How to get a job at a start-up

This article is a guest post written by Mariota Spens. Mariota works as the Customer Support Associate at Thriva, a HealthTech startup that aims to be the world’s first personalised healthcare service. Previous to this she studied Fine Art at Oxford University and has also worked in EdTech.

Leaving university is daunting at the least, and the thought of wearing a suit every day for the rest of your life is perhaps even worse. The sorts of jobs we hear about growing up are limited, and if you don’t want to be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer or a management consultant, the world of work can appear unattractive at best and alienating at worst. I don’t think I had even heard of the word start-up when I was completing my finals, but if I had known about the incredible number of fun, exciting and visionary businesses out there who I could work for, I could have prepared myself more and worried a lot less.


What even is a start-up? It’s a company that has normally been founded in the last five years and has external capital allowing it to scale quickly. There are hundreds of new ones setting up shop every month across the UK and the rest of the world, and they are always hungry for graduates. You can do lots of great work to prove yourself for a salary that is great value to employers. Roles tend to dictate an area of the company where you will work, whether Marketing, Customer Experience, Product or something more general like Business Development, and as the companies grow fast, your role will grow with you. If you work hard and find projects to give yourself to, then within a year it is normal for you to be able to craft your role around what you enjoy doing. The path is far more unpredictable and exciting than working for a big corporate, and you get the chance to prove yourself far more than is standard. Lots of start-ups are doing some really exciting things in the world, and if you are lucky and with the right experience, you can play a big part in one.


I graduated two years ago and have since worked in two start-ups. Here are my top tips to prepare yourself for your dream first job while you are still a student.


Find what you are passionate about. When it comes down to it, it is incredibly hard to give 40 hours a week to something that you don’t really care about. Whether you want to see a healthier world, invent the best healthy snack, provide education to the masses, or deliver food faster than anyone else, whatever your passion, there is a startup for you. There are two big things to think about within this – what cause or problems you are passionate about solving, and then where you fit best in a team. Do you love persuading people? Then Marketing may be for you. Do you love numbers and analysing data? Then there are lots of business intelligence roles out there with your name on them.


Work in teams, show leadership. What’s a little graduate got to offer? If you don’t have lots of work experience, your extra-curricular activities at university speak volumes about your character and potential when employers are looking to hire. You don’t need anyone to allow you to organise a play or a sports team, but the sorts of skills that you can pick up there are really attractive to employers. Think of any projects where you showed initiative and leadership, where you found a problem and brought people together to solve it. This can be organising a charity, an outreach programme or your uni’s end of year party.


Find small companies who you think are really cool and tell them so. Companies can be vain, and if they find someone who thinks they are amazing and are willing to work for them for cheap, it is hard to say no. The least they can offer you is advice and connections to more business owners. Make a LinkedIn profile, see who works at the companies you are interested in, and message them.


Keep in the know. Having the spark to read about what’s going on in the startup world is great. If you are in touch with people who were a few years above you at uni, then reach out to them and see what they’re up to. They will have been through all this recently, and if they know you personally, they may be able to offer really good advice on what roles and companies will suit you. The business section of newspapers is also great for seeing what’s happening out there in the business wilderness. Good luck!