So you want to work for a Startup… Part 2: Capitalizing on an Opportunity

You did it!  You successfully identified startup job opportunities and now you either have an interview or you have accepted a position.  What do you do now to ensure continued success?

Be prepared for the interview.  

Try to dress in the style that is consistent with the company culture.  You don’t want to be in a full suit if everyone else in the organization is in flip-flops and cut offs.  Bring multiple copies of your resume and visual portfolio.  Few things can be as impactful as sliding a nice portfolio across the table so that people can comb through samples of your work and projects that clearly illustrate the skills that you possess.

Update your research on the company before the interview.

Have they had any relevant press lately?  Have they entered new markets?  What relevant changes are occurring in their industry?  What products and services do they offer?  Be ready to include these tidbits of information into the conversation and into questions that you ask during the interview.

Be very clear about what you bring to the job.

Talk about how what you bring to the job and how this will benefit the organization, but also be willing to talk about skills and experiences that you have beyond just the scope of the job that you are hoping to get.  Show them that you have the ability to be flexible and useful in a variety of roles within the organization if necessary.

Understand that the interview is dual sided.

It is a chance for you to prove to the company that you are the person that they want and need, but it is also a chance for you to learn whether or not this company truly is a good fit for you.  You are interviewing the company almost as much as they are interviewing you.  Ask them questions about their culture. Find out how they embody this culture.  Ask them to explain their mission to you and to give examples of how they embody this mission.  Find out how they expect employees to uphold this mission.  Ask about their expectations of employees, opportunities for growth, expected changes on the horizon, examples of how employees have grown within the organization.   You are trying to gauge if their description of the company and company culture is in line with the reality.

Ask them specific questions about the job that you are applying for.

What are their expectations for this person?  What skills do they think will be most necessary for success?  What does success in this role look like?  What training will this person receive?  How do they see this job evolving as the company grows?  It is important to understand that roles and responsibilities in a startup or entrepreneurial organization may shift and evolve at a quicker pace than in other organizations.  The faster a company is growing, the more flexible their employees have to be.  The idea is to get a good feel for their expectations both short term and long term for this position.  Again, this will help you determine if this role could be a good fit for you or not.

Notice that we haven’t talked about money yet…

Salary is important, we all have to eat and pay rent, but don’t go to a startup expecting to make the big bucks right from the start.  First of all, most startups don’t have the funds to pay market rate for all of their employees.  Second, unless you have relevant experience that you bring to the table, you are coming in at an entry level position.  You can ask about compensation, you can ask about benefits, but don’t make this the initial part of the interview.  Startups typically want employees who are interested in making an impact, not those who are only focused on the money.

Be ready to pay your dues.

The moment you think that you are too good for something is the moment that you start to lose respect in a startup environment.  In my experience, everyone from the CEO to the intern takes out the trash, loads the dishwasher (if you’re lucky enough to have one) and participates in any range of activities that are necessary to keep a functioning office space.  You may be asked to make a pot of coffee one minute and then to weigh in on a major strategic decision 5 minutes later.  This is the nature of a startup!  The pace is fast and often uncertain, and you never know what responsibilities and opportunities may come your way.

Don’t expect to walk in and be promoted to Vice President of Whatever in the first week.

Remember that this is an opportunity for you to learn and to grow.  Show up every single day to every single part of your job and be ready to stand out for the right reasons.  Go above and beyond.  Be thorough and competent.  Don’t be average because you have said yes to everything, be realistic by balancing your time so that you can be outstanding at the responsibilities that you take on.

In the end, remember to have fun!  Enjoy the challenges, be thankful for the wins and take the lessons from the losses.  Every situation that you face in an entrepreneurial environment is a chance for you to grow in some way or to learn something new about yourself.  Enjoy the ride!