Startups deliver a dynamic work experience
Startup companies can be exhilarating, innovative work
environments for the right type of person. Employees often
juggle many responsibilities, and companies can change
direction quickly. Some people will thrive under such
conditions, while others will be frustrated. Doing an honest
self-assessment and a little research can help determine if
you’re startup material.
“If you’re a creature of challenge, ambiguity, and chaos, a startup might be right for you,” says Rhett Weiss, executive director of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute and senior lecturer of management at Johnson.
Are You Startup Material?
Before considering a position with a startup, do a thorough self-evaluation.
Lynne Allen, Johnson’s Executive MBA and alumni career advisor,
urges job hunters to assess their “workplace values” and list what they
liked or loathed about previous jobs. “Determine what culture you have
previously been most comfortable in,” Allen says. If you value flexibility
and informal structure, then a startup could be a good fit.
Talk to people who work at startups, advises Laurie Sedgwick, senior associate director in Johnson’s Career Management Center. Ask about their work environments, what they do and don’t enjoy, and how they see the benefits and risks of working for a fledgling company.
Biggest Benefit: Professional Development
A major benefit to working for startups, veterans say, is that they offer
unrivaled professional development. Because most startups operate with
small teams, employees often have direct contact with top executives
and investors. “You will get a much broader exposure to the business as
a whole, and as much responsibility as you can handle and are willing
to take on,” says Steve Gal ’88, visiting associate professor of clinical
With a small staff as a given, a startup relies on every person to pitch in, says Steve Kropper, MBA ’86, CEO and co-founder of Windpole Ventures. “A good startup will give a new MBA experience in everything from pitching investors to cleaning the white board in first 6 months,” he says. “You typically don’t get that breadth of responsibility at a large corporation.”
A perceived risk of working for a startup is job instability, but Weiss says that is an unfair assumption. Large companies, he notes, can lay off workers or slash salaries. At a well-funded startup, he says, employees may be more insulated because staffs tend to be small and expenses are tightly controlled. To evaluate a company’s financial stability, Gal advises looking for a company that is venture-funded or has raised money in the last two years.
Job Hunting, Startup Style
Landing a job with a startup takes creativity and communication. You
can identify possible contacts by scouring Johnson’s alumni database,
JConnect, and Cornell alumni lists, as well as LinkedIn, Allen says. At
conferences and events, make a point of speaking to a lot of people,
ask for the attendance list, and follow up. Family, friends, and former
co-workers may also have connections in your industry.
Emailing is not enough, Allen says. Arrange phone calls, Skype chats and, whenever possible, face-to-face meetings. Introduce yourself, explain your interests, and ask about your new contact’s experience. Then, stay in touch by emailing every 6 to 8 weeks. Even if that person is not hiring, Allen says, he or she might suggest another company, website, or contact.
When you land an interview, be ready to discuss the business and show how you can help it grow, Gal advises. Do extensive research on the company, its market, competitors, and customers. Gal says the best applicants are so prepared that they call 10 to 20 potential customers.
In addition, candidates should promote their adaptability. Startups need versatile employees to help them grow, so promote your willingness to pitch in. As Weiss puts it: “Either you’ve done it before or you’re willing to do it.”