.”

Tip 2: Target your application

Equally, think carefully about which role to apply for, rather than shooting off cover letters left, right and centre. The most common mistake people make in their job applications is “applying for every role at the company,” says Marie Chaproniere, recruiter at Hubs, which provides on-demand manufacturing and prototyping. “Apply for the job you really want, know why you’re applying and if it doesn’t work out, leave a really good impression and keep the door open for the next awesome opportunity!” Kucinskaite agrees. “Select the jobs that match your skills and you feel passionate about. Sending multiple applications can be tiring, boring and make your job hunt a misery. Be selective, share your application with those roles and companies that you really believe will suit you. This feeling will reflect on your job application as well.”

“Candidates tend to apply to many jobs, thinking it gives them abetter chance of being hired, when in fact, it’s the opposite,” says Martina Badinková, talent acquisition specialist at EVBox, a leading provider of flexible and scalable electric vehicle charging solutions. “Candidates should carefully pick the jobs they apply for and make sure they understand what the company does. Focusing on how they can help the company, instead of just ticking off the requirements list, will give them a much higher chance of success.”

Tip 3: Do your research

When writing your application, familiarise yourself with the company’s culture and services, and when interviewing, stress why this particular business is where you want to be. You’re much more likely to succeed if you can demonstrate that applying for the job in question was a considered choice, and that you’ve thought about why you’d be a good match for the company. Toma Skimelyte, tech talent acquisition at Amsterdam’s FinTech unicorn Mollie, says: “Show the company that you are excited to join the team and let them know why. Startups are looking for people who share the same passion for growing their product or service.”

Tip 4: Keep it relevant

Once you’ve swotted up on all there is to know about the company, make sure it shows in your CV and cover letter. Badinková says: “It’s easy to recognise if a candidate uses one general cover letter for all the job applications.” Needless to say, this is something you need to avoid. “Personalise it!” says Kucinskaite. “Please, please, please don’t send the same cover letter with all your applications. I would really recommend mentioning things like: Why would you like to work at this company? Why are you applying for this particular role? What value could you bring to the team?”

Tip 5: Know who you are talking to

It can also help to check the company website and their LinkedIn page for info such as size, company vision and tone of voice of their communications. “For example, being very formal, starting a cover letter with ‘Dear sir’, when the company’s tone of voice is quite informal, might not do you good,” says Kucinskaite. “And you don’t know if there actually is a sir on the other side of the screen.” Chaproniere adds: “Tell us what you can bring to the team and make it authentic; share why you want to be a part of the team and keep it short to engage the reader. Add in details which resonate, such as the [company’s] culture, their Women in Tech movement or the most recent press release.” And, perhaps most importantly, “don’t accidentally address it to a totally different company to the one you’re applying for – yes, it happens a lot!”

Tip 6: Be concise and accurate

Addressing the CV and cover letter to the correct company might be a low bar, but accuracy is paramount. And so is length, or rather, the lack thereof. “I think it’s very important to have a clear, well-crafted resume that reflects your skills and level – I would suggest one, maximum two pages,” says Kucinskaite. The same applies to the cover letter: “Given the number of applications companies receive, a cover letter should be at maximum one page, clear and to the point,” says Badinková.

Tip 7: But be yourself, too

While it can be difficult to combine with being brief and to the point, it’s important to show that you’re not a robot. Try to show who you are, and always be transparent about your career and skills. A cover letter stands out if it conveys character, according to Jurriaan Graaf, head of people at Aidence. “Make it enjoyable to read by letting your personality shine through.” Skimelyte adds: “A cover letter is also a good opportunity to explain any gaps in your experience. Mention if you took a sabbatical, studied a new subject or took time off to care for your family. Being honest is always better than being mysterious.” All recruiters agree that personality and a cultural fit can trump ticking a skills checklist. “Often, motivation and willingness to learn are more important than skills that you can learn on the job,” says Skimelyte. And Kucinskaite adds: “Be honest and transparent, if you bring good energy, it’s always a plus. It’s okay not to know everything or not to ‘tick all the boxes’. Most companies are also looking for talented people with great potential to grow.” Chaproniere puts it even more strongly, saying the most important trait she looks for in a successful candidate is “attitude. You can be the most skilled person in the room, but if you haven’t got the right attitude to want to learn, grow and add value, you’ll never achieve your goals.”

Tip 8: Prepare for the interview

The work doesn’t stop once you’ve been invited to an interview. “Research the company and have some questions prepared,” says Chaproniere. “No-one expects you to fully understand how the business operates from A-Z, but they will want to find someone who is generally interested in what the business does.” Skimelyte agrees: “Prepare, prepare, prepare! Take time to learn about the company, their values and the job itself. Showing your knowledge about the company and explaining why it is the right place for you is the key to a recruiter’s heart.”

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