Students: Take Advantage of the Window Ahead

We’ve been to a number of campuses this fall. With an accelerated recruiting schedule, many of the big companies have already come and gone. There’s a feeling with some students that they’re running late in the process if they haven’t already secured a position (or are not close to doing so).

If you’ve set your eyes on joining a startup, two words. Chill and prepare.

While we have a number of current openings at companies, most startups haven’t even started the process of recruiting upcoming grads and interns. Some will begin later this fall. Most won’t get going until later in the winter or even the spring.

We’re not saying you shouldn’t be looking and pursuing opportunities of interest now. You should be, if you have the time and inclination. Getting more experience with the recruiting process and engaging companies on that front are good skills to develop. Plus, you may also land a position as a result.

We are saying to recognize where many startups are in the recruiting cycle.

In parallel, you should also consider how best to take advantage of this “window” to put yourself in a stronger position to land a role.

One approach is to think of yourself as the “product.” What can you do to make yourself more compelling for a startup looking for talent that can contribute to their team?

We’ve shared ideas on how to go about this in the past (link). Here is also a very relevant article on the topic (link).

Some options to consider are expanding your body of work through side projects to further show passion for your field, finding a campus startup that you can contribute to and gain further experience, building out your portfolio so that it illustrates & demonstrates what you’ve done (and can do).

Taking this two-pronged approach may serve you well in the coming months. Searching for and applying to opportunities is the part of the process that everyone understands. However, consider what you’re also doing to further enhance “your story” and attractiveness to startups.

Don’t Let Visa Concerns Prevent You From Hiring Strong International Students

The data simply doesn’t lie. International students comprise over 35% of the student body at some top U.S. Computer Science & Engineering undergraduate universities. That number can be much higher at a Masters level, even exceeding 80% at some institutions.

International students represent a significant portion of the new talent pool entering the workplace. Startups that can build core competencies in recruiting & onboarding them have a competitive advantage in attracting & landing the best talent over those companies that don’t.

Some startups recognize this and have tailored their recruiting accordingly. Others have elected not to pursue international students after thoughtful consideration.

We continue to encounter a third category: startups that are not fully knowledgeable about what is involved in hiring international students, even as interns.

The process can actually be pretty straightforward. For the most part, it also essentially comes at no cost to employers until you reach the H-1B application stage.

While you should refer to some of the resources identified, here is a quick primer to provide an initial understanding of what’s involved.

  • Interns/Co-ops – International students on a F-1 visa (the majority) can receive work authorization under Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or Optional Practical Training (OPT) status. This comes at no cost to the employer.
  • Full-Time New Hires (OPT with F-1 Status) - Upon graduation, F-1 international students are legally permitted to pursue up to 12 months of full-time employment in their field of education as part of their OPT status. Students receiving their degree in a STEM field (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) may be eligible to apply for an OPT extension beyond the original 12 months. This extension period is currently 17 months, but is scheduled to increase to 24 months for applications received after May 10, 2016 (for a total of up to 36 months). A prospective employer bears no cost or responsibility but to treat international students just as the employer would domestic students when hiring decisions are made.
  • Full-Time New Hires (Company-Sponsored H-1B Status) – H1-B’s are valid for three years and can be extended for an additional three years.  Students are not eligible to sponsor or apply on their own. They must work with employer to provide documents required for visa sponsorship. The cost to an employer varies (typically $5,000-$7,000 not including filing and attorney fees).

For a complete understanding of what’s involved, here are some additional guides that you should defer to:

Employer Guide to Hiring International Students

What Employers Should Know About Hiring International Students

U.S. Employer’s Guide to Hiring International Students (Stanford GSB)

U.S. Employer’s Guide to Hiring International Students (Stony Brook)

A Five-Step Playbook for End-of-Year Campus Recruiting

The Atlantic’s recent article “The Strange Rituals of Silicon Valley Intern Recruiting” offers an insightful look at what smaller startups are up against when trying to recruit engineering talent on campuses.

It can be daunting to compete against bigger tech companies with stronger brands, dedicated & experienced hiring teams, lots of money to shower on students, and a sense of urgency to lock down candidates as early as possible. As a result of these efforts, many students accepted offers in November & December. More will be making decisions over the next month.

