Startup Tanked? How to Plan for Your Next Act


People in startups don’t talk about it very much, but we all know new companies sometimes fail. They might run out of money, or suffer from the defection of a key business partner, or succumb to any one of the hazards startups face as they navigate the treacherous path from product concept to market success.

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If you’ve worked for a company that didn’t make it, how do you explain the situation to prospective employers? Are you at a disadvantage because you happened to be involved with a firm that failed?

The short answer: No.

If you’re company fails, the key thing is to move on quickly, says Dana Manciagli, a Seattle-based career coach and author of Cut the Crap, Get a Job! The longer you’re out of the market, the harder it will be to find a new position.

A key thing to remember is that many companies value the experience working at a smaller startup can bring, she says. They appreciate technology professionals who haven’t been siloed off in a department or division. Also, your experience at a startup allows you to emphasize your direct contribution to the bottom line.

Be Proactive

When job hunting, it’s important to be organized and proactive. “You are probably a great project manager in your day job,” notes Manciagli. “Then how come all of those skills are tossed aside during your search?”

Of course, one of the first things you want to do is update your credentials. When you do, remember we’re talking about more than your resume. Check out your social media presence and update your profiles and photos. Amp up your networking efforts by getting personal business cards and taking them to industry events and meetups. And be ready to answer the question, “What kind of job are you looking for?”

Know What to Say

When it comes to discussing your old company, focus on the positives and what you learned and accomplished there. Those are the things prospective employers care about, says John Vandersande, principal consultant in the Software Technology Search division of recruiter WinterWyman.

“Competition for talent is steep, so prospective employers should be less interested in your prior employer going belly up,” Vandersande says. Be prepared to recount what happened, but rehearse it in advance and don’t harp on it. If the company found itself in a down market and couldn’t raise its next round of funding, for instance, just state it simply.

Vandersande suggests practicing for interviews, especially if you’re used to sitting in front of a computer all day and your communication skills are a bit rusty. And bear in mind: If recruiters and hiring managers are impressed with your skills and experience, any issues surrounding your previous employer’s fate will be minimal.

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