If you are in the market for a new job and the Fortune 500 crowd isn’t appealing—or available,
you may want to consider a start-up.

The speed and intensity of start-ups are appealing to many job candidates. Interns and entry-level hires often extol the common virtues of working in an early-stage company: you get to assume diverse functional responsibilities, you are valued for your ability to take initiative and figure things out on your own, and you are able to work closely with senior leadership from the get-go.

That being said, the same organizational attributes that make a start-up sexy can often make it difficult to get hired in the first place: hiring is often placed on the back burner simply because it takes too long—and there isn’t enough time to move through the process.

Several years ago, I was a career counselor at the University of Pennsylvania and received a unique first-hand glimpse at the hiring process from a Wharton School alum who had just received generous angel funding. When asked about his hiring process, this was his response,

When we first started we got some great press in major news outlets and we received an enormous amount of resumes which we just stacked up—the pile grew to over two feet. One day, we were finally ready to interview candidates and I said to my partner, ‘How do we make the first cut? What should we look for?’

He grinned at me, walked over to the pile and said, ‘I have a minimum criterion for all of our candidates: they all have to have one thing in common. They have to be lucky.’

He pulled out two inches of resumes, and threw away the remaining ones. And that is how we started the hiring process.

My take-away from this anecdote: there is less uniformity in the hiring process in a start-up environment, particularly as the Federal reporting requirements for employers with a small number of employees are less stringent than in large organizations.

If you want to work in a start-up, you’ll want to be more than lucky—you need to be noticed and in the right place at the right time. Here are three tips to get started:

  1. Companies don’t know how interested you are until you tell them. Learn all you can about what the company is doing and mention your interest when you apply.
  2. Make it easy for a company to hire you—i.e. if you have a contact within the organization, submit your materials to that person—but also monitor the “careers” website of the organization and submit your materials that way. (This streamlines the process for them, and speeds up the hiring process).
  3. Be persistent in the follow-up—and be prepared to get started if an opportunity becomes available.

(Note: These tips are transferable, and can be used in the general job search as well.)