As one of TheLadders' original 20 employees, I know first-hand how rewarding and challenging a job at a startup can be, especially when you're new to the workforce. Play your cards right and you will learn more in one year than your friends will pick up in five or more working at larger, more traditional organizations.
The media likes to sensationalize the perks and fun of working at a startup, but startup life is no day at the beach. You'll find that most operate with a "work hard, play hard" mentality. While you'll enjoy plenty of happy hours and ping pong tournaments, you'll also find the work intensely demanding -- likely, far more than anything you've previously experienced.
Here are seven tips I've learned over the years to help you not only survive, but thrive at a startup:
1. Embrace the mission.
The most successful entrepreneurs are incredibly passionate about their work. It's the fire in their bellies that drives them to succeed. Similarly, if you're going to commit to working at a startup, you have to believe in its mission. Look for organizations that are doing something you're interested in. You won't make it at a business if you're not genuinely excited about the work.
Related: A Soundtrack to Start Up By
2. Acknowledge the long hours -- and accept them.
If you're going to make it in the startup world, you first need to acknowledge that the hours will be long. The second step is to accept this fact. In the beginning, it wasn't unusual for my team to work more than twelve hours a day or come in over the weekend to meet our goals. In a startup, there's always more work to be done and not enough people to take it on. You're not hanging around the office for the sake of face time -- there's work to be done. Accept this fact and you're already in better shape.
3. Set expectations with loved ones.
Not everyone in your circle of friends will understand or appreciate the commitment a startup demands. It's very important to set expectations with your loved ones. Nothing is worse than having your family call at 5:30 p.m. to ask how your day went when your work day is far from over. To avoid these frustrations, set expectations up front such as when people can reach you and through what forms of communication.
4. Take initiative.
On my first day, I was handed my computer in its box and a small packet containing basic instructions for using the company's systems and handling customer service inquiries. That day I learned two things: 1) How to set up a desktop computer on my own, and 2) that if I wanted to make it at this company, I would need to take initiative. Don't expect your company to have it all figured out already; a startup is often still establishing its guidelines and formalizing its business. That's one of the reasons why the work is both exciting and scary. Instead of shying away, embrace the chaos and take an active role in shaping the business.
5. Fill in the blanks.
In startup land, priorities and projects can change overnight. Communicate openly and often to avoid confusion. Check in regularly with your team to ensure that everyone is on the same page and working toward the same goal. If you're unsure if a certain task is being taken care of, speak up! Don't assume someone else is working on it. It's better to over-communicate than let something important slip through the cracks.
6. Strive for balance.
I won't lie and say that it's easy to strike the right balance between work and play, but thanks to mobile technology, it's easier than ever before. Identify what matters most to you and look for creative ways to make time for those priorities. For instance, find out if you can work from home on certain evenings so you can eat dinner with your loved ones and still make the standing 8 p.m. conference call with your colleagues. Alternatively, take advantage of mobile apps like FaceTime that allow you to remain connected to your family while putting in long hours at the office.
7. Know when to take a breather.
The job will be stressful at times. That's why it's important to know when to walk away from the laptop so you can come back with a fresh set of eyes. Find an outlet for your stress, whether it's banging on a drum set, meditating for ten minutes in the back of the office or playing a game of darts with a colleague. Recharge your batteries and come back ready to tackle the latest challenge head-on with a fresh perspective.
Take these tips to heart, and you'll be prepared to tackle the hard work involved in a startup – and reap the benefits of the enriching experience.