Bigger Isn’t Always Better
For the month of July, Jackrabbit is partnering with Austin Digital Jobs – one of the largest networks of Austin professionals with 30K members – to share our insights on landing a job in the Austin startup community. This 4-part series is called Why Austin Tech Startups Aren’t Hiring You: Counter-Intuitive Insights to Land Your Next Job and can be found on our blog or by subscribing to ADJ’s TGIF newsletter – a thoughtfully curated list of links relevant to job seekers, career refiners, and hiring folks alike.
Bigger Isn’t Always Better is the 3rd blog post in this series.
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Having a “Big Name” company on your resume isn’t always an automatic win. Living in Texas where everything
is bigger, people tend to go “big” for everything – from cars and burgers to the names on your résumé. That big name can be great at times. When you’re making small talk and bring up where you work, people can more easily understand what you do for a living. Hiring managers might even get the warm and fuzzies when they see that you’ve previously worked at a Fortune 500 company.
But, while it may seem counter-intuitive, having a “Big Name” company on your résumé could actually hurt your chances of getting hired at a scrappy, fast-growing startup that may be wary of your corporate experience.
At the same time, it can also be tricky to get your foot in the door when few people have heard of the companies on your résumé. So for both situations, how do you effectively frame and communicate your value?
Coming from a “Big Name” Company
So you’re fresh out of the corporate grind and looking to go to a smaller company for more impact, freedom, and perks. It’s important to first understand that startups are highly cross-functional environments, and they may be concern about your lack of flexibility due to common corporate structures (i.e. overly specialized responsibilities).
Start by explaining the relevant responsibilities and experience from your previous role at “Big Name” company as related to the new potential role – pretty standard stuff. Then, transition into highlighting generalist skills you’ve developed and how they can be leveraged in the context of a fast-moving team environment. You might not even be aware of some of the generalist skills you’ve acquired. For example, the ability to clearly share knowledge and write about it (content creation) or define and document how projects get accomplished (project management and process improvement) all count as generalist skills that you may not have previously thought of as marketable.
Going back to the idea of flexibility, tell stories about times when you’ve had to deal with ambiguity or uncertainty in a corporate environment (or possibly even with a side hustle). We’ve all had those open-ended projects that required a lot of creativity and finesse to complete. How did you approach tackling an unstructured or complex problem? How did you rally people together? What was accomplished by your unique presence that couldn’t have happened otherwise?
Additionally, being able to navigate within a large organizational structure is a skill in itself. You’ve played the political game. You know how to navigate an org chart to find the decision makers and facilitate that 20-person conference call. Be sure to communicate that. While the startup you want to work for may be small, they may work with large clients – where the money tends to be. Show that you understand the inner-workings of big business and have the critical insights needed to land big customers and to make them happy.
Pro Tip: Highlight any training or certification you’ve acquired at your “Big Name” company. Smaller organizations usually don’t have the bandwidth to invest in professional development training on best practices for certain verticals. Your expert knowledge can help guide the direction for that area of the business.
A few years ago, I (Brendan Kelly) worked for JP Morgan Chase in the deep dark depths of their technology organization. I then went on to interview with several small consulting and services firms like Jackrabbit. Here’s how I communicated that my experience at a Fortune 25 bank was relevant to the role of a Project Manager at a smaller shop:
“JP Morgan Chase is an absolutely massive organization, and it gave me the opportunity to see how large tech organizations run and operate. I got to see how agile software development worked for different sized teams within Chase and different ways it has been done successfully. My mentor there came from the startup world and gave me valuable insights into the pro’s and con’s of each software development approach. Coming into your organization, I can give valuable insights into what will work well and how to scale the practice of Project Management as the company grows.”
Coming from a “Small Name” Company
We know how it feels to come from a “Small Name” company. Most likely your friends and family still don’t understand how to pronounce your company’s name or what “disrupting such-and-such niche” really means. Hiring managers may or may not have heard of your company before, so it’s even more important to communicate the legitimacy and relevance of your experience without the crutch of brand name recognition.
First, start by clearly orienting them to what your previous “Small Name” company did and explicitly connect the dots about how that experience makes you a strong candidate for this startup role. This is your chance to highlight all of those times in which you’ve demonstrated grit and flexibility commonly required in a small organization. Tell stories of when you were thrown in the deep end and had to deliver on a tight timeline.
In a previous blog post, Nina Ho mentioned the idea of a T-shaped person – an individual who possesses deep expertise in one area (vertical bar of T) with generalist knowledge in other areas (horizontal bar of T). During your interview, be sure to communicate that although your job title said XYZ, you had to wear all of these different hats due to the nature of working on a small team. Mention that insane situation when somebody left or dropped the ball, and you had to step into a new role to pick up the slack because that’s just what you do when you work on a small team.
The key takeaway here is that you’ve thrived in a small environment before, [insert examples of how], and can continue to excel in a small, or even smaller, environment.
Pro Tip: You could even play devil’s advocate and differentiate yourself from candidates coming from “Big Name” companies. (Sorry “Big Name” peeps.)
Here’s an example.
“Although my title was UX Designer at “Small Name” company, I had to take on a lot of additional responsibilities because we were a scrappy team of 15 people. While I didn’t have the opportunity to work on a large UX team or dive deep into one feature of a product like other candidates coming from bigger companies, my role was less niche and specialized and, because of that, I’m confident in my ability to perform tasks outside of my experience and comfort zone.”
As a job seeker looking to work at a startup, you can’t just rely on that “Big Name” company on your résumé to land you the job. At the same time, it can be hard to communicate value coming from a “Small Name” company that no one has heard of. Regardless of the size of your previous organization, you need to frame your experience in way that addresses how you’re going to help that startup crush it and grow.
Another note, never be afraid to apply for a job at a startup no matter your background. If you’re worried about your background not lining up with what they’re looking for, apply anyways. People hiring at small companies usually know how to analyze which candidates will help them grow and strive. They’re also more open to taking risks and giving you a chance. At worst, you’ll gain valuable feedback on which areas you can grow in.
Check out our previous blog posts from the series, Why Austin Tech Startups Aren’t Hiring You: Counter-Intuitive Insights to Help You Land Your Next Job, in collaboration with Austin Digital Jobs:
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Author: Brendan Kelly is an Agile Project Manager at Jackrabbit, helping clients build awesome products. When he’s not at Jackrabbit, Brendan enjoys working on Blipic Wellness, consulting on the side, volunteering for Three Day Startup, trail running, climbing, backpacking, and finding the newest craft beers.