So you want to work for a Startup… Part 1: Finding an Opportunity

So many people want to work for a startup or for an entrepreneurial organization.  I find that often times, these people see themselves playing ping pong during morning breaks and sipping from the local beer on tap during lunch.  While this may be true in some startups, it is not necessarily the norm, so how can you clarify your expectations and prepare to work for a startup or entrepreneurial organization.  Here are a few points to consider:

Understand that not all startups are the same and not all entrepreneurial organizations are small.

Just like life, you will find a vast variety in startup or entrepreneurial cultures.  Don’t approach this type of work as if there is a “one size fits all” version of a startup or entrepreneurial organization.  Do your research on each organization you are interested in.  What is their company culture like?  What is their history?  What major changes have they experienced over the past year?  What industry or industries do they serve?  Who currently works for the company?  What type of employee do they seem to be interested in? What is their mission and how to they embody that mission?  Only after answering some of these questions can you begin to make an informed decision about your desire to be a part of this organization.

Don’t just send in a resume or hope to meet this organization at a job fair.

Get out and do the legwork!  Go to events that may help you meet someone who works there.   Find out if they host any events that are open to the public.  Do you know anyone who currently works there?  Do you know anyone who is a customer of this organization?  Don’t sit back and hope that the opportunity presents itself to you…go out and create the opportunity to meet people from this organization.

Be prepared to both describe and prove what you bring to the table.

Entrepreneurial organizations don’t often care what courses you have taken.  They care about what skills you have learned to successfully apply to a variety of projects.  Don’t tell someone that you have graphic design skills unless you have portfolio pieces that you can show them to prove that you have this skill set.  If you tell someone that you are a great problem solver, also be able to show a few examples of problems that you have faced and how you successfully navigated a solution.  Have a portfolio, have a personal business card (more about this in a separate blog post!), know how to sell yourself!  Not generics such as “I have great leadership skills.”  Be specific by saying “I have a strong ability to influence others as a leader and here are two examples of how I have demonstrated this skill.”

Prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that you WANT this opportunity!

Be prepared, be knowledgeable, be excited.  Make eye contact, pay attention to the people that you are speaking with, don’t act distracted and certainly don’t check your phone or any other digital device during the conversations.  Always stay prepared with relevant company data or industry data to add to a conversation.  The bottom line is that you have to stay on your game.  You never know when you may get to interact with someone from this company, s you want to stay prepared.  Having said this, realize that you have to balance persistence and excitement with good, old fashioned common sense.  No one wants to hire someone who comes across as pushy, disrespectful or with borderline stalker tendencies!

Be patient.

Don’t accept an offer from just any old startup or entrepreneurial organization.  So often, students become so fearful that they aren’t going to find a job or internship, they jump on the first opportunity that presents itself.  Occasionally this works out, but more often than not, it results in a job match that is not optimal to your success.  Know that it is OK to say no to some opportunities.  If the job doesn’t put you in the type of culture that you are comfortable in or doesn’t have the potential to help you build the skills that you are hoping to develop, ask yourself why you are taking the job in the first place.  But also understand, that this option to say no must be balanced with the realization that few things in life will ever seem perfect.  You can’t say no to everything just because it is not the perfect example of what you were looking for.  Be clear and honest with yourself about what job criteria you are willing to be flexible on and which criteria are non-negotiable.

Finding an opportunity to work with a startup or other entrepreneurial organization is not impossible, but it typically doesn’t fall into your lap either.  Start planning your strategy now and then get your feet on the ground laying the groundwork for your future.

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