How to be a Great Startup Employee and Make the Most of it

Nov 27, 2017

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You’ve found the company, you’ve found the job — but are you REALLY ready for the startup life? Doubt probably flutters up now and again, but the best thing about working for a startup is that most skills are actually acquired on the job.

Take confidence, for example. When you’re working in a team of 15 people, you’re given a huge amount of responsibility. Sometimes, your day-to-day is based purely on your capabilities. Other times … it’s more ‘trial and error.’ Regardless of the situation, you can take comfort in knowing that the company is growing at the same rate as you are. Confidence develops the more you have to undertake; unlike working for a multinational corporation, there’s a lot more room for growth within a startup.

Say you land a job in a PR role. That’s great — until you see your grand team of two. Two people. Handling the public, the press, and the partners working with your business. Two people to handle all the social media, the interviews, the events, the projects, the inquiries, the client discussions … seems like a lot, right? It IS a lot. But this role gives you such a huge opportunity to grow your network and collaborate with the industry’s finest. Plus, with only two people on the team, you know you’ll get the recognition and appreciation you deserve. It’s a great story for your CV: “ skills acquired — when life gives me lemons, I know how to make amazing lemonade.”

Your ability to work well in a startup is also defined by how quickly you think on your feet. Imagine being stuck in the office one Friday afternoon. You’re donning your favourite “TGIF” hoodie and sneakily checking Facebook before clocking out for the night — when there’s a knock at the door and 4 influential execs from Disney introduce themselves. They have a meeting scheduled with your CEO, but he’s not in the office. What do you do?
If you know how to plaster on a smile and stall until your boss arrives, you’ll do just fine in a startup. Being able to think fast is half the work.

And with “thinking fast” comes a huge degree of flexibility. Unlike a huge corporation, startups have a much, much faster completion rate. For example — writing press releases. In a larger company, there’s a lot of sign-off required. Sometimes it takes a long time to reach someone’s approval. Once they’ve agreed to your draft of the press release, there’s often a line of higher-ups you also need to run the content by. If they’re in different departments then your endeavour could take up half the morning. Whereas in a startup? Usually things get signed and approved on the spot, in less than a minute. Different departments aren’t an issue — you’ll usually work in the same space as ALL the sectors of the business. Need a designer’s input? Shout over your shoulder. Need to talk to the business team? Wave in their direction.

The flexibility of the company is also reflected in the work you do. You need to be just as adaptable, sometimes. On occasions you might have to wear multiple hats — the “engineer hat”, the “designer hat”, the “personal assistant hat” … In a larger company, this wouldn’t be the case. You’re judged on your merits and working strictly in your field. While this stability might be something you enjoy, the opportunity to try new things and pave your own path forward is a huge advantage, and one found mainly in startup culture. Maybe one day you find out you PREFER making ethernet cables to making sales calls. In a smaller company, that’s not a problem — a simple meeting with your boss can completely shift your career.

So the next time you find yourself doubting a startup career, remember — the majority of the learning process takes place on the job itself, and even a year’s work can provide more merit than several years at a larger but less agile business.

And now — to you!

Got any startup stories to share? Ever had to face a random, unexpected project? If so, what did you do? How did you handle it?

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