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So You Want To Work At A Startup: How To Build An Impact-Driven Career

Being strategic about which jobs you say yes to is important for your well-being and happiness.

Courtesy of Jirapong Manustrong/Shutterstock
Courtesy of Jirapong Manustrong/Shutterstock

You are now venturing into the world, and if you are honest with yourself, you have a mix of trepidation and excitement. Hopefully good fortune shines your way, and you will be courted by many exciting firms that want to change the world.

Developments in artificial intelligence, blockchain, and other technological advances have had a profound impact on the world. We have experienced phenomenal advances in the healthcare, financial services, logistics, and automotive industries.

Some organizations have a better scorecard than others regarding culture and potential for advancement. No one really explains this to you when you are starting out your career. The immediate goal is to land a job.

Part and parcel of that motivation is to move out of your parent’s house. Who could blame you? After all, didn’t they raise you to be independent, make some mistakes, and be resilient?

As a full-time job candidate, it is nerve-wracking. You are competing with many highly-motivated and energetic peers. Giving consideration to what you are looking for from your boss, the culture, your team, and the actual role is important.

Except for a few internships and summer jobs, it is hard to articulate and truly know the right environment for you. As an intern, you may have been fortunate to have role models and a culture that was aligned with your values. If you didn’t, that too is helpful, as it reinforces what you don’t want.

For those of you in high-tech, this is a buyers market. You will have a heady experience being courted by many firms that all boast an innovative culture, entrepreneurial spirit, work-life balance, and lots of space to create and invent.

You must keep in mind and recognize what a startup company’s ultimate and singular intent is. That is, to develop a unique product with a tremendous value proposition that can scale. The penultimate goal is to be bought out.

Yes, you may be promised shares and a potential piece of the pie. Sounds enticing. Remember, for every successful product, there are more that fail. As well, those shares may take a lifetime to be realized. Will you and the original founders still be around?

So what should you do? Thankfully, the employer-employee paradigm has shifted. Previous generations complain that there isn’t any company loyalty. Why is that a bad thing?

No one looks to their employer any longer to be all things for a lifetime. If you pride yourself on being a change-maker, then the goal is to soak up many different experiences.

If your motivation is to continue to learn and add value to a fluid and ever-changing landscape, you do need to move every few years. You must be stretched and have an opportunity to work in different paradigms.

As you explore your options, make sure you engage in a few crucial steps to ensure that you have made the right choice.

  1. First, do you believe in the product that is being created? Do you see its inherent value, and does it excite you? If the answer is no, you will have a hard time engaging and being part of the company’s vision.
  2. Make sure you have researched the background of the company founders. What experiences, skills, and successes have they had? Most entrepreneurs pride themselves on being serial entrepreneurs. Did they scale their company, and was their offering truly unique in the marketplace?
  3. Engage with a cross section of company employees. Ask good questions. Probe not just for the great things about working there, but the downsides and what is missing.
  4. Meet with the founder or CEO and try to derive their leadership philosophy, mistakes they have made, and what is truly important to them relative to success of their team.
  5. Understand how much control and input you will have. If you want to make an impact, is there a place for your voice or will you be segregated to the rank-and-file, creating tedious spreadsheets?
  6. Find employees who have worked at your prospective employer. What do they have to say about the leadership and company culture? Why did they leave?
  7. Decide what is most important to you in your job. Probe for these variables. Not everybody is looking for the same things. These critical components need to be aligned with the firm’s offerings.
  8. The company’s reputation is crucial. Talk to people in the community. Go to industry events. What do others say about the firm and the senior leadership’s brand?

This sounds like a tall order. However, if your intent is to stay until you are no longer challenged, this due diligence is crucial.

Take your time and make sure you do the necessary homework. You want to create the best possible experience. Like it or not, most of your waking hours will be spent at work.

Your objective is to maximize your experience as leverage for your next role. Being strategic about your job search is the very best thing you can do.

Originally published on Ellevate.

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