Working at a startup isn't all ping-pong tables and free food. Though table tennis skills may help you stand out in the crowd (especially at Hukkster HQ), there are certain key qualities that will set you up for success in the startup world regardless of your level of experience or area of interest. Here are five key qualities for success at a startup. These tips will help you not just land the job, but become a driver of your company’s success.
1. Passion for the product. Do your homework. The founders are looking to hire people who are passionate about helping them build their vision into a reality. So you should come to an interview prepared with questions and feedback that really shows you have engaged with the product. Founders want to know that every applicant is genuinely interested in the product and the company.
For example, Hukkster is a platform that allows shoppers to track the specific products they're interested in and find out the moment those products go on sale -- so naturally every applicant is expected to have used the tool themselves (who doesn't like getting great deals anyway?).
2. Roll-up-your-sleeves mentality. Are you comfortable juggling five giant boxes on the subway during rush hour in the middle of winter? Maybe not, but no job is too small at a startup. Since you’ll be working with a small team and always tackling new challenges as they arise, the phrase “that’s not my job,” should never be in your lexicon.
Come to the interview prepared to provide examples of past activities or work experiences in which you rolled up your sleeves to dig a little deeper into an issue or took on a task that wasn't prescribed.
"If someone expects everything handed to them, they might be better off at a larger company with more infrastructure," says Kathryn Minshew, founder and CEO of career-discovery platform The Muse. "Smaller businesses need people who will do whatever it takes to make the company successful. And yes, sometimes at 15-person companies, that means the CEO and the social media manager both take turns emptying the kitchen trash."
3. Good ideas are good. Developed ideas are game changing. Got a great idea? Don’t just share it, show it. While you may be bursting at the seams with great ideas, execution and follow-through are key traits to success in the startup world. When you discuss your past achievements, be sure to highlight the times when you implemented changes or took on and oversaw new initiatives. These strong examples will show you have what it takes to be successful.
At a startup, it is much more valuable to identify your top three ideas and work through a fully-baked plan of attack before sharing it with your team, rather than rattling off half-a-dozen suggestions that aren’t well thought-out. It’s much easier to gain buy-in when you've answered all the potential questions upfront and already laid out a roadmap outlining timeline and return on investment.
4. Be proactive, not reactive. No matter how young or inexperienced you might be, the best part of working at a startup is that everyone has the potential to contribute in a big way. Demonstrate that you are always thinking ahead and uncovering opportunities to help move the business forward -- even if it's as simple as cleaning up a process or report, offering to help out a colleague when your day's tasks are complete or spending your spare time coming up with innovative ideas and strategizing how they can best be implemented.
5. Be a strategist, not a bystander. When building a concept from scratch, processes and objectives constantly evolve, so look at everything with a critical eye. Unlike your corporate counterparts, your mission is to unlock issues and identify opportunities for change and improvement. Even if you're the most junior hire at the table and don't feel comfortable challenging the status quo, look for informal opportunities to share insights with your team.
At Hukkster, we have team lunches on Fridays and try to celebrate our collective success at team events such rock climbing or happy hour. While such events make working at a startup really fun, they are also good opportunities to ask questions. New hires can provide a critical set of fresh eyes. Demonstrating your ability to think critically and ask smart questions will make you a valued member of the team.
Here are four startup-specific resources to help guide your startup job search:
- The Muse: The Muse offers job opportunities, expert advice and a peek behind the scenes into fantastic companies and career paths.
- GetWakefield.com: Wakefield hosts events and sends out a daily email newsletter about startups and new technology.
- InsideStartups.org: A great database where you can search startups by city and industry.
- AngelList: This is an easy-to-use platform where you can browse job opportunities and connect with startups and investors.