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Guide to Startup Jobs

By Neil Patrick

There’s one category of jobs which is misunderstood more than any other. It’s working for startups.

Negative assumptions are made:

  • Startups are risky.
  • They are disorganized.
  • They are for young people.
  • They often fail.

These are just a few of the knee-jerk reactions that most people have about working for a startup. In this post, I’ll explain why none of this matters.

Actually, once you know what’s what, working for a startup can be a really smart career choice. Startups are a better career choice than you thought because...

Why Joining a Startup May Be a Smart Career Move

Consider the four common prejudices listed above simply in terms of your resume and experience.

Regardless of whether a startup you join succeeds or fails, regardless of whether you stay or leave, the experience of just being there will show that:

  • You are not afraid to take calculated risks.
  • You are capable of working flexibly and in a fast changing environment.
  • You can execute at speed and like being around energetic "can do" people.
  • You are not afraid of failure.

You don’t even need to state these things on your resume. Actions speak louder than words, and being in a start-up proves beyond question that even if you are not a founder or an entrepreneur, you have these qualities which are so sought after in today’s job market.


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Making this choice is as much about your next job(s) as this one. Joining a start-up positions you for more options in the future than by taking on a "secure" job which probably isn’t really secure at all; as you’ll know if you pay any attention to the business news. Every day there are down-sizings, closures, off-shoring, consolidations -- big organizations are laying off thousands of people every month.

Startup Job - Smart Investment?

Working for a start-up is quite possibly the best career investment anyone can make today

Most posts about start-ups focus on the founders’ personal stories and their advice for other entrepreneurs. These posts aren’t about that. These posts are about working for start-ups as an employee and why everyone should think about it differently.

According to data from analysts Mattermark, start-ups are attracting more investment than any time since 2000:

Funding for startups in the USA

There’s much to be said for the old adage, "follow the money"...

1. We have entered an age where disruptive digital businesses are the ones driving change.

In the old days, having IBM, GM, or J&J on your resume was considered to confer some of that brand prestige upon you. Not so much anymore. Big global corporations are no longer the ones that are changing the world.

Instead, it’s the thousands of digital disrupters who are at the forefront of change and competition. Google and Amazon didn’t exist 20 years ago. Neither did eBay, Trip Advisor or PayPal. Airbnb was founded in 2008. Uber is just 7 years old...

Every one of these businesses has transformed their industry. If just one of these firms were to appear on your resume, you are a hot property.

"Ah," you say, "but these firms are the survivors from hundreds of failed start-ups." This is irrelevant -- employers don’t hire people based on the financial results of their employers. They hire them because of their ideas, attitudes, skills, and experience.

2. Start-ups nearly always involve digital in some way.

If there is one word which is invaluable for just about any resume today in just about any sector, it’s ‘digital’.

The digital revolution lies at the heart of a transformation in jobs, greater than any change in the history of jobs. The digital revolution has democratized business in the same way that the telephone democratized communication and electricity democratized energy.

If you join a start-up, chances are that it will involve digital aspects from the very start, because it is the digital world which has made such things possible. Old businesses are struggling to migrate their analog business to the online world. New businesses build in digital capability right from the get-go.

So, you have a choice. Do you want to join the ranks of the disrupters, or the disrupted?

3. You’ll gain more experience in one year working in a start-up than three years in an established organization.

Start-ups don’t have lots of employees. Or departmental silos and communication barriers.

Everyone has to turn their hand to multiple tasks. It’s a fast moving environment. You are unlikely to be criticized if your work is less than perfect, because perfection isn’t the goal. Progress, deadlines and milestones are.

No-one ever gets bored in a start-up. And you’ll rack up valuable experiences that most likely you’d never have the chance to realize in an established business. Your resume will inflate with value faster than anywhere else.

4. You’ll be working with energized innovators not clones.

The startup environment attracts people who think and act differently to people in more established organizations. They must solve new problems daily, act fast, and keep within tight budgets.

This environment isn’t to everyone’s liking, but for those who can embrace it, it’s like the difference between being a regular trooper and a member of an elite special force. Resourcefulness, initiative and independent thinking are more valuable than routine and rules. Joe Cohen, founder of Seatwave says: "I want people who take the ball, run with it, and get sh*t done."

5. Getting hired by a start-up is often easier than joining a more established employer.

For the reasons described at the beginning of this post, many people are extremely wary of joining a start-up. Which in turn means the competition for these jobs is less intense, and the hiring processes are less rigorous -- start-ups do not have large and bureaucratic HR departments.

Bottom Line

None of the above means that you should jump at the next chance you get to join a start-up. All start-ups are not the same. And in the following posts, we’ll take a look at how to decide which start-ups are potential stars and which ones are lemons.

More Information About Startups


About the author...

Neil Patrick is a veteran of start-ups, having been a founding director of three start-ups to date including the largest venture capital backed start-up ever in the UK. He’s also a visiting lecturer on the MBA courses at Cardiff University Business School specializing in Entrepreneurship, Corporate Strategy and Marketing. He is a mentor for business start-ups at the Innovation Centre for Enterprise (ICE) in South Wales. He is also the Editor of a popular careers blog, 40pluscareerguru. You can follow him on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/neilrpatrick, on Twitter at @NewCareerGuru, and also on Google+.


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