Startup Institute’s CEO shares 3 tips on boosting your startup job prospects

Aaron O’Hearn is cofounder and CEO of Startup Institute, a training program for people looking to career switch into the startup world. Today he shares with his favorite startup job search tactic, his advice for people who feel stuck in finance and management consulting jobs, and his take on “learning to code.” –John

What’s the best startup job-hunting tactic you’ve seen someone use?

The best job-hunting tactic is to get out from behind your computer and start meeting people who work at startups in real life.

Startup hiring isn’t like most traditional industries – applying through the online job bank is probably the least effective way to get a startup job.


  1. go to meetups and events hosted by companies you are interested in (and make sure you talk to the employees and not just the other job seekers);
  2. get on Twitter and start conversations with founders and employees who are in the industries and companies you seek;
  3. invite these “warm leads” to coffee chats or walking meetings so you can develop them into actual relationships; and
  4. be clear on your “ask” – that is, who are you, what are you looking for (be specific!) and do they know any team or company that might be a good match?

Sitting behind your computer and blindly submitting resumes and cover letters to job bank postings is probably the biggest waste of your time in the job search process.

Don’t want to be another resume in the pile? Check out this startup COO’s tips for getting a startup’s attention.

What advice would you give to someone who is a few years out of college, and stuck in a finance or consulting job they hate? How will they know if they can hack it in the startup world?

The things startups are looking for that are very different from the corporate world: comfort with ambiguity; flexibility; willingness to wear “multiple hats” (i.e., you’re never the one saying “that’s not in my job description”); and a willingness to just try and see what happens, then iterate and try again.

You can probably test yourself in some of these areas ahead of time (or recall situations that tested these attributes).

For instance, have you ever:

  • travelled solo?
  • produced the school play?
  • failed outright at something and picked yourself up, learned from it, and tried again?
  • Been assigned a project wholly outside of your experience and you took a “let’s start by Googling that” approach rather than turn it down?

If not, can you find opportunities to look for these situations (i.e. start something on your own) and see how you fare?

Incidentally, the differences between what behaviors are needed in a startup versus a larger company is the core reason we focus so much on “mindset” or EQ training as part of our 8-week immersive Startup Institute program.

There’s a lot of hubbub around learning to code. If you want a job at a technology startup, should you learn to code? How do you decide if it’s worth learning to code?

For every role there is a different degree of expertise with coding that is required, and you’ll need to do some digging to determine how proficient in the language of coding you should be.

For example:

That being said, every job of the future will intersect with technology in some way. It would behoove everyone to at least gain a broad understanding of the web technology stack and some basic HTML / CSS skills.

Aaron O'Hearn
Aaron is responsible for the growth and oversight of Startup Institute. He has held key roles across various organizations while impacting the startup ecosystem, including Head of Special Projects for Techstars Boston. He helped create Le Camping, the first startup accelerator in France where he focused on building their mentorship and evaluation programs. He aspires to remove any blockers so people can love and do their job. Generally banters about crazy ideas. Can be seen in odd-colored pants with nice shoes. Constantly wears a pocket square.
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