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Do you have the right personality to work for a startup?

Nov 23, 2017



In John Hughes’ 1985 classic The Breakfast Club, a group of people are defined by their boldest characteristics until we discover there’s much more to them after all…

A startup team is pretty similar. Some might assume they need a sceptic to identify problems, a cheerleader to celebrate the brand, and someone industrious and quiet to just get on with it. In reality, people are rarely that simple.

Rosie founder Nick Nickitas thinks choosing people with the right skills is the easy part, what’s tough is “finding people with the attitude, passion and endurance”. If you’re dead set on working with a startup, there’s no point forcing yourself to fit a mould so you can impress at interview, but these personality traits are going to be top of a startup founder’s list when they’re hiring.

Vocal when you need to be, but happy to be delegated to

Sitting around a conference table and being expected to give ideas, which everyone will then react to, is quite daunting. The best startups to work with accept ideas democratically and encourage the whole team to contribute, so if you’ve got some initial stage fright just remember everyone’s in the same boat.

Startups aren’t egalitarian utopias where everyone has their say all the time, so there are times when you need to just get on with it. Most startup founders trust their team (otherwise they wouldn’t be much of a team) and want them to push back when they feel it’s important, but they also have an unshakeable vision for where their company’s going and you’re a passenger.

You’re motivated and like to get on with it

A startup founder and their immediate team generally don’t have a lot of time for training, so they need to trust you to work things out for yourself pretty quickly. You’ll be a much more appealing hire if you can prove you have a history of motivating yourself, possibly in the form of past creative projects or a freelance portfolio.

Don’t confuse being motivated with being loudly assertive though. Quietly observing the office culture, noticing how other people communicate their ideas, and how they challenge them, can sometimes be the best introduction to a startup.

You don’t mind ‘mucking in’

When budgets are stretched and the team is small, many startups don’t have the luxury of outsourcing, and when they do they need to be strict with themselves. The average UK startup “spends £22,756 in its first year”, which includes legal costs, HR, accountancy and forming the company. Staff and product development costs are on top of that — it’s an expensive first year and investment is harder to find when you don’t have a product yet.

In the first few years of a startup’s life, everyone needs to get involved and ‘muck in’ together. There might not be enough budget to bring in a videographer, so you might find yourself holding the camera. There might not be anyone to step up and organise a launch event, so you could be raising your hand and adding ‘party planning’ to your LinkedIn skills.

You’ll have your particular expertise and skills, but many people’s roles in a young startup aren’t set in stone. Being flexible and willing to stretch yourself for the good of the whole team is something the founder will remember (and hopefully reward).

You’ve got your own startup dreams

This is unlikely to come up during your interview, in fact it might never feel like appropriate office conversation in earshot of your boss, but perceptive startup founders will be able to tell if you have dreams and plans of your own, and they’ll respect it too.

Having your own startup plans cooking is only natural when you want to work in a creative, inventive environment. It also demonstrates you’ve got your eye on the future, because startups aren’t the most stable employment environment. Pinterest, Optimizely, and Upstart were all founded by ex-Googlers, and pretty much every major startup you can think of has had good people jump ship for the sake of their own venture.

More interested in skipping the employee stage and going straight for founding your own startup? Find out when you should get started, what some famous founders think about the biggest challenges you’re likely to face, and if you have the right personality to be a startup founder.

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