Dear Recent Grads: 9 Things You Need to Know About Starting Your Career in a Startup

Dear Recent Grads: 9 Things You Need to Know About Starting Your Career in a Startup

So, you want to work at a startup?

Well, before you really dive in, you should know that it’s not all about Wiis, kegerators, and free lunch. Yes, many startups offer those perks (and they are  amazing). But the startup environment is really about much more than that — if you treat the opportunity to work for a startup seriously, it can be an incredible place to springboard your career.
If that sounds appealing, here’s everything else you should know about working for a startup.

9 Things You Need to Know About Starting Your Career in a Startup

1) Just because everyone wears jeans and a t-shirt doesn’t mean you have to

In fact, this goes beyond what you wear to the office. The joy of working at a startup is that you don’t have to conform to one particular way of dressing, thinking, or being. As my mother always says, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” I’d take that one step further by encouraging you to be the worker you want to be. Going above and beyond, and making the job “your own” is what makes startup culture so unique.

2) Look for growth in the shape of a person

More specifically, look to your boss. When you’re looking at startup opportunities, make sure you choose a company for the boss, not just the role or industry. A great mentor can help you grow significantly.

3) Be flexible

Even if your job doesn’t require you to grow professionally, never stop learning new skills. At a startup, you will have to wear many different hats. You’re going to be asked to fill roles outside of your comfort zone, and you have to seize those moments as learning opportunities. Your intuition and ability to get stuff done quickly is often more important than how smart you are.

4) Follow your gut (no matter what)

Whether you’re starting your own company or joining an existing one, it’s important to understand that no one really cares about your “crazy amazing new idea.” At best, all you’re going to get is a semi-understanding nod from friends and family. That being said, remember why you were passionate about the startup in the first place — namely, your goals and the excitement you felt about taking a chance on something that you believe in.

5) Expect turbulence

In almost every startup, things change — and often when you least expect it. That’s just part of the growing experience, so buckle in and remember that, early on, it’s less about the destination and more about the journey.

6) Appreciate the beauty of the job

The beauty of working at a startup is that you’ll likely contribute significantly to growing something special. Try everything while you can, learn what you’re good (and bad) at, and use those experiences to shape your career.

7) Understand that you matter (you really do!)

Fresh out of school, most people want to make a difference. With larger, more established organizations, however, it’s often difficult to have that impact through your energy, excitement, passion, and ideas. At a startup, on the other hand, all of those things are typically welcomed and embraced.

8) It’s not all about the big salary (in the beginning, at least)

Patience is a virtue. If you perform your duties, contribute, and learn, you’ll be well on your way to a larger salary. So when you’re negotiating  terms, be sure to focus not just on your paycheck, but also on other items like stock options, health benefits, and perhaps even the freedom to take time to work on your own projects (Google gives its engineers one day a week to do this).
Working at a startup can be a huge stepping stone that leads to other ventures, so don’t blow a great opportunity because of a small salary. Think long-term and try to envision where this company and role can take your career in the next three or five years.

9) You are being watched

Sorry to go all “Big Brother” here, but it can be easy to get caught up in the gloating your peers do about the contributions or successes they’ve had at bigger companies. Don’t let that bother you. If you’re really doing something groundbreaking and notable, it will be noticed and addressed. And when that happens, you will look like a superstar because your peers will hear about it from your startup’s CEO before they hear it from you directly.
So, there you have it — nine things to keep in mind if you’re really thinking about beginning your career with a startup. The perks and benefits of that career path can be significant, but it’s important to understand the opportunity, environment, and risk, too.
Can you think of any more good reasons to work for a startup?

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