How to Join a Start Up

Working at a startup

How to Join a Start Up

Joining a company in its infancy is such a romantic notion, it’s sometimes difficult to look at an opportunity objectively. The energy and passion surrounding startups is so profound it seems to draw us in from the promising recruiting post to the modern and loose vibe of the interview.  It used to be incredibly difficult to get in with a company just starting out, but with modern technology making entrepreneurship accessible to all, startup opportunities are springing up everywhere.

If you are in the job market and looking to play a vital role in a startup company, there are a few things you want to be aware of before you abandon your comfortable corporate position. Startups have always been high risk, but the risk has increased over the past two decades.  Before technology took business by storm, you usually had one of only two options when starting your own business.  The first was to be so successful in a prior venture or career you had the significant capital required to start a business.  The second way was to take your idea before a professional and objective third party, such as a bank or investor who would thoroughly vet your proposal before funding a venture.  Today, you can start a business for under $100. While this is fantastic for anyone who’s got a dream and $100, there is an added risk factor when it comes to job security within these passion filled startups. The responsibility lies with you, as the job seeker, to vet these companies for yourself.

The best way to minimize your risk when looking for an opportunity to join a start up is to vet the company you’d like to work for as an investor would.  Here are a few tips to help you better predict how risky joining a particular start up will be.

  1. Do your Pre-Interview Homework

When preparing for an interview with a company, it’s customary to research a company and become familiar with their mission, values, products, services, and accolades, but you’ve got to look a little deeper when it comes to start ups. Rather than just familiarizing yourself with a company’s mission and values, evaluate them to see if they are clear and have the makings of a successful brand.  When you research their services and products, also look at how customer reviews rate them.  What is public opinion?  How much social proof and fan base do they have in comparison to competitors? Is their fan base increasing over time or diminishing? Are they winning awards for innovation and quality? Essentially, does this company look like they are clear on who they are, where they are going, and do they have enough of the market and influencers coming with them on their journey?

  1. Know your terms before the interview

It’s easy to get swept up in the idea of making a difference and being one of the main players for the next Google startup. In fact, many an interviewee has walked out of an interview having accepted an offer for much less than they intended.  Startups have a remarkable ability to create buy in for their company and its needs.  The idea is everyone makes a sacrifice for the good of the business and that sacrifice is rewarded exponentially once the company takes off. That’s great in theory, but this future promise also needs to meet your current needs. In order to ensure you don’t agree to employment terms you can’t possibly or happily keep, make a list of bottom lines before heading into the interview.  Much like buying a car, it’s always smart to know the maximum you are willing to negotiate in order to reach an agreement.  This keeps you from making an emotional decision you may later regret.


  1. Ask Smart Interview Questions

Many interviewees hesitate to ask tough questions for fear of seeming too aggressive or impertinent.  But the truth is, start ups know how risky their offer is and they expect to get some hard questions.  More often than not, they’d rather have the opportunity to answer these questions than just have a candidate assume an unfavorable answer.  Ask how long this position has existed with this company. If this is not a new position, ask why the last person in this position left? Ask the interviewer what “success” looks like to them for this position. Ask them if they’ve felt successful in this area in the past? Ask how your performance will be evaluated? If they seem uncertain of their answers or are contradictory in them, they may have some growing to do as a company before they are ready to offer stability.  One of the biggest mistakes small businesses make is not knowing what they expect from their staff and therefore being unsatisfied with their work.  This can be incredibly frustrating for both employer and employee.  The goal here is to make sure that your work and the expectations set for you are fair and clear.  Listen for red flag phrases, such as “we’ve been through a few people and none of them get it”.

Another series of questions you want to ask is regards to their growth.  If this role is a new one, you need to understand how likely they are to be able to continue to fund that role.  Ask them what their revenue growth was last year and what their projections are for this year.  If the numbers sounds unlikely, they may be unable to keep you when they don’t hit their annual projection goals.

If you focus is on how to join a start up consider many other tips on our blog here!

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More information on this topic:

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