How to get a job at a hot startup

Yes, startups are back, big time. But the rules for finding a position in a dynamic young company have changed. Here’s what you need to know.

Want a great job at a hot startup? Of course, you do. And there haven't been this many opportunities since the dot com bubble burst. Just ask Renaud Laplanche, CEO of in California: "You're in the driver's seat. So think about the place you'd like to work at for the next few years and choose wisely," he says.

Laplanche isn't just talking -- he's hiring. The former Oracle exec is looking for techies who can help him build a digital marketplace for borrowers and potential lenders. Not your style? Not to worry. There are 50 other high-tech startups in the same building looking to fill the trenches with programmers, developers, and engineers.

For better or worse, Web 2.0 has helped unleashed a perfect storm of job opportunities. Baby boomers are beginning to retire, and what's more, enrollment in computer science and MIS degree programs is down as much as 30 percent, says Stephen Pickett, former president of the Society for Information Management.

The new environment, however, doesn't mean you can get greedy. Salaries are good -- and despite the furor over the expensing of stock options at established public companies, options and equity stakes are again on the table. But "companies have learned their lesson" from the bubble years, says Tony Bush, senior manager of staffing at VMware. "They're following best practices and offering salaries that are more in line."

In interviews with more than a score of founders, venture capitalists, and senior execs at startups and other young companies, we learned that today's culture demands more of employees than just technical expertise. If you want to thrive, you'd better be nimble.

"We're not looking for a lot of coaches or place kickers. We want to see a small team of great athletes who are fast, versatile, and can work together very well," says Doug Renert, a principal of Tandem Entrepreneurs, which funds and provides early-stage support for startups.

Don't expect to wear just one hat at your startup job, says Amir Arbabi, vice president at Melodis, a startup developing advanced sound and music recognition technologies. "We want people who will roll up their sleeves and do a bit of everything."

And while the stereotype of the flakey, inarticulate geek may have some basis in reality, startups want employees who can get along with non-technical teammates and customers. "You need people who are well-spoken and can write," says David Smith, vice president of applied engineering at Firefly Energy. "In fact everyone who works for me has to be a tech writer," he says.

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