So, you want to work at a startup?

Let’s face it, not all of us are experts when it comes to startups. Most likely, you have heard that startups host a laid back company culture with a casual dress code, nice and modern offices, and a fridge full of beer. However, this is only a part of the truth, and before you take the plunge and apply for the startup job of your dreams, you should know the whole of it. In both good and bad.
The most important thing to know about startups is that, as Steve Blank has said, startups aren’t just smaller versions of bigger companies. Actually, startups differ from more corporate companies in almost every respect: funding, risks, growth, company culture and team dynamics, to name a few. Rather than companies, startups are hubs of creation, committed to developing one innovation, product or service from scratch to serve the big audience.
The most drastic contrast between a startup and a more established company is that everything happens faster in a startup. To get from a funding round to another, startups have to evolve quickly, which means going from innovation to execution at a fast pace. It is said, that startups are pressure cookers, a stressful and a harsh environment to work in, and that they often demand their employees to go the extra mile to get things done in time. So, if you’d prefer a stable 9-5 job, working at a startup might not be for you. However, if you crave for responsibility and are ready to invest yourself in the business, you should definitely try it out. It has also been said that startups are a much more rewarding working environment than bigger companies with more bureaucracy. In a smaller team, your hard work and successes will be noticed more easily. Also, you get more emotionally invested in the company and their product, which makes working for its success rewarding and meaningful.
Another noteworthy difference between a startup and a more corporate firm is that you’ll get far more responsibility at the former than the latter. This, again, has to do with the size of startups. To save money, startups try to hire as few people as possible, which leads to small teams and employees having to “wear many different hats”, working with many different tasks in many different fields of managing a company. As an intern at a big, bureaucratic company, you would most likely be working on a part of a project, as a part of a bigger team, whereas at a startup, you might be working on a project and be responsible for it all on your own. This usually means that you’ll have to work outside guidelines and make decisions yourself, and that your job description isn’t always set in stone.
So, startups aren’t just about drinking free beer in a hip downtown office with chill workmates (though this part of the company culture should never be underestimated). Working at a startup is hard work with swift schedules and small budgets, and startups demand more invested energy, more efficiency and more commitment than other companies. However, they also give you the best possible learning experience that you can get in an internship. Outside startups, it’s very rare to find as much both responsibility and freedom in entry-level roles. An internship at a startup is about throwing yourself into the deep end and learning how to swim as you go. It gives you a unique possibility for both professional and personal growth, and most importantly, it’s great fun.
Okay, now you know the truth about what working at a startup is like. Before you send in your application, though, it would be good to pay attention to one thing: startups also hire differently than more corporate companies. The thing is, every hire is a risk for a startup, and the smaller the budget and the team, the bigger the risk. When hiring, startups give a huge emphasis on “good fit”: they need to know that you have the skillset needed to complete the job description and the motivation to go above and beyond to learn more. To get the most out of your application, you need to showcase your talents and motivation, to quantify your previous experience and most importantly you need to show that you know the company and their product and that you’re wholeheartedly ready to do your part in improving and developing them.
Want to learn more about working at a startup? Want to get more advice on applying? Want to meet the people who have already been there and done that? Great! You are warmly welcome to Startup Life’s event “So, you want to work at a startup?” on 6th October at 5pm at Startup Sauna, in Otaniemi, Espoo!
Check the event on Facebook

Author of this post