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A Complete Guide to Writing your Startup Resume

5 MIN READ | 2022-03-01

A Complete Guide to Writing your Startup Resume

You are probably looking for your first job at a startup. Or you are simply interested in brushing your resume before hitting the submit button. Either way, this guide is here to not only walk you through all essentials but also provide you with direct insights from founders, managers & leaders. 

“Demonstrate how [a company’s vision] matches your experience and interest. Bartending does not match being a UX designer skills. But hospitality experience demonstrates that you know how important a warm welcome on a website is.” 
— Sabine Biesheuvel, Co-founder & Director at Blue City

Startup resume basics

Resumes shouldn't be generic; startups expect you to tailor them. In any case, all resumes should include a few fundamental components.

File format

Make sure your resume is simple, organised, and easy to read. If it contains any weird characters, paragraphs are out of order or not a standard format, employers will discard it before even reading it.

Many employers use ATS solutions that parse your resume. Make sure that it's easy for these tools to parse your resume, otherwise, your resume might be automatically rejected by the system. 

How to make your resume easily parsed:

  • Include your name in the filename of the resume
  • Submit file as a .docx format or .pdf
  • Avoid headers & footers or tables & columns
  • Keep font style consistent throughout the entire document
  • Don’t mess with the spacing


Use a standard font. You can find a list of supported fonts in most resume templates such as Arial, Helvetica, and Georgia.

Contact information

Make sure to put your name, phone number and email address in the header. In addition, include any link to your social channels, preferably LinkedIn. For creative jobs, don’t forget to add a URL to your portfolio. 

Contact information is crucial when applying to startups. You must be easy to reach for anyone that wants to get in touch with you, not just those who know where you live. Startups work quickly and don't always have time to go through different channels to get in touch with you, so make it easy for them.

1-2 pages long

Short and to the point - Aim for two pages at most!  You may think that is not enough, but if recruiters cannot quickly assess whether they want to bring you in for an interview based on the resume, then you will not be called in. It is better to give recruiters a quick overview of your experience and skills than to overwhelm them with details they may not care about.

The XYZ formula

Laszlo Bock came up with the XYZ formula used by Google when hiring new employees. The formula goes:

Accomplished [X] as measured by [Y] by doing [Z]

In other words:

  • X is a result that a person can achieve
  • Y is the method used to measure X
  • Z is the activity that leads to attaining X


Now, let's see how this formula applies to real life. For example, suppose you were applying for a marketing job, and you are an accomplished graphic designer. In that case, your resume should describe how you've successfully designed logos and posters using the “Y” (i.e. your preferred software).

Here's an example:

Without the XYZ formula: Studied human resources and worked as a human resources assistant

With the XYZ formula: Achieved 100% employee satisfaction survey results by creating a customised new hire onboarding training for various departments within one year

In short, focus on the outcomes you achieved rather than the roles you had. You can also list what you accomplished at your other jobs, even if they were not directly related to what you're applying for.

The XYZ formula is great because it makes your resume much more precise and effective. It also tells recruiters and hiring managers what you did, not just the job description. This way, they will be able to determine whether you're a match for their open position or not without reading through all of your past experiences (which may be irrelevant for them).

Tailoring your resume

Each resume you send out should be tailored to the specific position you're applying for. This section explains which components you should emphasise in your resume depending on the job you're after.

Keywords

When you apply for a specific startup role, it's a good idea to use some keywords from the job description and emphasise your skills that match those keywords. For example, if you're applying for a product management role, use words like "product", "build", "launch", etc.

Buzzwords are overused these days (e.g. "ambitious", "proactive"). Try to be more creative in your writing if the job description asks for it!

Skills

Highlight relevant hard skills and soft skills that are useful for the role you're applying for. For example, if you are applying for a software developer position, include programming languages pertinent to the job. Also, emphasise your soft skills (e.g. communication, teamwork) since collaboration in software development is as important.

If there's no mention of soft skills in the job listing you’re interested in, go through all of your roles and determine if any of them required cultivating specific knowledge or abilities (e.g. time management). Don't include all of them on your resume, but highlight the most important ones.

Education

This is the easiest section to get right! 

