You’re either one of those people who will change the world or you’re insane, and as a result you’ve decided you want to work for an entrepreneur. Perhaps the reason is because you want to be an entrepreneur yourself, but you want to observe an entrepreneur in action and learn from his or her mistakes before you venture out on your own. Or perhaps you’re not inclined to start your own business, but you believe working for an entrepreneur will be educational, fun, financially remunerative, or rewarding in other ways. I’ve been employed by entrepreneurs. I’ve also worked for large enterprises, and I have run my own business since 1999. Here’s how to land your dream job.
Financial Reality Check
Most new businesses fail quickly, so chances are if you take a job with a startup you’re not going to get rich while employed there. And if you get a job with an established business, you’ve likely come into it too late to enjoy anything but stable employment at a competitive wage. Things may work out in your favor regardless, but don’t be too disappointed if your job disappears after a year, along with the company you’re working for. If it does, you’ll have learned some of the most valuable lessons of your life. Just the same, I can’t say there’s any harm in picking a winner. Your best chance at that is to join a new company being started by an entrepreneur who has already been successful with previous businesses.
What Entrepreneur Employers Want To See
I’ve reviewed hundreds, if not thousands, of resumes and job applications over the years, and have hired scores of team members. Here’s what I look for in a potential hire, and how you can display these skills, traits, and abilities to a potential employer.
Are you a genius? Good for you. But what I really need is merely someone who can get a job done, get it done right, and get it done right now. It doesn’t take a genius to manage basic competence, but I can tell you that basic competence is rare. You’d be surprised how many people say they can do something, and then don’t deliver. When that happens with one of my team members, I’m unable to deliver to my customers what I’ve promised. That makes me incompetent, and I don’t like being incompetent. Team members who make me incompetent don’t tend to remain part of the team for very long.
It’s not that I give my team members impossible tasks outside the scope of their abilities, and I understand nobody is perfect. It’s that some people tend to get things done and others don’t. It might be as simple as me asking “Can you send me an email with a link to that website we were talking about?” If two days later, I have no email, and the only excuse is, “Sorry, I forgot,” and this isn’t a one-time occurrence but the norm, then that’s a team member I can’t afford to have around. I try to eliminate that type of person from the hiring pool before they become part of my team.
How To Display Competence
Easy–do what you say you’re going to do. You’ll have plenty of opportunities for this in the hiring process. Be on time for appointments, or with assignments. Read emails all the way through to make sure you don’t miss something that was asked of you. Show that you can get things done. And show that you’ve done it, either at a previous job or in school.
Are you teachable? If you’re just graduating from college you better be, or else you’ve already reached the limits of your abilities. Yes, I hire young people for what they can already do, but also for what they’ll be able to do in the future. If you think you already know everything, you’re not nearly as valuable to me.
How To Display Humility
Humility means seeing yourself as you truly are in relation to everything else. It does not mean being weak and holding back. Don’t wait for the opportunity to display humility. If you want to show your humility, there are two things you can do; 1) ask for advice, 2) show gratitude (not just for the advice, but generally).
When I see hunger and passion in a team member it gets me excited about my business all over again. Drive is when I see someone who is bent and determined to succeed, not just financially, but at everything they put their mind to.
How To Display Drive
One word–goals. Show your potential employer that you have a history of setting goals and attaining them. Show him that becoming part of his team isn’t just a job, but that it feeds into goals you have that go beyond the financial benefits.
I do triathlons. There’s a difference between a “sprint” distance triathlon and an Ironman event. Sometimes I need my team members to sprint, as in the case of working an all-nighter to get a project done on time. But most of the time I need them to be there every day, getting the work done at a normal, measured pace. And it’s not always exciting. There are times when it can be a grind. Endurance, by definition, shows that you can do something that is at least slightly unpleasant for an extended period of time. I don’t want to have to worry about constantly keeping my team members entertained. Yes, I want work at my company to be exciting and stimulating, but I recognize there are times when it is anything but, and I can’t hire people who will quit or slow down during those periods.
How To Display Endurance
Run a marathon or do an Ironman. I’m not joking. Endurance is an attitude, a mental ability that can be developed. If it’s developed in one area of your life, it floods into other areas.
