Not a CEO…Yet? Here's How to Land Your Dream Startup Gig

by / ⠀Personal Branding Startup Advice / October 27, 2011

startup jobEntrepreneurial blood flows through you – you can’t wait until you start your own company and live the dream.

You also realize you could benefit from a little more exposure to the start-up world before taking the CEO reins. So… how do you feed the entrepreneurial monster inside you and gain critical, hands-on experience?

You land your dream gig at a start-up – and leverage the knowledge gained.

Yes, the economy is tough… but joining a start-up not as hard as it may sound. Here’s how to get started…

Move Away from an “Employee” Mindset

You may be applying for a job. That doesn’t mean you have to approach the opportunity as an “employee”.

Recruiters are used to candidates who think “me” instead of “us”. In general, the recruiter knows that many employees will care more about doing exactly what is asked of them and not much more. Regardless of title or experience, they are perceived as followers whose primary motivation is compensation and financial security. That mindset doesn’t cut it at a start-up; for a future CEO, the consequences can be devastating.

As the old cliché dictates: be the first to arrive and the last to leave. Volunteer for side projects. Ask to participate in brainstorming sessions and to be involved in the decision making process… even if the decision isn’t yet yours. This balls-to-the-wall enthusiasm is respected, contagious and inspiring – and shows others you have a future as a leader.

Sell the Sizzle!

An entrepreneur is always exhibiting passion and championing her start-up. It’s why she gets up in the morning, how she manages to work late at night, and how she rationalizes that cross-country red-eye flight.

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No, this start-up isn’t yours. No, you may not have an equity stake yet. However – and without being a suck-up or a “yes man” – that CEO is going to expect that same passion and commitment from her team members.

By sincerely displaying passion for the company’s mission during your interview – and, of course, showing how you will personally help move that mission forward.

Walk in With a Plan

Regardless of what the job posting says, here’s what an entrepreneur really wants to know from you: “What will you do to improve my company, team, product and/or the user experience?”

Before the interview, thoroughly read the job description – especially between the lines. Do your research – not just what the company says about itself, but how they are perceived by customers, the press and competitors. What are they not saying? What problem are they trying to fix? More important, how are you the solution?

Now walk in with a plan. Maybe it is a social media strategy, or a competitive analysis. Perhaps it’s a business development plan… or maybe a statement of “next version” issues that you can not only fix, but can take to the next level.  Be prepared to talk about how you might pitch your idea to the founders and your soon-to-be colleagues. How will your solution improve the task, and what impact will that have on operations? What is the ROI? How will it impact the experience of the current users – and attract new customers?

Then, just as important… shut up and listen. The feedback you are about to receive is priceless.

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Lead with Humble Confidence

Here’s a secret in today’s  “real world”… You don’t need permission to lead – nor do you need a title or a certain number of years of experience. Well outside the silos built by the previous generation, people in today’s workforce are drawn to organic, natural leaders.

To be seen as a leader – from delivery of your resume until you leave the company – focus on consistently displaying “humble confidence” to founders, partners, colleagues, vendors and customers. You may be a hotshot. You could be the next big deal. But let someone else call you that – while you quietly, humbly go about your business.

Most important, no matter the title on your business card, choose – always – to lead from the front.

Attitude is –  Still – Everything

Set yourself apart from 99% of the competition by taking this approach when landing your dream gig:

“My first job at a start-up is my ‘practice’ time as CEO. I will be doing much more than a job. I will be learning, finding emulation points and – more often than I might like – earning a PhD in what NOT to do while I learn from my mistakes and the mistakes of others.”

Once the hiring team has recognized this passion in you – and they will – take full advantage of that training ground in front of you. Build your personal network. Generate goodwill. Let your work ethic – as well as your ability to lead, mentor, innovate and inspire – speak for you.

You’ll be well on your way to a gig as CEO.

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Author: Mark Babbitt founder of

About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.


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