Start by putting your latest education first. If you have a mix of undergraduate and graduate degrees, add the most relevant degree first, regardless of its time. For example, if you have a Bachelor's degree from University A and a Master's degree from University B, put the latter as your most recent educational experience.

Should I include my GPA? Only in some cases.  

If you have acquired some relevant work experience during your studies, go ahead and list it as well. Don't think of internships as a waste of time - they will be beneficial for you. On the other hand, having an education section on your resume is very promising next to some work experience.

KPIs

KPIs, also known as Key Performance Indicators, help highlight & quantify the important results you achieved at your past positions. For example, instead of writing "increased sales", write something along the lines of "increased monthly revenues by 26%", or even better, "increased monthly revenues by 26% month-on-month for two consecutive months without increasing marketing expenses".

Insights from experts

We reached out to founders, managers & leaders from various startups that provided us with deep insights. Enrich your startup resume with these tips and get noticed by your dream employer.

When applying for a startup, which key personal traits should you highlight in your resume? 

“A certain level of mental resilience.” — Sabine Biesheuvel, Co-founder & Director at Blue City

 

“Startups love loyal, ambitious self-learners.” — Oliver Sinclair, Senior Tech Recruiter at Backbase

Versatile profiles are much more favourable for early-stage startups. This entails that your resume must show you know how to create structure in chaotic and rapidly changing environments. Curiosity and an open attitude towards learning and improving oneself can also help you thrive over time.

RESUME HACK! Oliver stressed that recruiters tend to look for phrases and keywords that match the job description. Thus, if you’ve got similar or matching experience, copy & paste some of the role's responsibilities or important keywords and phrases into your resume!

How can you use space in your resume to compensate for not having enough experience? 

“Explain your extracurricular activities at university.” —  Niels van Deuren, Startup Advisor at HousingAnywhere

Extracurriculars include relevant projects and assignments that can add value to the job you are applying for. In addition, highlight any relevant skills that your educational background has helped you develop. 

 “Spend your free time to upskill yourself with (online) training courses. ” — Elias Waziri, HR Business Partner at Techleap

“Enrol in online academies that provide you with free certificates in tools relevant to your field. ” — Kristian Voldrich, Founder & Managing Director at College Life

If you don’t think you have any relevant experience, dedicate some time to learn a new skill or gain a qualification through online courses. Explore the following:

  • edX
  • Coursera
  • LinkedIn Learning
  • Skillshare
  • Udemy

Explore platforms that offer academies. They will usually provide you with the opportunity to get a free certificate indicating your understanding of not only the field’s theory (e.g. SEO), but also your affinity with the tool itself (e.g. SEMrush). A few select academies include: 

  • SEMrush Academy
  • Google Skillshop
  • Facebook Blueprint
  • LinkedIn Marketing Labs

What are things should you avoid when preparing a resume for a startup?

 “[Bad] formatting.” — Oliver Sinclair, Tech Recruiter at Backbase

 According to eye-tracking studies, recruiters spent an average of 7 seconds looking at resumes. Thus, recruiters can easily dismiss the richest resumes if they are full of typos, distractingly large font sizes and strange fonts. Oliver recommends resume.io to find good 1-page CV templates for those of you that have less than three years of professional experience.

Elias from Techleap recommends using the company’s colours for your resume for visual appeal. Moreover, highlight keywords in bold

“Writ[ing] corporate bullshit.” — Pepijn Meddens, Venture Builder at TMM Ventures

“Overcompensat[ing] a lack of experience.” — Sabine Biesheuvel

 Don't apply for jobs that require at least 3 years of experience if you don't have it. If you are a junior with little to no experience, be humble. Do not pretend that you have senior experience in management. Instead, showcase why you want to develop yourself in these fields. Startups are fond of proactive learners that seek growth & self-improvement.


RESUME HACK! Humans love stories. When drafting your resume, reflect back on your journey and critically evaluate whether you’ve done a good job at narrating it. Even better, think of your resume as a movie script; have you triple-checked that the script is ready to be reviewed by the director (i.e. the employer)?

Conclusion

When writing a resume for a startup, make sure to emphasise your skills and experience in an industry, as well as your ability to think outside the box. Be creative with presenting yourself and highlight your passion for the company and its mission. Remember, you want to stand out from the crowd, so don’t be afraid to take risks. 

Go get that dream job.