Start-ups aren’t for everyone, and many candidates just aren’t a good fit for a start-up. For those who want to take the start-up path, it may take a few jobs at different start-ups until you find the right combination of needs, culture, and long term business potential.
Taking a job at a bank or Fortune 500 company often isn’t the best training for working in a start-up. While these types of jobs are great for employees who seek to expand basic skills beyond their education - the best experience for working in a start-up ... is working for a start-up. Start-up employees develop different skills than others who work for more established companies, where there are larger teams or even departments to handle problems. Employees at start-ups typically have to figure out solutions on their own.
For more experienced employees, a start-up maybe interested in your specific industry or functional experience - for instance your PHP programming skills, online marketing experience or large rolodex of health care buyers. Don’t expect that most start-ups will want you primarily for “general management skills”. While start-ups may value generalist skills more than the Fortune 500, these skills are secondary to specific skills that solve specific business problems.
6 Ways To Tell If Working For A Start-up Is Right For You
- Have you ever started anything? Veteran VC Albert Wenger gave his advice in a ReadWriteStart article today Is a Job at a Start-up Right For You?. Wenger suggested “look at the things you have already done. If you have never taken the initiative to create something from scratch (and even if that something is just a new club at school) you are probably not well suited to being an entrepreneur.” Wenger observed that many people are interested in being entrepreneurs, but few are cut out for the task.
- Are you good at non-traditional job search? The best start-up positions are rarely advertised. These are usually included in the 80% of the jobs filled through the hidden job market. While there are a few new job boards devoted to new companies, most start-up jobs are found through networking and taking extra initiative. Start-up job boards include:
You can find some help uncovering the hidden job market here:
- Are you a subject matter expert or a generalist? Just being a generalist isn’t enough to differentiate yourself from other candidates. Once a company grows beyond it’s initial employees it needs specialization - start-ups need specialists, with additional generalist skills. Wenger notes that “... while being a generalist might help in the early stages of a startup where everyone wears multiple hats, you do need to distinguish yourself by possessing specific and necessary skills.” (See http://recareered.blogspot.com/2010/01/who-needs-generalists-anymore-best-of.html)
- Are you comfortable with risk? Start-ups aren’t for the feint of heart, especially for start-ups in pre-funding stages. Since most start-up company finances are private, you take on the extra risk that the company will gain enough customers or investors to continue paying your salary (or the personally-financed owner doesn’t grow frustrated and cut early losses). While there may be a good trade-off down the road (great experience, increased pay or stock options that have real value), start-up employees understand that their company finances probably has less cushion than the Fortune 500. Then again, what job is safe today?
- Culture and fit: Culture and fit are even more important at a start-up where you’ll work more closely with the owners than at a larger company. If you aren’t comfortable with the personality fit between you and the owners, it’s probably not a good company for you.
- Your personality and soft skills: Think about this realistically. Can you roll with the punches, deal effectively with the unknown, or do you prefer a steady routine? Wenger suggests that if you can honestly describe yourself as having “great drive and a fierce work ethic ... and being able to get things done without a bureaucracy" a start-up could be a good choice for you.
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