How to Stand Out: Applying for a Startup Position

While some job seekers are simply satisfied with a lackluster cubicle as an ideal workplace, more and more candidates are seeking employment from successful startups. But every entrepreneur, no matter what the scale of their business is, can testify that they’re constantly looking for a specific kind of applicant.


In order to find yourself employed by a successful startup, you’ll need to bring more to the table than just your resume. You have to prove your creativity and innovation, sometimes before you’ve even booked an interview. Stay away from boring templates and “To Whom It May Concern” cover letters.  Who says a resume is even necessary at all?

We asked members of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invitation only nonprofit organization comprised of the country’s most promising young entrepreneurs, the following question to find out what impresses them most about today’s job applicants and their resumes:

What types of things should job seekers include in their resumes if they’re trying to get hired by a successful startup?

Here’s what YEC community members had to say:

1. Be Committed in the Application Process

“Be sure to tell the company that you are totally committed to do whatever it takes to make the company successful. You want them to know that they are the company that you want to work for and you are willing to go the extra mile and will not worry about petty things. Go beyond the resume and get an in person meeting or, better yet, a personal introduction.” ~ Louis Lautman, Young Entrepreneur Society

2. Constructive Feedback for the Startup

“Startups love feedback, especially when it’s actionable and more interesting than your generic “you need SEO” idea. Successful startups need thinkers and movers, so in addition to providing great feedback, share how you can help improve the business and how you have already carved out a pretty neat role for yourself in the company.” ~ Danny WongBlank Label Group, Inc.

3. Innovation Differentiation

“Bring something different to the table. Not only in your resume, but in pitching yourself. In addition, bring ideas with you. Approach the company having done your research and make recommendations based on where you see opportunity. Then relate it to your experience and how you would contribute.” ~ Matt Cheuvront, Proof Branding

4. Forget Your Resume!

“Do something that makes you stand out. If you haven’t done anything especially impressive to make your resume pop, impress with your initiative. Get to know the product extremely well and make recommendations. Build something, send snail mail. The more enthusiasm and commitment you show, the more likely they are to decide you’re worth bringing in. Resumes and cover letters are not enough.” ~ Emerson Spartz, Spartz Media

5. Prove Your Proactivity

“You can be incredibly intelligent and experienced, but unless you are proactive and able to think on your feet independently, it doesn’t matter in the context of a startup. You need to “tell” that you are proactive by highlighting experiences where you have created something new or worked alone, and you should “show” that you are by quickly and energetically following up with your interviewer.” ~ Caroline Ghosn, The Levo League

6. Embody the Corporate Values

“Culture is really important at successful startups. Most of these firms publish their corporate values publicly, so make sure that you review the lists and incorporate the concepts into your resume. It will not only help you determine if you’re a fit for the firm, but will also help the firm to really envision you among their employees too.” ~ Doreen Bloch, Poshly Inc.

7. Share Your Story

“Show them that you either have a history of innovation or perhaps make an innovative suggestion for the company when you reach out to them. Startups want to bring on people that can help take them to the next level.” ~ Justin Beegel, Infographic World, Inc.

8. Are You In It for the Long Haul?

“Demonstrate that you want to grow with the company. Nothing makes me happier than knowing someone respects the startup model and wants to be part of the company’s core. Use the cover letter to show your interest in the company and why you think you’re a good long term asset. Saying you’re willing to do things that aren’t “your job” doesn’t hurt either.” ~ Therese Kuster, TargetClick Marketing Solutions

9. In-House Referrals Always Help

“Stand out by providing a reference from one of your existing employees. Companies love hiring based on recommendations of existing staff, so network your way into a job to stand out. As an alternative, demonstrate your value and initiative by tackling a small project on behalf of the prospective employer and showing it off on your cover letter.” ~ Matt Mickiewicz, 99designs

10. Remember Your Hobbies and Humanity!

“Big, funded startups can get skilled individuals for any role but they are building their businesses for the long haul. Most will care more about culture and making sure there is a fit. Always include at least one line about your interests. Whether reading or camping, coaching youth or running marathons, these insights will tell the company more about you and will make you stand out.” ~ Aaron Schwartz, Modify Watches

11. Fearlessness of Failure

“A resume is merely a conversation starter that gets your foot in the door. Be ready to talk about experiences that show you are not afraid to fail and showcase how you’ve taken risks in the past. There is nothing wrong with showcasing a failed attempt at entrepreneurship because it shows that you can operate with an entrepreneur’s mind within a more mature startup organization.” ~ Matt Wilson,

12. Can You Do the Hustle?

“Show them how you “pounded the pavement” to get the job done. At successful startups, a seemingly easy task is often littered with obstacles that employees need to overcome. Demonstrate that you’ve gone above and beyond, such as driving hours to see a client in person or staying tethered to your laptop on a weekend to be responsive to customer inquiries. Hustle goes a long way.” ~ Bhavin Parikh, Magoosh, Inc.

Resume Photo via Shutterstock

The Young Entrepreneur Council The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.