Advice for job seekers on resumes and standing out

by Ryan Choi5/19/2020

In my role here at YC, I spend a lot of time with job seekers doing 1-1s and resume reviews. Below are my most common pieces of advice.

Mail us your resume ( if you want feedback or pointers. And if you’re looking for a job, check out our active jobs list on Work at a Startup, which makes it simple to browse the 400+ YC companies that are well-funded and actively hiring, including larger ones like Segment, Brex and Instacart.

Resume: For each position on your resume, be sure to cover what, how and impact.

  • What did you work on? Assume that recruiters and hiring managers don’t know much about your last company or role. So provide a brief description about the product line or initiative, so they can find you the right role or team.

  • How did you get your work done? With each position, be sure to include technologies you used — programming languages, frameworks, libraries, etc. Do not dump them all into one big “Technology” section at the bottom of your resume. Technology is very contextual and time-specific: my SOAP/XML-RPC work at Salesforce made sense 20 years ago, but it makes no sense for a modern web stack today. Also, provide team size and departments you worked with. It’s useful for a hiring manager to know if you’ve successfully worked cross-functionally — with product, designers, ops, and more.

  • What impact did you have? Share your impact on the business — growth numbers, cost savings, sales increase, marketing distribution. This shows you’ve been given responsibility — and delivered — to benefit the business.

Lastly, do some spring cleaning. Remove side projects that don’t necessarily match the job, especially if there are more recent examples on your resume. For example, if you’re a lead of a team in your current role, having leadership roles from 10+ years ago in college isn’t as relevant. And trim down each position to 3-4 bullet points, maximum. It makes it easier for the recruiter/hiring manager to read it all, and shows you can be concise and direct.

Cold outreach: Highlight 2-3 things you’d be excited to work on at the company — and why.

When applying to a position, be sure to suggest ways you’d be excited to contribute; include these suggestions on your resume, cover letter or in an intro email. Being a genuine user is a huge plus. These things can helps you stand out from the hundreds of other resumes in the recruiter’s inbox.

At Twitter, I hired a few people who stood out because they showed initiative: suggesting strong product ideas/improvements, outlining plans for go-to-market, or even writing sample code showcasing skills and interest. And I practice this myself; when I interviewed at Lyft, I reversed engineered the API and built a small SDK to perform common tasks. It took a couple nights learning WireShark, but it ultimately helped me land the job.

Considering startups: Ask about runway & burn rate.

Many YC startups are well funded (some even with $10M+ raised) and offer benefits and job security equal to more established companies. If you’re considering startups, know what to ask about, like runway and burn rate.

  • Runway is the number of months the startup has to operate, based on money raised and revenue. There is no “right” answer, but you likely want to work somewhere with enough runway to weather this pandemic, and still get the business in good shape after that (if it’s not already).
  • Burn rate is the company’s monthly spend. During my time at Zuora, we made it a goal to be “in the black” (not burning more than we were earning), and it helped us survive the 2009 market crash. Not all startups have the luxury of early revenue, but knowing the financial levers to the company will help you understand the business (and how the founders think about it).

You should be discussing these things with the founders at least at the offer stage, if not earlier. We tell YC founders to be transparent with this information, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it helps establish mutual trust. You should be wary of founders — YC or otherwise — who are not forthcoming and honest, as a reflection of what to expect later down the road.

There are a lot of great companies that are actively hiring (including thousands of YC companies), and 2.) job offers are as strong as they have ever been.

Hopefully the above helps you stand out and get conversations going. At YC, we’ll continue to share more on job hunting, including interviewing and negotiating offers. Reach out if YC or I can help. And create a profile on YC's Work at a Startup to apply to 100s of companies at once -- and find the next role for you.

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  • Ryan Choi

    Ryan works with YC companies to find great engineers — from 2-person startups to larger ones like Airbnb, Stripe and Instacart.