5 Keys to Find a Job at the Right Startup for You
For many job seekers, the prospect of finding a position that offers the opportunity to make a meaningful difference at a company is highly alluring. With this goal in mind, candidates often look to high ranking listings in job aggregators from established corporations and scour career pages of well-known companies. Too few people realize that the chance to play a key role in a company’s development is far more likely to exist at a startup. But now that you’ve chosen to consider working for a startup, how do know which one is right for you?
1) Defining What It Means to Be a Startup
The first step in evaluating which startup is right for you is settling on what “startup” means to you. People use the term “startup” to identify a wide range of companies whose origins are based on the creative ideas of a small group of founders. By this definition, Twitter could be considered one of the most successful startups worldwide and Sam Walton’s Walmart
stores could even be classified as a startup. Odds are, you’re thinking smaller than Walmart, but perhaps not “mom and pop” store small—somewhere in between. Either way, ensure you clarify your personal definition of startup, so you can refine your job search.
Now that the basics are out of the way, you need to determine what stage of a startup is right for your skill set and career goals. Do you have the experience and drive to help establish a company that has yet to make a single dollar? Or are you that strong sales or marketing professional that can flourish in a startup that is undergoing rapid growth? Perhaps your time to shine is leading a company to its IPO or sealing the deal for an acquisition.
You can boil the progression of a startup down to four stages: 1) raising capital, 2) finding product/market fit, 3) growing revenue, and 4) turning a profit. At a company in one of the first two stages, you will likely be required to perform exploratory roles, and can expect the demands of your job to change almost daily as the company evolves. In contrast, in a stage 3 or 4 startup, you are less likely to be exposed to different facets of the organization. This will increase your ability to specialize, yet decrease your overall influence in the startup.
2) Don’t Be a Square Peg In a Round Hole
Some professionals are so convinced that they can master a job that they get caught up in doing everything in their power to secure it and forget to evaluate if the company’s culture and goals align with their own. Whether you’re hoping to make a significant impact in the marketplace or simply to get in on the ground floor of the next great business giant, you will be highly invested in the operations of the company as well as its products or services, so ensure the startup shares your outlook before jumping onboard.
If you’re a collaborator, make sure the company fosters collaboration. If your focus is innovation, ensure you’re joining a creative company. If your main goal is finding a company with a foosball table and a casual dress code, then make sure you’ll be allowed to wear sandals and take long lunches.
Finally, the physical working environment plays a large role in the overall fit between an employee and a startup. Depending on the stage of the startup, the workplace could be small and modest to save much-needed cash reserves, or expansive to facilitate production. Maybe your office space will be devoid of walls to foster communication, or a beehive of offices, to maintain focus. Which sounds right for you?
3) When, How, and Can the Company Grow?
When pursuing a startup, you should view the process as an investor, rather than a potential employee. Start by estimating the company’s growth potential. Evaluate the startup’s prospects over the coming months, years, and overall lifetime by estimating the consumer demand for the company’s product or service.
In simple terms, startups are innovators, but it takes a lot more than a single great idea to maintain a successful business. If the startup cannot eventually turn a profit, it simply cannot sustain itself. Watch out for startups that focus solely on raising capital in hopes of a successful future, rather than executing a solid business plan that focuses on long-term growth, identifiable assets, and a quality workforce.
A quick way to get a feel for a startup’s potential is checking out who “follows” them online. Seeing venture capitalists and industry analysts listed as followers of a startup’s LinkedIn page would clearly be an encouraging sign for a startup’s future. Finding a string of ranting customers on their Facebook page, on the other hand, might warn you to steer clear. In the end, even if all your research says you should proceed, if something doesn’t feel right about a startup, it likely will never feel right, and that’s not the startup for you.
4) Growing a Startup Is a Team Sport
When evaluating a startup, ensure that its management team is set on growing your career along with the startup. Even if you’re just looking to hone your skills at a startup before moving on to bigger and better things, a supportive management team is an absolute must.
Finding a management team that is driven and can stand strong during tough times, rallying employees and investors alike, is great. But make sure your goals align with those of the management team. Identify where you would like to see the startup go and where the management team is driving it. If the two do not blend, then it’s not the startup for you.
A great way to get a feel for the team you’ll be a part of, is to find out if anyone has left the company and why they left. If you find people have gone on to bigger opportunities at a different startup or to work somewhere in the same market, this may be a neutral or positive sign. This situation could reveal that the startup is a great stepping stone and will provide opportunities to develop as a professional. If you find that employees have left even to take jobs in fields completely unrelated to their career goals, this could signify that they were driven to leave the startup at all costs. Clearly, this would be a notable warning sign.
Of course, even a great team won’t be able to carry a startup without funding. Delve into the details of who is backing the startup and consider where the startup might look for additional money in the future. Furthermore, make an attempt to identify the business’ timeline and examine how well available financing matches with the growth strategy.
5) Do You Have What It Takes?
Once you’ve settled on a handful of startups you’d like to consider, pause to evaluate your determination, willingness, and ability to commit to being part of a team set on creating something great—maybe even unprecedented--with little more than a foundation of talent and innovation. As with most standard companies, startups look for people willing to put forth extra effort and who have a proven record of doing so. The distinction between a startup and
a standard company is that startups all but require employees to genuinely love what they do. This passion must be present each day and in every member of the team.
Startups are largely characterized by their amorphous structure and ever-changing business model. It’s common for startups to start down one path, encounter an unexpected problem, and then redirect the entire company down a tangential avenue. Frequently, products, operations, or employee responsibilities must change drastically to keep the startup on track. To this point, if adapting is not your forte, you’re probably best suited for an established company over a fresh new startup.
If you can always see the silver lining and the glass as half full, a startup might be right for you. With new problems and concerns surfacing every day, it’s vital that employees be able to maintain hope and generate ways to overcome obstacles. In a small startup, where it’s all too easy for one sour employee to spoil the whole workforce, do you have what it takes to face every new challenge with a smile?
Once you’ve determined that a startup is right for you, and narrowed down the prospective companies, you must capture the attention of someone in a position to get you onto the team. At startups, initial hires are usually made within circles of well-known friends and former colleagues. Make use of your connections to find someone that can get your foot in the door. After the introduction, it’s up to you to use your experience, personality, and resources, like those available on our site, to give you the best possible chance of taking on your dream role at the best startup for you.
Supporting content and materials adapted from: Forbes Startup Advice (http://onforb.es/GFdu7v), Startup Interview Tips (http://on.mash.to/GEwG5Q), Signing On with a Startup (http://bit.ly/GFoHeI), and Choosing the Right Startup (http://bit.ly/GHgTDX)
Image credit: Small Business (http://bit.ly/H9S6Hw); Growth (http://bit.ly/Hdo9cn); Success (http://istockpho.to/GTe4DZ)
CareerEncore is a boutique recruiting firm dedicated to providing Greater Boston-area technology companies with exceptional talent. If you’ve proven yourself at a tech-driven company, functional experience aside (development, systems, marketing, sales, finance, operations, executive suite, etc.), we can help you find your next great opportunity. In particular, we are always looking for skilled software engineers, programmers, and developers. With all of our candidates and clients, we forge lasting partnerships. Our commitment to understanding your needs, coupled with our years of industry experience, uniquely enables us to successfully match talent with opportunity.
Don't Miss The Next Intriguing Story: Subscribe to CareerEncore’s Newsletter