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Thinking about interviewing with a startup?  With all the publicity around Facebook’s IPO and the hyper growth at companies like Groupon, the idea of working at a startup can be exhilarating, but it’s not for the faint of heart.

Sure there’s the possibility of being one of the first employees and getting stock options in the company and making lots of money down the road, but the reality is not every startup makes it big and many fail, and there’s a lot of hard work and long hours to put in before many dreams come to fruition.

What seems to drive most people to work for a startup company centers around ideas like passion for their work, a unique culture, flexible and fun work environments, and challenging work or exposure to projects they might never get in a regular company.

As Cate Conroy, Director of Marketing at GiveForward affirms. “I chose to work at a startup because I knew the opportunity to join an organization that you not only believe in, but are given the chance to build from the ground up, is incredibly rare.  I jumped at the chance to get on board with such an amazing company at such an early stage.”

For many individuals working for a startup is about not going and doing the same hum-drum job every day but being able to readily affect change and have your ideas not only heard, but acted upon.

“Working for a startup is exciting, challenging, and engrossing,” asserts John Haugen, Co-Founder of SeatSync.  “On a day-to-day level, the best part is tackling new challenges and learning new skills — there is always something new to do. More than anything, the primary factor that drives me and the rest of our team is the prospect of meaningfully transforming an industry that is in need of a significant change.”

If you’ve got the itch to take a different path with your career and work for a startup, the first thing to realize is no two startups are the same.  Do your research and figure out which companies sit well with your own personal values and passions–the same guidance applies for when you’re applying to non-startup positions.

Jordan Linville, CEO of Buzz Referrals, gives this advice, “Instead of trying to blast your resume to thirty companies, if you’re applying to startups, pick five that you really like, and make it really personal… I think college grads coming out now are thinking quantity over quality and that there’s this prescribed formula, but just like a startup it’s all ambiguity and it’s all about differentiating yourself. “

When you think about differentiating yourself, think the same way a startup company does.  What makes you distinctive and different than any other candidate out there (or for a startup, any other product or service out there) and what specific skills and experiences can you bring to the table?

This doesn’t mean throwing everything you’ve learned about interviewing out the window and starting from scratch trying to make a statement, this means really connecting with who you are and selling your best self to the company–which should be every applicant’s goal no matter if they’re interviewing for a startup or a big corporation.

“There’s definitely best [interviewing] practices that still need to apply, and there’s definitely a business etiquette and a level of respect– if your interviewer is super casual and informal, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should be,” Linville shares, “but I think the same mentality applies, ‘how can I make myself memorable‘, and ‘how can I show them that I really want this job.’ It’s not just me putting a resume out there to see what happens.”

But know that many startups also want to know what makes you tick and what gets you excited on a personal level.  Because working at a startup is about more than just the day to day, it’s about making an impact.  And people who have their own passions or quirks are more likely to get enthusiastic about the company’s mission and bring their own unique spin and ideas to the table.

Linville expresses, “One of the three automated questions we have in our interview [at Buzz Referrals] is ‘Tell us something that makes you unique.’  Do you collect antique toasters, are you a sous chef, and that’s always one of my favorite parts to hear, and sometimes I get answers like, I spend a lot of time browsing the internet, [insert wrong answer buzzer sound]…”

Being generic or general won’t get you far with most startup companies. But chances are, if you really have the passion to work for one, there’s something that makes you stand out, even if it’s not yet known to the world, and you’re already prepared to do what’s necessary to get the job.

Still wondering about how to approach working for a startup and getting your foot in the door?

Read more in Considering Working for a Startup (Part 2)

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