What you studied in school and even what you did at your last job are becoming less important in the job market. Don’t get me wrong, skills matter. Programmers need to know how to write code and editors need to be grammar masters.
But in a startup, character traits and soft skills can matter just as much, and these traits and qualities ladder up to a broader mindset built on agility, humility and action.
Startups are volatile work environments, and regardless of whether you’re an intern or a CEO, here are five prompts to help you get in the startup mindset:
1. Be agile.
Successful startups are feedback machines, gathering input and data from users and proactively responding to it by making changes to products or processes. Startup employees should be no different. As you go through your daily work, you should be gathering feedback on your own performance.
It’s not enough to only think about the “what” of your work, you also need to bring a critical eye to the “why” and the “how.” Let’s say you’re a salesperson, and you’re tasked with cold calling 50 leads a day. Rather than mindlessly doing that until you’re told to do something else, think critically about the work ,and collect your own feedback on how it could be done more effectively.
Maybe you’ll learn that emails are better than calls by running a small experiment. This kind of feedback-driven approach helps you work smarter -- and that’s something every startup will appreciate.
2. Adapt quickly.
Successful startups are constantly course-correcting based on the feedback and data they collect. In other words, change is constant, and you may find that your job description changes overnight. You might even be asked to do things that don’t match your job description at all. Or your company might pivot and reinvent itself entirely -- just look at Instagram, a floundering check-in service that became a billion dollar photo-sharing app.
This capacity to change course or even about-face is what makes startups exciting, but as a member of the team, you also have to be ready to adapt. This includes embracing new ideas and learning new skills. Startups prize people who step up and take on new challenges during periods of growth or change. If you find yourself saying, “This wasn’t in the job description,” you may not be adaptable enough.
3. Be humble.
Startups succeed when they validate their ideas and remain nimble enough to respond to market feedback. This means that some ideas are destined to succeed and that others will never see the light of day.
Embracing failure is a part of life if you believe in letting the data do the talking. Succeeding in a startup environment requires a kind of emotional detachment from your ideas. Getting too attached might mean a bad idea makes it through your process and damages your product.
It’s important to stay humble when your idea doesn’t make the cut. The most successful employees say, “Ok, so that didn’t work. Let’s move on.”
4. Don’t be a credit-claimer.
If your idea does come to life, it doesn’t do any good to take credit for it. Startups prize collaboration and a collaborative spirit. Credit-claimers alienate their colleagues and are likely to get too attached to their work. Your boss will appreciate you more if you humbly smile when your idea goes the distance.
5. Make statements.
Bias for Action has become a startup mantra for good reason. Agility and iteration only work when many attempts are made. At many startups, it’s better to try things, fail and learn than it is to sit around in meetings ruminating.
One simple way to try this in the day-to-day is to make statements instead of asking questions. Many startup managers would rather hear a proposal that they can either green-light or tweak than hear a list of questions that they have to fully consider and respond to. Instead of, “Here are the options, what should we do?” try saying, “Here’s what I propose.” The assertiveness will be rewarded, even if the proposal isn’t right on the mark.
Here’s the bottom line: Skills and experience might open the door, but character and mindset really move people forward in startups. Are there other character traits you look for when making a hire?