Pooja, Former consultant
Current NYC General Manager for Luxe
1. "At the end of the interview the very best candidates hand over a 3 or 4 page deck on what they’d improve about our company. That really helps them knock it out of the park."
When working in a startup environment, it’s not enough to just clock in and clock out of your job. People at startups aren’t content with the status quo. In order to dominate industries, startups need to iterate quickly, and startup teams need to be engaged in their work. If you’re interviewing with a startup, there’s no better way to show this initiative than by preparing solutions to problems you’d like to see fixed.
2. “You can write a strategy sure, but can you get things done?”
At more corporate companies, junior analysts spend a lot of time sending their work up the ladder for approval. Turnaround time could be weeks or months before a project rolls out and oftentimes the analyst is left strategizing about theoretical situations. At a startup it’s not enough to deal in “what ifs.” If you want to be seen as a valuable addition to a startup’s team, you need to be able to focus on ground-floor operational issues not necessarily related to “strategy.”
3. “You’re always going to be hit with things that pop up spur of the moment. You need to get real good at devising solutions that you could actually manage. At a startup you don’t have as much of the analysis paralysis that happens in banking, law, or consulting. There’s honestly no time. Sometimes you need to make snap decisions in order to execute.”
In the corporate world, there’s a distinct hierarchy which provides a safety net for the newer hires. Startups, on the other hand, present employees with a serious “the buck stops here” scenario. You’re thrown into the deep end without even learning how to swim. There’s no time to sit and ponder a million options when your company’s looking to double and triple in size. It’s vital to take initiative, know which questions to ask, and most of all learn to execute independently.
4. “The difference between being a consultant and working at a startup? Before I used to count my hours and bill them. Now? I just work.”
At a startup there’s no such thing as being on the clock. You’re not just working for a paycheck. Instead you’re showing up to the office (or co-working space, or founder’s apartment) each and every day so that you can build a business from the ground up.
Greg, Former paralegal
Current Jack of All Trades at Mighty
5. “When I was looking for a job I had very few criteria. I was looking to get into the startup world and just went with the flow.”
When you’re switching careers it’s important to keep an open mind. If you go into your startup job hunt looking for one specific position, at one specifically-sized company, in one specific industry, you’re never going to make the switch. Instead apply to companies that seem cool even if the job isn’t perfect, and apply to jobs that seem exciting even if the company isn’t exactly what you envisioned. You’ll thank yourself later.
6. “Can you speak about something you’re passionate about? If I see on your resume that you’re into board games and I ask you which ones you like are you going to stare at me blankly?”
If you’re not excited about your company’s mission, you’re probably not going to have much luck at a startup. Hiring managers know candidates who are passionate about a hobby in their personal lives are usually able to bring that passion over to their jobs as well. Every interview question is a chance for you to show how you’re the most passionate candidate for the job -- even if a hiring manager’s asking you about board games.
7. “Working at a startup is great. It allows you so much freedom to actually influence where the company goes as a business. I can present my ideas directly to our co-founders and then everyone debates and the most effective idea wins out. The only thing that really matters is making this company the best it could possibly be.”
Startups hire folks who can make a lasting impact to the company, today, tomorrow, and five years in the future. It’s important to show that you can engage with your teammates on a critical and collaborative level. If there’s a better idea out there you have to be okay with putting your ego aside and letting your idea lose. Being at a startup is a team sport -- it’s much more like soccer than boxing.
8. “Biggest piece of advice? Hustle. When you’re on the job, process your goals and execute. Don’t worry so much about the outcome. Once you’re at the job too, you gotta keep hustling. Hustle to get there. Hustle when you’re there.”
This one’s pretty self explanatory. The startup life is all about hustle. Hustle, hustle, hustle. On the interview you need to make it clear that you’re the hardest working candidate who will deliver most consistently, but talk is cheap, especially at a startup. Once you get the job it’s vital that you actually keep your promise and give it your all.
David, Former investment banker
Current Business Operations Analyst at Onefinestay
9. “After you have 3, 4, or 5 phone screens you start to gauge what sort of things people care about. No one interviewing me for a startup job cared how big our M&A deal was. They cared more about what I was doing...Working on a $50B M&A deal doesn’t mean anything to anyone at a startup.”
When you’re pivoting careers, it’s super important to communicate how your experiences are transferable. That means knowing what to emphasize and knowing what to gloss over. Executing on projects, dealing with clients, and looking at problems analytically are much more indicative of your value at a startup than typical banking metrics.
10. “On interviews I’d always make sure to ask ‘How many people that were here a year ago are still here?"
David asked interviewers this question because it indicated how happy employees were and whether or not the business was in a good place. Smart and talented people don’t stay at companies that are going nowhere fast.
11. “At startups you’re managing your own time. At a bank your boss might tell you to finish a deck by 4pm when he won’t even be able to look at it until 10pm, leaving you up until 3am printing the thing.”
This reiterates Pooja’s earlier point that startups are not based around hierarchies. They’re relatively flat structures where even entry-level employees have A LOT of responsibility. Oftentimes the people above you have even more on their plates and can’t afford to micromanage. They need to just trust that you can get things done independently. At a startup, you need to manage your own deadlines and projects, even if no one’s around to tell you how or when.
12. “My biggest piece of advice? Don’t wait. A lot of people in banking make excuses. Just go to interviews and have an open mind. It’s okay if you join a company in the wrong role to get you closer to the right place. Don’t wait for the exact fit in every single way. If you keep waiting and waiting you’re just going to spend another year and a half of your life as a banker. That being said don’t sell yourself short either. Find a balance between having an open mind and not selling yourself short. Most of all, put your pride aside and be ready to execute on your ideas.”
If you’re interested in making the jump to the startup world the time is now. Not yesterday, not tomorrow, not a year from now. Right this second. The specific title and responsibilities listed on the job description don’t matter as much as what you’ll inevitably learn at an early stage company. However, the longer you wait to put your hat in the ring, the harder it’ll be to make the switch.
As you can tell from our panelists, there’s lots of ways to pivot your career into the startup world -- especially if you’re transitioning from traditionally corporate backgrounds like banking, consulting, or law. Each of these industries require employees to think critically, engage people, and manage projects to completion -- skills that are vital to a startup’s success.
While it may seem difficult to break away from your old career tracks, startups are always looking for passionate team players who can bring new perspectives to old challenges. If you feel like you’re stagnating at your current job or want to pump energy into your career, take the plunge and try your hand at breaking into startups.