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Regardless of your professional experience, industry background, or undergraduate major, there’s room for everyone in tech — even those of us who don’t code! And although there are plenty of opportunities in the startup scene, breaking in can be tricky, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the ways of the startup world. 

On Tuesday, January 14th, 2020, Planted and General Assembly co-hosted a panel of startup experts from SevenRooms, Slice, and Eight Sleep. We asked them about what life is really like at a fast-growing company, what a perfect fit looks like for them, their secrets to success for interviews and beyond. But if you weren’t able to attend, don’t worry — we’ve compiled all of the most important pieces of advice from the event right here! Check out the Q&A from the panel below.

But first, meet our panelists: 

Our moderator, Lupe Colangelo, Career Coach at General Assembly. 

As a Career Coach for General Assembly, Lupe helps students undergoing major career transitions into UX Design and Software Engineering. Through teaching, advising, and individual coaching, she empowers job seekers from all backgrounds with tools to confidently navigate their job search so they can find work they love. [via General Assembly]

Keith Myers, Recruitment Manager at Eight Sleep

Overseeing the entire end-to-end recruitment process, Keith brings several years of hyper-growth recruitment experience, most recently two years at Compass where he spent leading a team of recruiters through an exponential growth period. [via General Assembly]

Kitaro Ricketts , Talent Acquisition Lead at Slice 

His efforts leading all US hiring have grown the team from 60 to 120 employees and won multiple workplace and culture awards. He also supports talent acquisition for Slice’s 550+ person team in Belfast and Macedonia. Kitaro brings a diverse Talent Acquisition background after supporting and leading teams in high-growth start-up environments across the private and non-profit industries. [via General Assembly]

Natalie Magioncalda, Talent Acquisition Manager at SevenRooms

Since joining the company, Natalie has shaped SevenRooms’ recruiting program, scaling the team both domestically and across the globe. She is passionate about helping candidates find their dream jobs and her work is rooted in putting people first. {via General Assembly]


What is so special about startups? What makes them so different from bigger companies? 

Natalie: Working with a startup gives you the opportunity to leave your mark on a company, have a seat at the table, and build something from the ground up. Since startups are much smaller, it’s a lot easier to make an impact and see everything you do come to life in front of you. 

Keith: There’s always a lot of experimenting involved when you work at a startup; there’s more room for playing around because not everything is so rigid. 

Kitaro: Working at a startup has really unique opportunities for growth. You get to work with an open mindset and take on responsibilities in a lot of different areas.


What do your hiring managers look for in candidates?  

Keith: We look for very action-oriented people whose values align with ours. By action-oriented I mean that when you say you’re a great communicator, I want to know what that actually means. We want to know how someone made an impact and inspired action; we want to hear what the results of that were.

Natalie: I think it's great to see that you are passionate about the specific role or company you're applying to. Our jobs make up a large part of our day-to-day lives, so it’s important for you to be excited about and fulfilled by the work.


Any advice on reaching out to recruiters? 

Natalie: Make sure that through your communication, you’re being your authentic self. Be creative with your outreach, make it personal, and make sure your intention is specific. If you’re reaching out to someone, let them know why and what you want like, “Hey, can we meet for coffee and talk about x?,” etc. You can build more rapport with someone when, instead of just sending a basic message, you personalize your outreach with the intention of building a one-on-one relationship. 

Keith: You don’t always have to reach out to a recruiter; if you have connections in that industry/company, that’s huge. When you’re lucky enough to have a company connection, whoever you want to connect with will be more likely to hop on the phone. However, don’t *not* reach out because you think they’re busy — recruiters will take pause for someone who looks like a good fit.  

Kitaro: Referrals are super important; if you have that, you’re fortunate. Recruiters go through thousands of applications a day and get a lot of messages, so if you know somebody they also know, that will definitely help get a conversation started.


Do you have any advice for the initial phone screen before an interview? 

