Despite reputations for long hours, low pay and high probability of failure, it’s surprisingly tough to land a job at a startup. But it’s not impossible.
Let’s be honest: the startup life is not for everyone. People romanticize the sleep-in-the-office, order-pizza-daily, build-the-next-Google kind of life these days.
The fact is, most people shouldn’t work for startups. (Click here to tweet this thought.) With a 90 percent failure rate, the expected value of working in a startup in terms of your earnings is probably less than what you would make in a nice stable job — even if the startup you slave for sells for $100 million (and you get a small cut).
So it might surprise you that earlier this year, I decided to join a startup called Pocketbook Budget Planner as their third employee. I can say from my own experience that there are certainly pros to the startup life. But it’s also a competitive field to get into since everyone’s doing it.
First things first: Does a startup make sense for YOU?
1. Money isn’t your #1 priority
If you don’t aim to be the richest man in the grave or to maximize your lifetime earnings, joining a startup is an awesome idea.
Calculate how long you can afford to take financial risks. Much like people pay for a vacation, think of this as paying (by making less) for learning.
2. Experience matters more to you than cash
At a startup, you expect to learn a lot more from your work experience than in the corporate world. And you’re probably young, although if you’re looking for new challenges or if you have enough saved up, startups also might be a good fit.
This is an investment you make in yourself that will pay off in the long term.
3. You hate bureaucracy
You like a flexible work schedule. You like minimal meetings. And you like testing ideas. All of which are rarely allowed in the corporate world.
4. You want to make a significant difference with your work
You want to be at a place where your contributions mean something. You can wait forever to get your shot in the corporate world, or you can join a startup. Even if you fail, at least you have your chance.
Next step: Do you have what it takes to get hired?
Joining a startup is no easy feat. Startups are relatively few, have limited budgets and are extremely selective about who they recruit.
After going through the startup job hunt myself and talking to half a dozen founders, I have a pretty good idea of what they generally want. If you have these eight qualities, you’ll snatch up a startup job in no time:
1. Passion for what you do
This is the only way you’ll survive, let alone thrive, in a startup. If a huge salary, nice office, full benefits and other pricey perks motivate you to do what you do, then startups are probably not for you.
They can’t afford to offer any of that stuff. Founders know that, and you should, too.
2. Do-whatever-it-takes attitude
Startup employees need to do whatever it takes for the business to take off. If you’re an engineer and you don’t want to talk to users because it’s “not your job,” or if you don’t want to put in 14-hour days to make something work “on principle” (true story), then you’re probably not the right person for the job.
3. Cultural fit
As Alvin Singh, one the founders of Pocketbook Budget Planner, told me, “We don’t recruit until we find absolutely the right person. Because whoever we recruit will be a third of the company.”
Some companies emphasize excellence — that whatever you do, you want to be a level better than your competitors. Other companies emphasize the “don’t reinvent the wheel” culture. Founders are looking for employees who have the same beliefs as their own.
4. Belief in the company’s vision
You’ll find yourself rolling your eyes and doing a half-assed job if you don’t have this. Then someone else will need to revise what you just did. This is what hiring managers refer to when they talk about “employee motivation.”
If you don’t think the product is worthwhile, why put in the effort?
5. Rule-breaking mentality
One advantage of startups compared to giant conglomerates is that they can try stuff out, fail and try again. Unlike corporations, startups have little to lose. Founders highly prize this mentality.
It’s not easy to zig when everyone’s zagging — especially when they look like they’re doing perfectly fine. But that’s exactly what a startup does, and that’s the only way to win the game. Remember, you can’t outspend P&G in an advertising war. You have to do something different.
6. Restless nature
Every company claims to want employees who have an entrepreneurial spirit, but they don’t. Entrepreneurs are restless and generate big ideas that seem like bad ideas at the time — until they work. They think about the next feature that can elevate the business or the next campaign to execute. They get lightbulb moments… All. The. Time.
That’s no good in the corporate world, where your ideas are considered distractions. In a startup, though, ideas — especially crazy ones — are lifeblood.
7. Powerful influence
Hustling is a key skill when you work in a startup. You need exposure, software, content, talent — but you have no money, so what do you do?
You form partnerships, you make deals and you make promises. And you sell, sell, sell.
What crazy things have you tried in your career? Did you always hit your KPI in the 20 years on your previous job? That only shows your need for safety. That shows a history of working in your comfort zone. Pass.
So there you go, eight qualities founders prize in early employees, based on my conversations with them. By the way, you should meet their technical requirements, but believe it or not, these matter less than you’d think. If you’re a year or two short of required experience but have the above qualities, don’t disqualify yourself. Go ahead and apply.
You never know what could happen.
Andrianes Pinantoan is a Growth Hacker at Pocketbook Budget Planner, a Sydney-based startup that helps you easily manage your finances. He’s currently working on a series of posts about growing as a freelancer, starting a small business and the startup life for the Pocketbook Blog.