Applying at Startups? This is the Resume You Need

Whether you’re applying at startups or using your startup experience to leverage a new job offer, here’s how to write the perfect startup resume.

a year ago   •   6 min read

By Rohan Mahtani
Table of contents

The startup industry is a competitive field with its own culture — including what recruiters are looking for in your resume. Whether you’re trying to break into the field or have extensive startup experience under your belt, your resume needs to be a clear reflection of who you are — and who startups need you to be.

In this guide, we’ll cover exactly what your startup resume should look like, from how to slide in keywords like you’re not even trying to how to prove you have soft skills like adaptability, creativity, and a willingness to take on multiple roles that are essential to succeeding at a startup.

But first, let’s look at an example of what we’re talking about.

Sample resume with startup experience

Here’s a sample resume that does a great job of showcasing startup experience.

Sample resume with startup experience
Sample resume with startup experience

You can jump right in by downloading this template from our resume templates page, or keep reading to learn how to craft your own.

How to include working at a startup on a resume

Whether you’re applying at startups or aiming to use your startup experience to pivot to a larger company, having startup experience looks great on a resume. We’ll discuss the “why” in a little more detail below, but here’s the “how.”

  1. Start with a simple resume format, like the one above. Unless you’re applying for executive roles, keep your resume to one page.
  2. Start with a resume title and summary. This is optional, but recommended if you’re going from a startup to a larger company (or vice versa) or if you’re changing careers.
  3. Always lead with your work experience section unless you have none. List your previous roles in reverse chronological order — that is, with your current or most recent position at the top.
  4. Don’t neglect internships. Counterintuitively, startups often care more about big names than other companies, so even if you briefly interned at a well-known company, it may be worth mentioning it somewhere.
  5. Include the name of the company, your title, and the dates you worked. If you ran your own startup or filled more than one role at a time, choose a title that accurately reflects what you did and is relevant to the positions you’re applying for now.
  6. Be specific about your accomplishments. Startups, even more than larger companies, need people who can get things done, so your bullet points should focus on exactly what you did and what the result was.
  7. Briefly list your education and other qualifications. Degrees or other certifications in business, marketing, and technology are particularly relevant to startups, as are shorter, skills-based courses.
  8. Highlight any personal, volunteer, or educational projects that show relevant hard (or soft) skills. You don’t need to have founded your own startup to show entrepreneurship — even smaller projects can help.
  9. Include technical skills and other keywords in an easy-to-skim section at the end. Using subheadings here can help break down exactly what skills you bring to the table.
  10. Finished? Before you hit “apply,” quickly run your resume through a free ATS resume scanner for last-minute tips.

Keep reading as we break down the steps above and look at some more examples.

Highlighting startup experience on a resume

Not all startup experiences look alike, but they should all have a few things in common on your resume. Here are the main things to keep in mind when writing a startup resume.

Start with an action verb

Startups need employees who can get things done. Starting with an action verb keeps the focus squarely on what you achieved in previous roles — and what you can do in the next one. Choose action verbs that align with the qualities or skills you want to emphasize, such as:

  • Founded
  • Launched
  • Initiated
  • Conceived
  • Transformed
  • Created
  • Introduced
  • Spearheaded
  • Pioneered
  • Expanded

Focus on specific tasks

In a lot of startups, your role may not be as clearly defined as it would be in a larger company — which is why it’s important for you to define exactly what you did. You don’t need to stick to what your main responsibilities were or what your job title implies that you did — instead, choose 3-6 accomplishments that are most relevant to the job you’re applying for now and focus on those.

For example:

  • If you were a graphic designer but you’re applying for jobs in marketing or brand management, talk about the logo you designed as part of a company-wide rebranding campaign.
  • If you were officially an administrative assistant but you also planned events or were the go-to person for exhibitors at a company fair, you can focus on those tasks if they’re more relevant to your new career path and leave out the more mundane tasks like sending emails and answering phones.
  • If you worked at (or founded) a small startup and did a little bit of everything, hone in on the tasks that are most similar to what you’ll be doing next, whether that’s relationship management, accounting, or software development.

I recommend uploading your resume to the tool below — it’ll help you determine whether you’ve included the right accomplishments and skills for the startup job you’re interested in. The tool also scans your resume for mistakes and provides personalized suggestions for improvement.

Include concrete metrics

The best way to prove that you can get the job done is by letting the results speak for themselves. Focus on metrics like:

  • How much revenue you generated or money you saved
  • How many investors you secured or capital you raised
  • How many projects you successfully completed or how quickly you got things done
  • The size of the team(s) you led
  • The budget you worked with
  • The number of followers you engaged on social media

For example:

Managed a portfolio of Fortune 500 companies and 1.4K clients in the food, healthcare, and entertainment industries.
Launched 7 brand initiatives that delivered $45M in NPV and $91M in revenue (representing +12 % brand growth).
Created 17 complex software applications using Spark SQL, Scala, Hadoop, and Sqoop tools for 700 clients and adhered to software development release processes.

Key skills for startup resumes

The nature of startups means that they’re looking for specific transferable skills — the kind that mean you’ll be able to get up to speed quickly and do what needs to be done. Use your resume bullets to talk about how you demonstrated qualities like:

  • Adaptability. Startups often need to pivot or change direction quickly, so mention a time when you quickly adapted to a new software tool or worked with a new team.
  • Creativity. Startups need to come up with innovative solutions to problems, so mention a time when you came up with an innovative marketing campaign or suggested an outside-the-box solution that actually worked.
  • Ability to hit the ground running. Things move fast in startups, so mention accomplishments or milestones that you hit within your first month or two in a new role. Startups often have lean teams and require employees to wear multiple hats, so mention a time when you helped out with tasks outside of your job description.
  • Growth mindset. A growth mindset demonstrates a willingness to learn, adapt, and improve — important things at any company, but absolutely essential in startups. Mention a time when you learned a new skill to better perform your job, sought feedback to improve a project, or overcame a challenge (like a technical issue, a difficult client, or a tight deadline).
  • Entrepreneurship. Even if you haven’t founded your own company, startups want people who share in their entrepreneurial spirit — people who are willing to take risks, to think outside the box, and to pursue new opportunities. Mention a time when you took the initiative to create a new product, process, or system, or a time when you implemented an innovative idea that had a positive impact on the company or product.

You should also aim to include enough hard skills and relevant keywords for the startup role you're applying for. Use the skills search tool below to find the right ones.

Does working for a startup look good on a resume?

Yes, startup experience looks good on a resume. Working for a startup allows you to gain experience in different roles and industries, where you’ll often be expected to work miracles with limited resources — which can be both a positive and a negative.

If you’re familiar with both sides of working for a startup, you can use the negatives to accentuate the positives — for example, getting things done with limited resources demonstrates resourcefulness and a can-do attitude, while overcoming the inherent instability of many startups shows that you’re adaptable, resilient, and not afraid of a challenge.

Key takeaways

These are the keys to writing a startup resume​​:

  • Be clear about what you accomplished by focusing on specific tasks or projects and including positive results.
  • Highlight in-demand transferable skills by including concrete examples of times when you demonstrated qualities like creativity, adaptability, and a willingness to take on multiple roles.
  • Your resume is your opportunity to brand yourself, so try emphasizing core startup principles like growth mindset and entrepreneurial spirit.
  • Next steps: After following the tips above to create a winning startup resume, try reaching out to an industry mentor or networking with people in the startup industry. Use our networking email templates to get you started.

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