Keith: Don’t use buzzwords. If you say “I’m a great team player,” we want the details of what that means to you. Another pitfall is when people come in and don’t know anything about the company or what we do. 

Kitaro: If you’re talking to a recruiter during a phone screen, you’re most likely already qualified for the role. So instead of running through your qualifications, you’ll want to focus on showing more of yourself, your personality, and your values in this stage. 


What can more junior talent do to stand out from the crowd? 

Kitaro: When you’re pretty junior in your career you’re just getting started out, so it’s important to show that you want to take on more, to learn, and grow. Ask great questions and have an open, learning-oriented mindset. 

Natalie: Don’t be afraid to be persistent! If someone says the role you applied to requires deeper experience, you could ask if there are other positions open that align with your skillset. You can find a lot of value in treating rejection as a potential opportunity to open a new door. It goes a long way when you show your interest about potential opportunities and can align your goals with what the company is trying to achieve. 

Keith: Be more creative! We had a product candidate who emailed our CEO with a full deck on how he could improve our app. It was great, it got him an introduction and an interview and now he has connections at our company. 


What are some specific questions you’re asking candidates? Any preparation tips for interviews?  

Keith: I always tell job applicants, ‘Talk to me about the last thing you taught yourself — professional or personal.’ The answer to this shows a lot about someone’s curiosity and willingness to learn. Then we push further and ask what were the challenges and what did they have to overcome. From that series of questions, you can take away a lot about someone’s values and how they solve problems.

Natalie: I always ask people, ‘What’s your story?’ I like when people are able to walk me through how they got where they are today. Try to craft a story for yourself; one that’s concise but shows your skillset and depth.

Kitaro: For me, it’s more about ‘Why do you want to work at Slice?’ A common answer we get is, ‘Because I love pizza.’ Well, who doesn’t love pizza? We want to know your motivations and how your personal and professional goals align with ours.


Networking in tech is unique — what works for each of you in terms of making connections?  

Keith: I go to a lot of meetups. I went to a UX design meetup the other day and even though I’m not a UX designer, I ended up meeting a bunch of people who introduced me to even more people. On the other hand, I play in a volleyball league, so I make connections through those people, too. It’s all relationship building. 

Natalie: Going to events (like this one) is a great way to meet people/build your network. If I see companies online that have cool projects or initiatives going on, I’ll make a list of those companies, find the LinkedIn profile of someone who works there, and do some cold outreach to folks asking them to get coffee and talk about this recent project at their company.  


What advice do you have for people with only corporate experience on getting a job at a startup?  

Keith: I don’t think seeing that you’ve only worked in larger companies on your resume is a huge factor, as long as you have the skills we’re looking for. But during the initial phone screen, you’ll want to show how those skills you gained are transferable to a startup atmosphere. 

Kitaro: People with experience at startups are very cross-functional, so if you can, try to highlight when you had a chance to work that way in your previous roles. People at larger corporations often get siloed into specific areas, and that’s just not how we work in startups.

Natalie: Focus on talking about what you built, what you made or produced that was truly yours — something you saw through from start to finish that you really took ownership for. That will translate really well into the startup career space. 


Any last pieces of advice?  

Keith: Be really intentional about what you’re looking for. Don’t just say, ‘I wanna go into tech,’ and start scrolling job boards, but realize what your passion is and focus in on that. There’s a ton of variety for startups here in NYC, so starting off being really intentional will get better results. 

Kitaro: Be strategic about the companies you’re reaching out to! In my job search, I wanted to work with a mission-driven, authentic company, so for me, it was more about the company values. Once I found the right company, I just wanted to find a way in the door and looked for someone to help me make that connection. 


Hungry for more advice from startup pros? We co-hosted another expert panel back in September with Billie, DailyPay, and Morty — check out our recap here!

If you’re ready to get out there, check out the hundreds of startups in your area who are looking for top talent right now — dozens of opportunities are waiting, so sign up on Planted now (It's free!)

Answers have been edited for length and clarity