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Let us start by saying a big thank you to our panel members:

  • Tom from MeTail
  • Peter from Sleepio
  • Alistair from Senate
  • Rachel from Dr Thom 

We heard some great feedback on the evening, highlighting their excellent insights, great advice and inspirational stories. We certainly walked away with a spring in our step!

This is what we learnt from them, on how to get a job in a start-up:

  1. There is a huge variety of tasks and challenges in a start-up; show you are a competent applicant who can get things done.
  2. Bring something to the (interview) table. Show you have researched the company well and can provide solutions to some of their problems.
  3. Market yourself. Recall any special skills or related experience, and don’t worry about a past history of start-up failure – spin a good story from this failure and show you can learn from your mistakes.

We’ve written a brief overview of the evening, for those of you who couldn’t make it. The evening took a similar format to our other events: a brief introduction to each of the business, followed by a thought-provoking Q&A (thanks to you all for asking some great questions!). There was then a chance for a few more informal drinks, and further discussion!

All four speakers had very different businesses providing a great illustration of how varied and flexible start-ups can be! It also drew out some interesting implications for looking for a job in a start-up.

Start-ups are hugely varied

Tom (MeTail) had a well thought-out, methodical approach to finding a job in a start-up. His experience of speaking with 60 start-ups, whilst looking for a job (or supposedly studying for his MBA!), had helped him to develop some very interesting theories on the whole start-up process, classifying start-up businesses into ‘very early’, ‘early’ and ‘mid’ stages. This was a helpful classification for the audience to understand the different situations in start-ups, what these were looking for while recruiting and what a new person in the business could hope to gain from joining that type of start-up.

Understanding the recruitment process for start-ups

Rachel, CEO of Dr Thom, was speaking from the perspective of the oldest start-up on the panel. She had been recruited into the business, instead of starting DrThom herself, so provided an excellent insight on the recruitment process for a later stage start-up. She was also recruiting and discussed her rigorous selection process. The rest of the panel quickly agreed that all their selection processes were tough; as Alistair put it – “a start-up is your ‘baby’ and you are looking for the right people to trust with handling a business that the founder has put so much time, thought and money into.” They all particularly valued chemistry between the candidate and the recruiter for this type of business, and the versatility of candidates that could overcome a variety of challenges of entirely different shapes and sizes. Alistair even asked his candidates a few open questions in their application (“What would you do with £50 000 in this company?) to try and judge all aspects of their personalities.

Experience of working in a professional services start-up

Alistair, Founder of Senate Brand Consultancy, offered the view of a professional services start-up. He valued the added freedom and responsibility and the thrill of constant new challenges that comes hand in hand with starting a business. Though he was glad of the opportunity to participate in most aspects of a business he also warned people interested in joining a startup that they should enjoy the variety but have a direction to move in. As a business grows, specialists in the different aspects (PR, Law, Marketing…) will probably be brought on board and you can find yourself without something you are essential for!

Founding start-ups

Peter, co-founder of Sleepio, had an incredible experience with Professor Espie’s sleep programme and decided to try and take the product to a wider audience online. Peter talked about how he navigated the first steps of beginning a company and equity division, as well as the difficulties of trying to convince somebody more senior to invest in you as the person to take their product to the market. He highlighted enthusiasm and resourcefulness as two key ingredients to a successful application to work in a start-up.

Marketing yourself

The entire panel advised not to forget smaller experiences if they are applied in some way to the job you are trying to get, or show you are an interesting person with initiative. Peter attempted to start a business when he was 18 (unsuccessfully), but was surprised when years later, this was something recruiters really valued, just as Rachel’s NHS experience was valued almost over her consulting experience, a counter-intuitive order if you consider she had spent 5 years working at McKinsey and had only worked with the NHS for a short period of time. Rachel also tackled doubts from the audience concerning changes in career direction and stigmas against workers from other industries by recommending you anticipate a business’ concerns about your commitment to this new industry and your motivations. She also suggested candidates should make clear they understand moving from a financially comfortable job (e.g. consulting) to a start-up and the risks it entails both in an interview but even partly in your cover letter!

This event had a superb team of panellists and provided an interesting inside track to starting and running a start-up company, so thank you to all who attended and we are sure the next event will be as insightful as this one!


Perhaps you’re looking to make the transition into a smaller company? Have a read of this.

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