Silicon Valley recruiters reveal how you can network your way to a job at a top startup — and the mistake that can can sabotage your chances

rosemary belden

Summary List Placement

Payments company Stripe just hit a $95 billion valuation, making it more valuable than SpaceX or Instacart.

And it’s hiring.

If you’re looking to land a job at Stripe, or at any other high-profile startup, a passive approach won’t work.

Instead you’ll need to start actively courting hiring managers and other employees at the company you’re eyeing. That way, when the team is looking to fill a new role, they’ll think of you first.

Rosemary Belden, talent acquisition manager at Square and previously the director of talent acquisition at venture-capital firm M13, put it this way: “Startups often focus on executing until they need a position. Networking with recruiters or business leaders will help you be top of mind when a position does open up in your area of expertise.” M13, Belden’s former employer, has invested in companies including SpaceX, Lyft, Ring, and ClassPass.

In some ways, that job-search strategy isn’t so different from the hiring process at more established organizations. Across industries, job candidates who come through referrals are between 2.6 and 6.6% more likely to get hired than candidates who aren’t referred, according to a 2015 Glassdoor report. Meanwhile, the best (and often only) way to nab a mid- or senior-level job in finance is to get into a recruiter’s database months or years before there’s an opening.

But startups — especially early-stage startups — tend to be strapped for cash. Often they won’t hire a new employee until they desperately need that person. Glen Evans, vice president of core talent at the venture-capital firm Greylock Partners, advises founders to carefully consider whether the skills they need are critical to building the company, and whether it’s a long-term or short-term need. (Non-critical skills and a short-term need generally mean you can hire a contractor instead.)

For aspiring startup employees, this suggests that even if you don’t see your dream job listed on the startup’s careers page today, it might be there next month, when the company raises a new round of funding or ships its first product. Start working toward that role now.

Relationships make the startup world go ’round

The startup world is built on relationships. People tend to find jobs, cofounders, and investors through friends or former colleagues. That’s why cold emails to venture capitalists rarely work — instead you’ll want a “warm introduction” from a mutual connection.

This referral system also creates a relatively homogeneous environment, where everyone who works for a startup looks, acts, and thinks the same. So it’s not always a good thing. But it does help to remember that the opportunities you’re looking for won’t necessarily be posted on a job board.

“Only a tiny percentage of people are hired that way,” Kelly Kinnard, vice president of talent for venture and growth companies at Battery Ventures, told Business Insider’s Melia Russell. To get introduced to someone at the company you want to work for, Kinnard said job-seekers should “systematically reach out to former colleagues, friends, etc.” You might also head to (now-virtual) events, like conferences or Meetups, where startup types tend to congregate.

The process can seem exhausting. But in some ways networking has never had a greater potential payoff than it does now.

Networking might be more effective in the pandemic era than it was before

The coronavirus pandemic has turned coffee meetings and happy hours virtual. And clinking a beer into your laptop camera can seem less personal — and less likely to help you get a job — than a real-life get together.

But a potential upside of the pandemic recession is that people are more willing to help other people find jobs. Dave Fano, a former WeWork exec and the founder of careers platform Teal, thinks anyone who’s just lost their job should leverage their professional network.

“Tell the world,” Fano told Business Insider in May. And get over the embarrassment. “Right now the world wants to help more than ever,” Fano said. But if you don’t ask for anything, “then they can’t help you.”

Virtual networking can also be less burdensome than getting together for a pre-work coffee or post-work cocktail, so people are more likely to accept your request. You can start by sending out a few targeted emails or LinkedIn messages (here’s a template) to let your connections know that you’re thinking about your next career move and could use their guidance.

Belden, of M13 and now Square, said that even if you still have a job at a more established employer, you can start building a relationship with startups now.

“Startups love gaining industry knowledge from people at larger organizations,” she said, “so find a startup that aligns with your experiences and start to build a relationship by sharing insights.”

Remember: You’re an asset to the company, too.

Melia Russell contributed reporting.

Join the conversation about this story »

NOW WATCH: Epidemiologists debunk 13 coronavirus myths

Related posts