So you want to work for a tech startup? It’s not all ping-pong tables and yoga

In the tech world, startups have an almost mythic appeal. But they’re far from perfect

People gathered around a startup plan

One of the beautiful things about working in tech is your skills are in demand everywhere. You can let your dreams define your career. It also affords you the ability to decide where you want to live and work and what kind of company you want to work for. 

There are plenty of corporate jobs out there for tech workers, but there’s a romanticized dream of working for a tech startup. While it may be a bit idealized, working for a startup has plenty of benefits. Here’s how you can land a job at a startup and what to expect once you get there.

How to land a job at a tech startup

Startups hire differently than larger, more established companies. Instead of hiring one part of a functioning machine that simply needs to come in and do its job, hiring at a startup is more like adding a player to a basketball team. The company needs someone who’ll work well with the rest of the team and bring the skills the business needs. 

Here are four ways you can get noticed and hired by the tech startup of your dreams.

Play to your biggest strength

You have your degree and maybe even some great experience but always highlight your greatest strength. 

Sure, you may be a skilled front-end developer, but you’ll want to express your knock for creating incredible user experiences using the latest technology. Or you could be a well-versed IT security analyst with though certifications to fill a resume, but you’ll want to highlight your nose for ferreting out vulnerabilities in a company’s network. 

Be specific and be honest. What is it about your profession that drives you, and what do you do better than others with the same background?

Show your complete skill set

Once you’ve showcased your biggest strength, it’s time to show that you’re more than a one-trick pony. Because startups are small and operate with fewer people than a more established company, each person must wear multiple hats. 

If you have multiple certifications or experience in several tech disciplines, make them stand out on your resume and in your cover letter. 

Speaking to your versatility tells the company that you not only have the education and skills but the willingness to be a team player and step outside of your box when needed. 

Make and use connections

Startups hire differently than large corporations. Startups often lack large HR departments, so executives or even the CEO or founder may do a lot of the hiring. They’re not looking for candidates who simply check the required boxes. Instead, they want people with the right skills, the right mindset, and who understand the company and culture.

These company leaders don’t necessarily have the time to dig deep into your personality, so personal referrals can be a big part of the process.

Head to Linkedin and check out the startup’s current staff. Are there any shared connections? If so, reach out to your shared contacts to talk about the company and position. You may find someone who can put in a good word for you.

The pros and cons of working at a tech startup

At first glance, startup life may seem like a lot of fun, as they give you room to spread your wings and the possibly of a big payoff someday. That can all be true, but it’s just one side of the equation, and not everyone is cut out for working at a tech startup. 

For every fantastic perk, there may be a significant downfall. Here’s a look at some of the pros and cons of working at a tech startup so you can decide for yourself if it’s the life for you.

Pros of working at a tech startup

  1. Unique culture: With a smaller team, startups often have a more personal culture. You’ll get to know just about everyone at the company and may have regular encounters with the CEO. If you like feeling like an essential part of a team, this kind of culture can benefit you.
  2. Perks: This is where the foosball table, work-from-home options, and free snack bar come in. Because startups don’t have hundreds of people to manage, it’s easier to provide some fun perks to make the daily grind less tedious. You may actually love going to work.
  3. Boost your resume: Unlike a corporate environment, which often gives to a well-defined job description, you’ll get plenty of opportunities to learn new skills and implement them at a startup. This is a great way to boost your resume and gain real-world experience that can help your career.
  4. Innovation: Tech startups are trying to build something new and innovating. Instead of making small improvements or maintaining the corporation’s status quo, a startup aims to create something world-changing. You get to be a part of that and spend time around cutting-edge thinkers. 
  5. Recognition: Because of the personal atmosphere, everyone will know what you do. So, if you’re successful, the company will recognize it and possibly reward you for it. And if you make a mistake, the team may be quick to rally around you and help find out where things went sideways instead of pointing fingers. 
  6. Unicorns: Some tech startups take hit it big — really big. A startup that reaches the $1 billion mark in value is called a unicorn, and there are just under 500 of these companies in the world today. If you get in on the ground floor of the next unicorn company, you could be in a great position to grow along with the company.

Cons of working at a tech startup

  1. Lower starting pay and benefits: Most startups operate on a tight budget and may not offer the same salary a corporation can. This can also impact benefits, including bonuses and insurance. Some startups use extended or flexible PTO policies to bridge the gap.
  2. Long hours: Working at a startup often isn’t your normal 8-5 gig. Projects, deadlines, and unforeseen emergencies often call for long hours, including nights, weekends, and even holidays.
  3. Constant change: By nature, a startup is still building its processes, meaning there’s often a lot of trial and error. Things change frequently and on the fly at a tech startup, requiring flexibility and agility on your end. 
  4. Dirty work: We mentioned working at a startup may require you to branch out from the duties typically associated with your job title. That can mean learning cool things, but it can also mean running errands, stuffing envelopes, or cleaning up around the office. If you view this work as beneath your status, you may not enjoy startup life.
  5. Here today, gone tomorrow: Job security is not a perk of the startup life. In reality, over 90% of startups fail, and only 50% of new businesses last five years. Startups are a gamble, and the odds are not in your favor.

Is a tech startup right for you?

If you’re still intrigued by the idea of working for a tech startup that could be the next Apple or SpaceX, do your homework. Research any startup you hope to work for to verify it’s a cultural fit, its prospects are good, and it has solid financial backing. 

The benefits of working at a startup can be amazing, but it’s not for everybody. If you value stability and routine, you may want to find something a little more established. But, if you’re ready to go all-in on an intense, exciting, and rewarding career, you may be the perfect fit for a tech startup. 

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