Want to work for a startup? Maybe you've known about them for a while, or maybe you just ran across them on TechCrunch or Venturebeat. Before you hit apply, there are a few things to consider when putting together your application -- specifically when it comes to how you write your cover letter.
For example, it’s easy to find out who to address your cover letter to at a startup, considering the smaller teams at hand, so don’t ever resort to “Dear Hiring Manager” or “To whom it may concern.”
Here are some other best practices to help you write a great startup cover letter:
Startups are unique - the entire team is a group of like-minded people driven by the work they do and the problems they are tackling. This attitude comes from the top down. After all, no one is more passionate about an idea and a business than the founding team. The founders establish the company culture, drive the team to succeed, and surround themselves with people that are just as excited and gung-ho about the startup’s prospects as they are.
This is why showing your enthusiasm for the startup, its products, and its mission is crucial to writing an effective cover letter. The hiring manager reading your application will want to know that you’re on the same track and have the mindset needed to join their team. Furthermore, especially at smaller organizations, the founding team will be directly involved in the decision-making process and will read your cover letter and likely interview you.
So if you’ve been a longtime user or satisfied customer, or if you’ve been following the startup since its nascent days, or even if you’ve simply met part of the team at a happy hour or conference, talk about it! Those types of stories may not feel like they matter much in a larger corporate setting, but they can make your application outstanding in the eyes of a startup.
Embrace your uniqueness
One of the best things you can do in a startup cover letter is embrace the things that make you unique. Startup founders and employees want to know who you are beyond the job search facade you set for yourself. If you have a hobby that shows your enthusiasm and eagerness to learn, or if you enjoy sharing your expertise with the world, talk about it. It doesn’t have to be hyper-relevant. It just needs to reveal information about your character and the fact that you’re active and have a life and interests outside your day job.
So if you love blogging about video games, or if you started your own YouTube channel where you teach people how to play guitar, put in a sentence about it and add a link. Your cover letter will immediately stand out and tell the reader more about you with one sentence and a link than if you had just left it to them to discover (or miss!) with a Google search.
Display a diverse skillset
Startups are understaffed by nature. They don’t have the large hiring budgets of corporations or the name recognition and advertising money that brings them intense candidate interest. However, what they do have is pickiness - not only do they want the best of the best, but they also focus on hiring people with diverse skillsets.
“Enjoys wearing many hats” is a common requirement on a startup job description, and with good reason. If a startup had highly specialized employees who could only work on a specific subset of projects, they would get nowhere fast. So if you have a diverse skillset, whether that’s through your studies, side projects, or hobbies, take advantage and highlight it in your cover letter.
Because if you go into a startup job thinking you’ll have a role set in stone, you’re gonna have a bad time. If you go into it with an open mind and the expectation to work cross-functionally, you’ll be a superstar.
Show a vibrant attitude
Today’s hot startups may take their product and their business very seriously, but that doesn’t mean they take themselves very seriously. The ability to show a serious-yet-playful attitude in your cover letter can go a long way to helping you stand out to the reader. It all depends on the startup in question - read the way they wrote the job description, understand the type of person they’re looking for (hint: the startup’s “Careers” and “About Us” pages are your best friends here), and read through their blog posts and social media interactions to figure out how to best speak to them.
As you write your cover letter, remember to be genuine. If you’re not super passionate about the startup’s product, don’t lie about it. Instead, talk about what drove you to apply (the role and your ability to have impact, the potential to build processes and departments from the ground up, or cultural fit with the internal organization) and talk about them. For example, you may not be extremely excited to work on a specific product you aren’t a potential customer of, but you could definitely be excited to tackle the overall issue the product is addressing. No single startup will be perfect for you. Instead, you’ll find a few where you like some things, and you dislike others. Hone in and where you can be honestly excited.