10 Traits You Need to Make It as a Startup Employee Here are 10 critical traits that startup employees should possess, develop and nurture for success.

By Jena Booher, Ph.D.

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You know before you accept a startup job, it's going to take grit. High-growth, fast-paced startups are dynamic and challenging in nature. In other words, someone who crushed it at their 50,000-employee, publicly traded organization might feel underwater at a Series B company (and vice versa). So, what do you look for in a startup candidate? Which traits do you nurture so your employees can grow and flourish?

If you're new to the wild world of startups, I'm here to be your guide. I've completed thousands of hours of behavioral research and worked with every kind of startup under the sun. Over the years, I've compiled a set of 10 critical traits that employees should possess, develop and nurture. Do you know what it takes to succeed? Find out now.

Related: 4 Essential Skills Needed to Thrive As a Startup Employee

Traits you need to thrive in a fast-paced environment

Startups are made from scratch. That means when you accept a job, you're also accepting uncertainty, fluidity and regular pivots. In order to succeed in this type of environment, employees need to spike high in the following areas:

  1. Ambiguity tolerance: Does the phrase "gray area" give you stress or energy? It's imperative that startup employees are not only comfortable with ambiguous situations but see them as desirable, interesting and a chance to solve complex or novel problems.

  2. Flexibility: Being flexible is essential for startup employees. They'll be asked to pivot frequently, and they need to do so without anger and resentment. They also need to be comfortable owning multiple tasks or lanes of work — some of which might be outside the scope of their role.

  3. Openness to learning: Every startup is a laboratory for learning. Employees should seek to challenge the status quo, ask for feedback, obtain other viewpoints and engage in discussions that will help improve the team.

Traits you need to work well with others

Lone wolves don't make it in startups. An employee's attitude toward cross-functional collaboration will make or break their success. Here are the qualities that startup employees should have if they're going to achieve interpersonal victories:

  1. Emotional intelligence: In a constantly shifting environment, you'll need to read a room quickly and adjust your approach in real-time. You should also be capable of regulating your emotions. Startups can be stressful, and you shouldn't allow negative energy to impact your colleagues.

  2. Conflict management: Recognize when there is an issue, and take action to resolve it. Startups are notoriously short on time, so if you can deal with issues head-on, resolve them and move forward, you'll prove your value — fast.

  3. Team support: Regardless of your rank and title, you should acknowledge and appreciate the efforts of your teammates. Be publicly vocal when people do a good job. This will help everyone stay motivated, even in the most challenging stretches.

  4. Knowledge sharing: Communication is important at every job, but especially at startups. Share industry knowledge, context and resources with others so everyone — and everything — can move quickly.

Traits you need to do your best work

Priorities can change on a dime, and startup employees need to accept constant shifts and competing demands. If clear guardrails and processes are a requirement for you, you may need to look elsewhere. But if you possess the following traits, you probably have what it takes to make it at a startup:

  1. Personal initiative: A task list delivered on a silver platter and in a timely manner? This simply isn't possible at a startup. You need to be a self-starter, spotting opportunities, making plans, developing goals and bringing new ideas to life — without being prompted to.

  2. Dependability: Do what you say you will, and deliver on your promises. Be honest and realistic about what you can get done. Reputations are built quickly (noticing a trend?), and people who are trustworthy, steadfast and reliable will more easily find their footing.

  3. Grit: Grit = passion + perseverance. It's the ability to overcome setbacks, work hard and finish things. Your startup journey will be full of thrills and excitement. Do you have the stamina to stay the course even when things get tough?

Related: What is Grit, and Why Does It Matter When Hiring for Your Startup?

Just like the startup itself, employees need to be ready to enter the ring knowing there are risks. These fast-paced jobs aren't for everyone, but if you strongly identify with the ten traits, take it as a sign. You could be ready to join a venture that will deeply value what you bring to the table. And what do you get in return? A place to grow fast, learn continuously and contribute in ways you never thought possible.

Jena Booher, Ph.D.

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Startup Advisor

Dr. Booher is a startup to ScaleUp expert, business psychologist, social scientist, and trusted advisor to startups across the country. Her mission is to help high-growth businesses transform their culture, build engaged teams, and chart the path for sustained success.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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