The reality though is that many outstanding students & upcoming grads are still available. There are those that have held out for startups knowing that many of these companies were not in a position to be active earlier. Others have delayed their job hunt due to outside demands and commitments. Some simply haven’t yet found the right opportunity.

If you’re just getting into the game on the campus recruiting front, here are some ideas for how to best compete at this stage of the academic year:

  • Focus on packaging your story and job descriptions to appeal to those looking for more meaningful roles where they can have impact. If they exist, use examples of what past interns/new grads have worked on and accomplished.
  • Make sure your website signals that you embrace young talent and is a fun place to work where they’ll learn & grow (messaging, visuals of office + interns/new grads, ways they’ve had impact).
  • Leverage your campus connections/relationships and pursue targeted channels to reach students, generate interest in your opportunities, and build your funnel. While you can hope that they’ll find you, you’re not going to land most top students if they don’t know you exist.
  • Move quickly throughout all aspects of your hiring process. Resumes need to be vetted as they come in (involve junior team members to prescreen if bandwidth is an issue). When you’re interested in a candidate, advance them through your process with a sense of urgency. Make it an internal priority, as time is not your friend.
  • Involve your CEO and/or founders in the process to help sell your story and the opportunity. It’s a big advantage that startups can bring to bear over bigger companies to close candidates.

Taking a Personalized, Multi-Channel Application Approach

Startups consist of a small group of people who are highly passionate about what they’re doing. Unlike bigger companies with established HR and recruiting staff/departments, most also operate with limited resources and bandwidth.

What’s the best way to cut through and stand out for these companies?

It starts with the application process. For the handful of opportunities that you are most interested in AND where you meet the company’s hiring criteria, we suggest you consider the following approach when applying for these positions:

  1. Submit your resume via your university career system (assuming the position is posted)
  2. Apply to the position on the company’s website. This usually provides an opportunity to include your cover letter as well.
  3. Send a personal email to the hiring manager. You will need to figure out who that is. Some ways include checking out the job posting or the company’s website, connecting the dots via LinkedIn, or simply making a best guess. You can lift your cover letter content for the email message. Be sure to also attach your resume.

Step #3 is important. Companies can be inundated with online applications. You also don’t know who’s receiving them or how they’re being processed. Your objective is to make sure your interest reaches the manager who will be hiring for the position.

In addition, the most compelling startups are not interested in individuals who are simply “looking for a job.” They want people who are passionate about their field, share their excitement in what they’re doing as a company, and can actively contribute and add value to the team.

Some resumes stand on their own in getting this across. For the majority though, a resume alone does not provide enough context to make it easy on the company to figure this out.

Your secret weapon is the cover letter/email to the hiring manager. It needs to:

  • Be highly personalized and relevant to the company. This requires you to invest the time to understand their business, early company story and a sense of their culture and values.
  • Communicate why you’re excited about the company/opportunity. Touch on what you’ve learned is important to them. Startups love to see that you share their passion.
  • Articulate (and support) why you would be a terrific fit. Discuss your interests & experiences, what you can bring to the table, and why this is a perfect fit for you and the company.

Your objective is to passionately resonate with the team, show your excitement and fit for the company & opportunity, and be perceived as willing to throw yourself 100% into the opportunity at hand.

Granted, it takes additional time on your part to take this approach. That’s why you should limit to those companies/opportunities that you truly aspire to where you can make a strong case.

However, if done well, the additional bar will make you unique and create the one thing that can help you stand out: differentiation.

5 Things To Do Before the Start of Next Term

Many startups will not start to hire new grads and interns until the upcoming winter/spring term.

That can actually work to your advantage at this time of year.

To get noticed, you have to stand out. Take advantage of the next couple of months (and over break) to further enhance your story and distinguish yourself from other candidates. Here are a few ideas to consider for doing so.

