10 Traits of an Ideal Startup Employee
Entrepreneurial activity in the U.S. has expanded beyond that of the dot-com bubble 15 years ago, according to the Kaufman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity (KIEA). Funding for early-stage ventures is plentiful, accelerators are popping up all over, and tech startups from coast to coast are hiring.
If the chance to get in on the ground floor of the next Facebook or Google sounds tempting, you need to consider whether you have what it takes to succeed in an entrepreneurial environment. A startup culture isn’t for everyone: Some people feel overwhelmed by the diverse demands, breakneck pace, and lack of structure.
Before you submit your resume, take a moment to compare your assets to these must-have traits:
Startups encounter numerous obstacles and roadblocks, according to Scott Dunlop, veteran of three tech startups and founder of The Bivium Group, a technology staffing firm based in Belmont, Mass.
“You can’t give up easily or get discouraged,” he says. “You have to keep looking for answers and solutions to problems, even when the road gets rocky.”
Startup employees can’t wait around for direction—they have to take the initiative, says Tim Olesnavage, manager of Tech Recruiting for the Los Angeles office of Talener, a technical staffing firm. They need to be doers: people who act first and ask questions later.
You can’t throw money at a problem when you work for a startup. You have to work through technical issues and develop ingenious solutions that won’t break the bank.
Although startups need feedback from customers and prospects, you can’t take all of their suggestions. Developers have to filter the information they receive and resist the urge to go off on a tangent. Great startup employees focus on activities that generate revenue or reduce costs, and disregard everything else.
Doing just enough to keep your job won’t cut it at a startup. Entrepreneurial environments demand ambition and motivation that comes from within, not a paycheck.
Working 12-hour days can get old fast if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing. Yes, the pay at a startup can be good and IT professionals typically receive equity, but the team is united and motivated by a shared vision.
When you work for a startup, it’s not enough to be the smartest person in the room: you have to be personable. As colleagues become your extended family, and socialization extends after-hours, you need to be well rounded and fit in.
“Startups tend to have close quarters and tight-knit teams,” says Dunlop. “That’s why they frequently have ‘no jerks or prima donnas’ policies.”
There are lots of places to work if you want to stay in your cubicle and write great code. Unfortunately, a startup isn’t one of them.
“There’s no ‘my way or the highway’ when making decisions,” Dunlop notes. “You have to solicit opinions from your teammates, communicate constantly, and play nice in the sandbox.”
You can’t be a front-end GUI guy or a back-end database guy. At a startup, you have to code, test, architect and interface with the initial customers. If you want a specialized role, work for an established corporation that has a substantial infrastructure.
Startups need people with up-to-date tech skills, so they look for open-source contributors who post projects on GitHub and collaborate with other developers.
“You have to be a die-hard techie and an eager learner to work at a startup,” says Alex Shaw, a Los Angeles-based executive recruiter at recruiting firm FILD.
Plus, being a willing contributor and mentor demonstrates teamwork, selflessness and an insatiable passion for technology: all traits just as valuable as technical skills when you work for a startup.
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