I recognize not everyone can run a marathon or race in an Ironman. I haven’t yet completed a full Ironman myself (I’ve done some halfs and some marathons, enough to have an idea what I’m in for when the day comes). If endurance sports aren’t for you, find another activity that takes a lot of time and patience. Whatever it is, find a way to share it with your potential employer during the hiring process.
Warning: Remaining in a bad job or situation for far too long is not the kind of endurance entrepreneurial employers are looking for.
I’m not a micromanager. I can’t be. I need people with whom I can share a broad vision and high-level objectives, and then they go and do great things to make it all happen. I give my team the freedom to do that, reward them when they succeed, and learn with them when they fail. I never criticize for a valiant attempt that fails.
How To Display Initiative
Start the job before you have it. Imagine you’re interviewing with my online marketing firm for a sales job, along with 10 other stellar applicants. You come to me and said “I went to such and such company, which seems like the kind of client you’d like to have. I told them I was interviewing for a position with you, and that I wanted to understand how they purchase online marketing services. I asked them how I, if got the job, could best approach them or a company like them to sell your services, and here’s what I learned…” Who is going to get the job?
Better yet, go close a deal. Heck, if you know the company you want to work for, don’t even wait for a job opening, just start doing work for the company. If you want to do sales, go land a deal for your future employer. I don’t care if I’m advertising for a sales position or not, if someone brings me a deal, they’re probably going to get hired. If it’s marketing you want to do, create a viral marketing campaign on YouTube for their product or service. If it’s programming, create an app that interfaces with your future employer’s API.
Creators see connections and relationships where others don’t. They try what others are afraid to try. And they aren’t afraid of failure. Sometimes they provide value, sometimes they don’t. But without them, nothing new ever happens. Without creators in my company, my company will fall behind and disappear.
How To Display Creativity
Display curiosity, because people who wonder about things are the people who create new things. Find out what the entrepreneur employer wants, not of you in your potential role as a team member, but from his business, and then ask questions like “I’m just curious, have you ever thought about combining your Service A with so and so’s Product Z? Would that help you accomplish Objective D?”
All of the above are examples of skills, traits, and abilities I try to cultivate in myself. This last has a bit of “do as I say, not as I do” to it. Some entrepreneurs are great at having laser focus. They choose a dragon and they wake up and slay that dragon every day. That’s not me. I like to dream. I like to wonder, and wander. I was diagnosed with ADHD as a kid, after all. In some cases this seems to be a benefit to myself and my business, because it can aid in the creativity department. In other circumstances it’s a distinct liability. It’s because I recognize this tendency in myself that I hire people who are focused, in order to provide balance. I need team members who are strong where I am weak. Although I admire other wandering dreamers, I don’t hire them.
Focus is different than endurance, although they are related. Endurance is continuing to do something even when it’s not all that fun. Focus is recognizing the difference between good, better, and best, and sticking to what’s best.
How To Display Focus
Show that you know how to prioritize and then stick to your priorities. People who are focused might say “I made a mistake. I thought I should be working on A but it turns out I should have been working on B.” What they don’t say is “I knew I should have been working on B, but somehow I ended up working on A.”
One way to show focus is to have a consistent track record in your work history. Perhaps it’s in different industries, but as long as it’s the same type of work (sales, for example) then your potential employer will be able to see that you stick to something. If you’re young, perhaps just about to graduate from college, and you don’t have a professional work history, then display focus by showing consistency in other areas of your life. “I’ve been skiing since I was five-years-old,” still shows me you know what it means to keep your attention on something for a long time.
Some Technical Matters
The first thing I do when someone comes to my attention is I look at their Linkedin profile. This goes double for sales and marketing folks, whom I expect to be well networked and overly social. The exception is designers, because I’ll look at their online portfolio on Dribbble or Behance, although if they have a complete Linkedin profile that’s a plus. With Linkedin you can display many of the above, and then drive it home when you communicate directly with a potential employer.
How To Seal The Deal
Have good references, and make sure the potential employer contacts them. Follow up on the matter. Give your potential employer the questions he can ask, “I had a great experience working with so and so on such and such project. Please her about my creativity and focus.” Entrepreneurs are busy, and many will go with their gut when making hiring decisions. If you think the data is in your favor, make sure the entrepreneur employer sees it.
Are you an entrepreneur? What other tips would you give to people looking to work for you?