Extend Your Body of Work
Startups gravitate towards individuals that are passionate about building & doing things. Leverage any upcoming available bandwidth you may have to:

  • Launch that side project (or two) that you’ve been thinking about. More ideas are in our workshop materials: link.
  • Contribute to a local startup or non-profit in some capacity to gain additional experience. To find one, check with your Entrepreneurship Center or entrepreneurial/student group on campus.
  • Take an online course (or two) in Coursera, Khan Academy, etc., to pick-up new skills or explore new areas.
  • Investigate the possibility of extending a class project to work with a specific company or organization.
  • Get involved with an open source software project. Here’s a great resource to find one: link.
  • Experiment with social media for a student group or other organization you’re involved in.

Enhance Your Portfolio
Startups love to see what you can do. Be sure to show them. Use this time to either launch or enhance what you already have going:

  • Developers – commit your project code to GitHub (where you can) and get into the practice of doing so on a regular basis going forward.
  • Designers – your online portfolio needs to look as good as anything you’ll build for a company. Take this time to refine and polish it.
  • Business, Engineering, Marketing & Other Majors – launch a personal blog that verbally & visually highlights the projects you’ve worked on (inside & outside the classroom), how you’ve approached them, and what you’ve learned (both good and bad).

Polish Your Resume
Highlight and accentuate your project & industry experiences. Talk about what you did, what you learned and the technologies you used. Include a link to your GitHub/online portfolio prominently in the contact section. If the format is uninspiring, consider revamping to a template that is easier on the eyes and better communicates your story. If you’re open to startups and more traditional companies, create different versions of your resume that appeal to both audiences.

Define What You’re Most Interested In
Take some time to reflect on what you’d like to do and the types of companies and roles that get you the most excited. Not only does this help identify which companies and positions you’d like to target, it will play a key role in personalizing your communications so your shared passion for the organization and/or opportunity comes across.

Network & Make Contact
Start reaching out to companies that currently have openings you’re interested in. To find these, refer to our workshop materials (link). Leverage your university Entrepreneurship Center and/or Career Services office for company and alumni contacts. If you’re graduating in the spring, consider utilizing early January or spring break to visit the location you’d like to be in to jumpstart conversations, get in front of opportunities, and build your local network.

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

From visiting a dozen universities so far this fall, one element has definitely stood out: How accelerated the job-hunting process has become on campuses.

This applies not only to upcoming grads, but even juniors and some sophomores that are accepting return internship offers.

With some students, there’s a sense of urgency to simply be done with the process. As friends and colleagues line up positions, there is also an air of peer pressure to accept offers, creating both stress and additional sense of urgency within individuals.

Companies that are out early and can make that first offer definitely have a degree of ball control. It’s hard to decline an offer when it’s the only one you may have at the time.

Big companies with lots of resources know that. That’s why they are on campus so early and utilize things like exploding offers to force candidates to make a quick decision before other opportunities present themselves.

Let’s be realistic. It’s early October. If you are aspiring to join a startup, most of those companies have not even thought about their needs for the spring. They’ll be doing so in the coming months and the first quarter of 2016.

If you find a great position that fits your career goals and aspirations, by all means consider and/or accept it. However, if you feel like you’re settling or have your heart set on accelerating your career at a startup, realize that there will be terrific opportunities coming down the road.

Last year we had multiple students land outstanding positions at several incredible companies after they made initial contact in April. We also know students that have waited until after graduation to start the job search process and found terrific positions relatively quickly.

You deserve it and owe it to yourself to explore your options. Let’s be clear: there is high demand for talented students that have assembled a strong body of work, particularly in computer science, design and engineering. In all likelihood, you’ll have options.

Companies should realize that and provide you with an ample window to allow you to do this. That’s why universities have timeline guidelines on company offers, to afford you the opportunity to do just that.

In addition, for those interning one of the beautiful things about the collegiate process is to explore different types of companies and even locations. It helps you fine tune what you want to do and where you want to be when you graduate.

Just remember, for many startups you’ll just need to be a little patient.

ThinkB1G “Inside” Summer Startup Series

Want the inside scoop on some of Boston’s top startups and the opportunities they offer going forward? We’re providing just that with a series of summer events.

Attendees will have the opportunity to meet with company leaders and other members of the engineering team, learn more about their backstory, dig into the challenging problems they are tackling, and enjoy a complimentary dinner.

These events are intentionally small gatherings so space is limited. If you’re in Boston for the summer, don’t miss these terrific opportunities. Click on the below logos to register.