Monday, April 19, 2010

How to Get & Stay Hired at a Startup

This week, we couldn't help noticing that so many of our positions are based with "startups" - and by this we mean businesses that appear to be relatively young and still in high-growth mode. They might be innovators in their spaces, or they might be jumping on a trend - either way, these can be some of the most exciting but risky jobs. While you may end up at the next Google, you can also end up at the next Kozmo. (If you don't remember that one, just let it go - we're showing our age.) And these can be incredible opportunities to work directly with founding teams. If you're interested in entrepreneurship yourself one day, listen up. It makes total sense that we're seeing a bit of a resurgence in startup hiring:
  • The costs of starting and running a high tech company are relatively low. As Thomas Friedman eloquently wrote this week in the NYTimes, entrepreneurs are increasingly taking advantage of "all the tools of the flat world — teleconferencing, e-mail, the Internet and faxes — to access the best expertise and low-cost, high-quality manufacturing anywhere."
  • As we've written in the past, the economy is showing signs of life - consumer sentiment, retail demand, and manufacturing output are all up. Startups are risk-takers, and they eager to be first in front of the consumer when they start spending again.
But don't just jump into that startup job - or even into applying for that job - without heeding our tips:
  • Think like a startup entrepreneur. If you were in high growth mode, potentially operating at a near-term loss in order to grow your business, what type of person would you want working for your company? Probably one who's super responsive, scrappy, and succinct. Keep the fact that you're dealing with a really special type of interviewer - an entrepreneur - in mind when you're applying. And, know that even though you might be applying for a part-time job or internship, this role may be as important to the company as a full-time position - and has high potential to grow into a full-time position if and when they take off.
  • Be prepared for non-traditional hours. Startup companies work around the clock. That may or may not be the job you're applying for, and you should find that out before you start so that if it's not your cup of tea, you know it's not the right fit for you. But if you do commit, know that entrepreneurs tend to get inspirations at 2 am, and you may be on the receiving end of those emails. Make sure you and your boss have a mutual understanding of what hours you're expected to work, so that you don't disappoint.
  • Show undying interest and passion for your product and your industry. For a new or unproven company, there can be NO ONE more excited about its products and prospects than its employees. You've got to be its cheerleader to the world.
  • Show interest in entrepreneurship. Startups like to hire people that are looking specifically for startup experience. However, that's the operative word: experience. If you're in it for money, equity, glamour, or fame, you should reconsider your desire to work at a startup because none of those things are guaranteed! Or, at least, don't share that with your interviewers.
  • As with any job, know the company. Doing your research before applying - by checking out its product / service, perhaps testing or using it, and checking out its competitors - will impress the startup entrepreneur because these issues are what s/he lives and breathe every day. Some fresh perspective on them (even if s/he disagrees) will undoubtedly be appreciated.
  • If the proverbial shite hits the fan, stick with it! Let the founders worry about the future of their business. You focus on being as helpful as possible. Startup companies have very few bodies and need people that are energetic, positive, and are willing to deal with the ebbs and flows of the business.
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