How to Write a CV for Your Startup Application

At Taledo, we receive a lot of great CVs from candidates with incredibly diverse backgrounds. The majority of our candidates already have startup/tech experience. Many want to join a startup straight from university and we also have those who are willing to throw away the comfort of corporate life in order to have real impact and responsibilies at a startup.

After seeing all these CVs, we often see common mistakes which are related to both general CV-writing and to startup-targeted CVs.

Here is a summary of our advice:

  • notice the differences between the hiring process of a startup and a corporation
  • stick to a one or max two-page layout that is rather conventional, avoid funny colours, fonts or a weird layout
  • avoid typos at all costs
  • show that you are specialized and outstanding in one specific area or function, include your specialization as early as possible in your CV
  • do not be afraid to show your human, personal side – startups hire people instead of profiles
  • be prepared to give references with a positive opinion of you
  • if you are a “real star” and already experienced: share your “failures” (best CVs we have seen)

For details, read on:

One dealbreaker we see too often are typos. Please make sure you let your CV be proofread before you send it to any company. We’ve seen typos in the first sentence of some top CVs. Do not let this be the reason for rejection. Not to be forgotten: write your CV in English unless otherwise required. Most startups have a quite diverse team. You are always on the safe side with English.

The layout is another crucial part of the first impression. Although creativity is highly appreciated at any startup, we have made the experience that unconvential CVs with funny colours, fonts or graph elements do distract the recruiter from the content of your CV. We would recommend to stick to a clear & simple one or max two-page layout. More than two pages are a definite no-go! A layout such as the one below has always proven to be safe.

Download CV Template

Also a common mistake is that candidates are not sure to which function they should apply and this is reflected in their CV. Rather than indicating one major strength where they would see their role in, they sell themselves as generalists. It is crucial for any startup that everyone work on several projects. However, as a good startup consists of individuals with mutually exclusive skill sets who complement each other, we would recommend you to sell your main strength and career goal. If you see yourself in Business Development, focus all your previous experience on this aspect. Even if you did account management previously, you can emphasize on the upselling aspects of account management. Most startups do not hire generalists beyond the founding team, that is why you should specialize in most cases. As hiring managers spend very little time on a single CV, you should make sure that your specialty and strength is reflected early in your CV. You can even add a single line at the top, such as “Sales superstar with outstanding track record at tech companies”. Be creative.

In a startup environment, people are solely measured by their outcome. Anything else would be inefficient. Consequently, make sure that you include as much data as possible in your CV. Working in sales? Include sales figures, your pipeline responsibility and productivity metrics. A startup recruiter needs to know exactly what you are capable of. Startups cannot afford to grow you into a skilled employee unless you come straight from university. Show them that you have the knowledge and experience that could benefit the company.

Startups are not interested in profiles but rather in personalities. Every large corporation would probably make the same claim. However, with growing size, companies have to standardize their recruiting processes due to narrowing areas of responsibilities, larger hierarchies and the increasing amount of applications. Academic records for instance are quite important to maintain a certain standard of profiles there. At a startup, you will receive far more responsibilities and people need to rely on you. Sometimes, you will spend your entire work and even leisure time with a small circle of people. Personal fit is crucial. This is why it is so important to include a certain personal aspect to your CV. Do not be afraid to mention your hiking trip through Scotland. If you are quite senior, you may even consider humbly sharing your failures – in an open and honest way. The best candidates we have seen were brutally honest with what they failed at so far – and also shared with us in the interviews what they would do differently the next time.

At a startup, it is very likely that the CEO will screen your CV. And the CEOs are always looking for superstars. Show that you are a superstar and eventually, of course, be it! 🙂

At last, many startups and also larger companies include a final step before hiring someone: They do reference checks with your previous employers and managers. You should definitely have a list of people you trust and can state as a reference ready. It is very likely that your potential future manager might call your previous manager so make sure that you select those with a good opinion of you.

Stick to the points above and show your best professional and personal side and the interview should be all but certain.

Good luck 🙂

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