Many of the clients our team at Sunsoft works with to connect them to the best professionals tend to be startups. And many of the professionals who come to us to help them locate a job profile that suits their aptitude and qualification tend to actively seek employment with startups too. Having closely worked with both sides of the value chain for a long time now, we have realized that the startup environment requires a specific set of traits to succeed, which goes beyond qualification, hard work and dedication. 

We thought it would be a good idea to list some of the most important of these traits; this would not only help anyone seeking employment with a startup to manage their expectations more realistically, but also provide a guideline to better strategize their career growth once they do begin working with a startup. Some of these points would also be useful to professionals who have already been part of a startup culture for some time now.

  1. Do your homework – This one’s a tip for the interview stage. While closely studying the company you are interviewing with and being conscious of its products, value proposition and strategy is a necessary aspect for any interview process, it becomes even more crucial when interviewing with a startup. Expressing (genuine) passion for the startup’s product or service, having a clear idea of how you can help build the founders’ vision into reality and developing an understanding of that firm’s culture can go a long way in convincing your interviewers that you really are a good fit for the firm.
  2. Learn to embrace ambiguity – Through most of one’s educational and professional career, one gets used to well-defined roles, where responsibilities are clear and deliverables clearly stated. Startups seldom work within such clearly defined boundaries. Being willing to embrace ambiguity means that you can quickly adapt to changing requirements from your team or from your customer, without it causing any undue friction in your performance. 
  3. Take ownership – Work in startups typically involves small teams where hand-holding is impossible. You need to learn to swim at the deep end of the pool, look at things from the perspective of your founders and senior management, and work more smartly in order to add value to the team’s performance as a whole. 
  4. Be a problem solver – It’s great to be able to identify issues, of which there are going to be a lot of in a startup that’s finding its feet. But, it’s more useful if you can come up with solutions to these issues too. When you can let the company founder know that you found five things that needed improvement and were able to fix them, that’s a really powerful way to earn trust. And, well, it’s empowering too – there’s very little that can boost your confidence the way getting a job done that others had overlooked can.
  5. Roll up your sleeves – In a small team, you don’t have the luxury of separate members identified for every function. Your firm might not have an HR team to manage recruitment or sufficient support staff to book air tickets for your boss on his next trip. Being great at your own job is essential, but what makes you really valuable is that you are more concerned with things getting done, not so much with who does them. 
  6. Develop comfort with mistakes – It’s obvious by now that if you are working in an ambiguous environment, taking up great responsibilities and even volunteering for jobs that you aren’t specifically hired for, there will be mistakes. Many of them. The problem is not in making mistakes, as long as you are willing to learn from them; the problem is if these mistakes scare you enough to not try anything outside your comfort zone in the future. 
  7. Communicate – This is a particularly indispensable trait for a startup. To stay in sync with the requirements of your boss and the rest of the team, to get feedback on your performance, to learn from others and just to develop that camaraderie that keep you going through thick and thin, there is really no better way than to maintain regular communication. And this includes not just formal interaction in the office, but also trying to involve yourself with the occasional evening drinks that your office-mates might get together for. Nothing brings a team together more strongly than cribbing about that painful client over a few pints of beer!
  8. Find balance – You will typically be working longer, or at least more irregular, hours at a startup. And, given the responsibility per employee, any sick day will probably hurt your startup employer a lot more than if you were working with a huge firm. It becomes even more important, then, to find the right work-life balance to prevent a burnout and maintain your health. Try to spend some time every day in an activity of interest outside your work, indulge in some exercise if you have a sedentary job, just walk to that salad place a couple of blocks away for lunch instead of having another burger at your desk.
  9. Know when to say no – Taking up responsibilities is nice, knowing what you cannot do is better. Not everyone is built for every job, and even if you are one of those jacks of all trades who can get everything done, there is a limit to how much you can put on your plate without losing focus. If work starts piling up beyond control, be confident enough to say no. Similarly, if everyone else is staying back in the office beyond 7-8 pm, but you know that you have worked efficiently through the day and need a break, develop the confidence to leave. A negative attitude is bad, the ability to say no when you are faced with your boundaries is intelligent.
  10. Get paid for your work – No matter how passionate you are about the work you are doing, if you feel that you are not being paid enough for your effort, your interest will gradually waver. Startups can’t always match the pay you might get at an established firm in terms of money, but it should be in tune to some extent with industry standards. Plus, they do have the flexibility to offer perks, like working from home or paid leaves, which are tailored to your needs. If you have a concern about your remuneration, feel confident to bring it up politely with your boss.

In the end, every startup has its own specific character, which would always present an intellectual and emotional challenge to excel in. But, if you choose to work with a startup, you already know that – these challenges are what make the entire experience worth getting up every morning after all.