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How to get a job at a startup

Working at a startup offers many benefits for both experienced and new professionals. For individuals working at large, established companies, making the move to a startup provides the thrill of watching their work have an immediate impact on the startup’s success. New graduates and entry-level job seekers have the opportunity to experience a quick learning curve and gain experience through a broad range of responsibilities.

Despite the buzz around startups, they are not for everyone. Before jumping into a full-throttled job search, do a little research by first evaluating whether a startup is for you.Then, you can evaluate specific startups and simultaneously determine your strategy to get hired.

Is a Startup the Right Fit for you?

Consider making a list of the factors that are most important to you when considering whether to work for a startup versus an established firm. These will likely focus on the three Cs: career, compensation and company. Factors may include learning and personal growth, title, working hours, compensation, benefits, team, company leadership, company culture and company outlook and stability.

Pros: A top advantage of joining a startup is that you will learn quickly and can wear multiple hats, which is not always possible at an established firm. Proximity to leadership affords you greater opportunity to provide input in multiple areas and shape the company’s direction and culture. Top performers grow quickly and take on expanded responsibilities at an earlier age than peers working in more mature companies, providing an accelerated career trajectory that can have lifelong positive consequences.

If you want to build your own startup down the line, joining a startup as an employee is the best way to gain a comprehensive understanding of the many facets of running a business.

Cons: Startups can be chaotic. There may not be enough structured mentoring and training support available. Many startup management teams often lack the experience to effectively manage and mentor employees.

Taking a job at a startup is also not without risks. It is widely claimed that eight out of 10 startups fail, although there is no definitive study to back it up in recent times.

Another drawback is that startups don’t typically invest in employee benefits to the degree that established organizations do. If you are looking for medical insurance benefits, structured performance management, job grades, compensation review and several other HR processes and policies that one takes for granted in a mature organization, then you may discover that they are missing in many startups.

Conclusion: Join a startup if you’re eager to learn and willing to risk the stability an established company has to offer.

Evaluate Startup Career Opportunities

It can be tricky to evaluate a startup before applying to an open role. In most cases, job seekers get more information during the interview process than when they’re completing initial research on the startup.

Follow these criteria to evaluate startups during your job search.

Industry and Job Market Outlook: If working from home is going to become more common, then a startup that offers a valuable proposition related to working from home certainly looks promising. You should also evaluate the competition, including both new and established players. For example, the digital edtech industry grew by leaps and bounds. It has seen a surge in funding during COVID-19 for new and established players as the demand for online learning solutions has hit a new peak.

Leadership and Values: What is the prior track record of the leadership team? What are the company values? Do the company values align with your personal values? Does the startup have a clear vision and long-term strategy? If this information isn’t clear on the website or during the interview process, then it might be too risky to join that team.

Current Runway and Funding Plans: Even though talking about money may be uncomfortable, especially when you are interviewing for a role, it is often necessary when considering a startup role. When you know the status of the runway, you get a better sense of the sustainability of the operations. If the runway is less than a year, it is important to understand other funding plans that might be in progress.

Getting Hired at a Startup

Being offered a job at a startup requires you to rethink your perspective. Startup roles are about having an entrepreneurial mindset and being interested in areas that are not necessarily your current core strengths.

Here are some tips to help you land a startup role.

Network: Making connections is key to getting a startup job. At a small, less established organization hiring decisions are most likely to come from the top. Reel in your network from all sources – school alumni, formercompany alumni, friends, family, professional networks and social media. Aim to get introductions and have one-on-one interactions with the senior leadership at your target startups. Once introduced, your positive energy and drive, curiosity and interest in the business problems will give you an edge.

Develop a Strong Professional Value Proposition: Craft a winning elevator pitch for yourself. You need to have a unique hook that stands out to the hiring team. Use it in your networking, resume, cover letter, social media and interviews. The decision makers at the startup need to know the biggest strengths you bring to the table and how these align with the startup’s goals. For those in support functions and leadership positions, it is important to let them know that you can take on various responsibilities.

Showcase Your Flexibility and Adaptability: A startup usually has an all-hands-on-deck approach and you should expect your list of tasks and responsibilities to constantly change. The challenge is to go with the flow and still get things done. You need to be self-motivated because the startup may not have the luxury of well-established processes and training support. In your cover letter, on your resume and during the interview process, share examples of how you have adapted to the unexpected and risen to meet challenges.

Sheryl Sandberg once said that the best career advice she ever received was from former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who said ‘If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, get on, don’t ask what seat.’ You can apply this advice when it comes to considering and accepting a job at a startup. By completing your research and positioning yourself as the right fit for a startup, you can stand out to the leadership team and kick off your startup career.

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