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Three Key Traits of a Great Tech Startup Job Candidate

Recruiting Manager Laura Fendrich leads 1871's recruiting program, which has partnered with over 75 companies, captured the attention of 30,000 candidates and placed well over 100 people into incredible career opportunities. With a myriad of hiring experiences under her belt, she breaks down what she feels are the most important traits to have as a tech startup candidate.

Recruiting.jpg1871's all-star recruiters: Ashleigh Jones (left) and Laura Fendrich (right) 


This past July marked three years since 1871 started an experiment to support our growing startups in their hiring efforts and has since grown from a six month trial and a one person operation into one of 1871's most valuable offerings. Having worked with over 75 early-stage startups, all will different missions, values, and needs, we as a program have gained a comprehensive understanding of what startups need on their team to be successful and get to that next crucial milestone. Now a two person strong operation, we have reviewed thousands of resumes, conducted countless phone screens and interview debriefs on behalf of our clients. We have negotiated hundreds of offers all with one objective in mind: Find the best match to give both parties the best chance for success and personal and professional growth.

In a startup setting, this goes far beyond the employers listed on your resume or the degree you earned (or didn’t earn). We want to know you — what motivates you and how you measure success, what you value in work and life and what you expect out of yourself and your colleagues. These are the elements that tell me and the founders we work with whether or not you’ve got what it takes to take the business to the next level.  

So what makes someone a good fit for our ecosystem? In my experience the people who have excelled with our startups have three things in common:

  • A refreshing lack of ego

Early ventures value people who understand that being in a startup requires you to be a utility player. The clients we work with are looking for individuals who strike a balance between the experience and confidence necessary to set strategy and think big-picture, but also get their hands dirty with the execution side of the job. In startups, priorities shift daily, which means your job description might, too. You need to be comfortable stepping outside of your comfort zone and driving in a new lane. If you find yourself saying “that’s not my job” when you’re asked to do something that isn’t in your direct purview, this environment probably isn’t the right one for you.

A lack of ego does not mean you downplay your strengths or personality, but rather you demonstrate self-awareness. You know your weaknesses and when it’s time to enjoy a nice warm slice of humble pie. No one ever achieved greatness completely on their own, so give credit where credit is due, especially during an interview.

  • Motivation to build and create—not money or free lunches

Let’s be clear here. Working for an early-stage startup is vastly different than working for one of Chicago’s high-growth technology companies. If you’re job search is motivated by your desire to get a 15% increase in your salary, have catered lunches at your disposal or a fast-track to managing people, you’re looking in the wrong place. What the companies in our ecosystem offer is intangible. They need people who are driven by the impact of their work and understand how they’re contributing to the bigger picture. They want people who seek ownership over projects and initiatives and the autonomy to execute - there’s no time for micromanaging here. Above all else, these are opportunities to get in at the ground floor and truly be part of the building phase. If you’re in it for the money or to avoid brown-bagging your lunch, you’ll struggle.

  • An understanding of the true meaning of culture.

I’ll tell you what culture isn’t. It isn’t bean bag chairs, free-flowing kegs and happy hours or bluetooth hoverboards. Culture is defined by the values of the organization and how they’re put into practice. Merriam-Webster defines culture as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that characterizes an institution or organization.” This is arguably the MOST important aspect of fit for a startup. One company at 1871 I know values culture above all else is WatchTower. They went as far as to include a detailed section in their job description for a Senior Software Engineer outlining their cultural values. Working at a startup isn’t always rainbows and sunshine. There are some really challenging times and you want to be sure to surround yourself with people who share the same values, goals and attitudes to persevere and come out on top.


Recruiting-Xaptum.jpgIf you’re reading and thinking, “Hey! That sounds like me!,” and you haven’t given startup-life a try, I encourage to you to take that leap and give it a go. If you’re the person who gave it a shot and it didn’t work out, try again! Perhaps it just wasn’t the right fit the first time around. At the very least, you can get your feet wet by checking out our startups’ current openings on our Careers Page.


Topics: Insights, Community

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