Applying for internships in the startup world is a weird mix of demanding action and results while also making decisions based on possibility and potential. Your resume needs to demonstrate both. Here are a few resume tips and tricks that will help increase your chances of landing a startup internship.
In the startup world, you will hear the phrase “bias to action” (or something similar) a lot. Many startups have similar products in the early days, so the company that wins is not necessarily the one with the best product, but the company that gets their work done the fastest.
On your resume, focus on your actions. Explain precisely what you did in the context of a team. This can be in any experience: volunteer, individual contributor at a job, or even team leader. The important thing is to talk about what you did, not just what the overall team accomplished.
Let your resume tell a complete story. If you ran Facebook ads for a charity campaign, don’t just state “Ran Facebook ads” in your resume. Explain what you actually did then why the action was necessary, for example: “Set up Facebook ad structure, wrote ad copy, and managed daily spend against conversion goals for a fundraising campaign.”
When you give context on what you did (set up ads, etc.) and context about why it was critical (conversion on a fundraising campaign), it’s easier for a hiring manager to see how you might fit on their team. Even if you don’t end up using the same skill set, you demonstrate that you can think end-to-end, seeing how your individual contribution fits into the bigger picture.
Startups run on passion, so embrace yours on your resume. Beyond demonstrating any required technical skills for a specific internship, talk about that cool study abroad trip, volunteer experience, or personal passion you have.
Talking about your passions (and passion projects) does a lot for your application: it shows you know how to take initiative on things you care about, it shows you know your own mind and aren’t afraid to do what you like, and usually involves some skills that are transferable to the startup world like communication, taking risks, or being willing to stand apart from the crowd.
Most startups exist in industries with a dominant enterprise player, so they are taking a big risk just by existing. And startup leaders want contributors who understand risk. So in your resume, don’t be afraid to talk about a side hustle that flopped or a project where you tried something novel and it went sideways.
You don’t need to have built a business before, but showing you took any risk - defined as going against traditional expectations because you thought you had a better idea and wanted to experiment - is often a plus for startups.
While being in leadership positions or founding a new initiative is great (and usually a positive on applications), you need to have a purpose behind your action. If your reason for doing something is because you thought it would make your resume look good, chances are a startup won’t care. But if you took a stand for something you believed in or joined an activity you genuinely loved, that energy will shine through in your resume, and then in your interview.
If you’re the type of person who likes to try multiple things out of curiosity, that’s ok as well. Just make sure you explain the common thread - curiosity and trying new things - in your resume. That way you still tell a cohesive story even if your experiences don’t appear to link up at a surface level. And in those experiences, talk about what you learned, not just that you tried something then stopped.
When startups hire interns, they know you likely won’t be able to deliver at the same level as full-time employees with years of experience. You’re there to learn the ropes and deliver as much value as you can, so keep that in mind when drafting your resume. Focus on what you can do and have done, not trying to appear like the perfect candidate. You never know what a startup might need to unlock its next phase of growth, so it’s better to be honest with your capabilities rather than lie and get stuck.