4 Skills You'll Need to Work at a Startup (No Matter What Your Role)
You probably already know that working for a startup comes with a great deal of “other duties as assigned.” In other words, you won’t just be doing the role you were hired for—you may be pitching in on sales, marketing, copywriting, hiring, and snack-stocking (just to name a few).
Which means: It’s a good idea to pick up some skills that are outside of your current expertise—and show startup hiring managers that you’re a master of more than just your trade.
I sat down with the founders of Startup Institute, an eight-week program that helps people at any career stage gain the skills and networks they need for a startup job, to learn more about what you need in your professional toolkit. Here’s your recommended learning plan.
1. Technical Skills
This one probably doesn’t shock you, but if you aren’t comfortable digging into Excel, HTML, or a CMS, it’s time to get started. The vast majority of startups are built on and revolve around technology, so no matter what you were hired to do, you’re going to have to touch it at some point. At my company, for example, our director of marketing has created new email templates, and our editor coded up a page when she was looking for a new way to recruit writers. “We look for someone who has experience learning complex software,” agrees Elise James-Decruise, senior director and head of global training at MediaMath.
While you don’t have to enroll in a full-blown programming boot camp (unless, well, you want to get hired as a developer), you should brush up on a few technical concepts that interest you. Online courses are great places to start (here’s a comprehensive list of them). (Oh, and if you do decide you love what you learn? That’s good news for your job prospects: Engineers are the most in-demand people at startups now.)
2. Data Analysis
Another software you should get comfortable with: Google Analytics (or your company’s data analysis tool of choice). Startups don’t have a lot of time—or money—to waste, so making the best decisions possible is important whether you’re in customer service, sales, or marketing. Rowan Gormley, CEO of customer-funded winery NakedWines, said recently in Business News Daily that smart employers are looking for people who understand data and its value to a business. “Managers ... want the people who can look at a wall of data and say, ‘There’s one number here that matters,’” he says. “It takes a special kind of person to analyze [data], build a test plan, measure results and implement winning ideas.”
There are definitely online classes that can help you out in the data analysis department (check out Coursera or Lynda), but first, start thinking about what decisions you make in your current life that could be improved by more data on your customers, employees, sales, or any other useful metric. Next time you’re tempted to make a decision on a gut feeling, turn to data and see what you can learn.
3. Sales Chops
Especially in early stage startups, the whole team is fighting (on sometimes a daily basis) for the company to survive. So you’d better believe that you’ll be selling to anyone you come in contact with!
This is actually less about knowing the ins and outs of Salesforce or how to identify a prospect and more about how to communicate your company and its products in a clear, compelling way to a variety of different audiences. A great way to practice this? Start by refining your elevator pitch and looking for ways to “sell” yourself and your current company in your daily life. What parts of your background, job, or company seem to get people excited, and which make their eyes glaze over? Continue honing in on what works—and what doesn’t—until you’re confident in your pitch.
4. Emotional Intelligence
“Emotional intelligence is the ‘something’ in each of us that is a bit intangible,” writes Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and president at TalentSmart, recently for Entrepreneur. “It affects how we manage behavior, navigate social complexities, and make personal decisions that achieve positive results.”
While this one might never be a skill you’d put on your resume, it’s something to develop the way you would any of the other skills on this list. “We’ve heard again and again from our partner companies that emotional intelligence is, for many, even more critical than technical skills in new hires,” says Startup Institute co-founder and NYC program director Shaun Johnson. “Furthermore, emotional intelligence is shown to link to long-term career success and increased gross salary.”
How do you improve upon it? Psychology Today offers six suggestions, including learning how to reduce your negative emotions, manage stress, be more assertive, stay proactive, bounce back during adversity, and express intimate emotions in close personal relationships. In a nutshell, improving your EI is all about paying closer attention to the emotions of yourself and others, especially during intense or tough times.
Yes, when you’re interviewing with a startup (or for any other job), you’re going to want to focus on the main skills you bring to the table—the things you’ve spent your career mastering. But, as we’ve heard time and time again, that’s not what really matters most to startups. What really excites them is having a willingness to jump in and do whatever needs to be done and a real passion for the company.
So, while learning these skills will definitely help you out in a startup job, the key benefit to taking time out of your schedule to work on them is in showing founders and hiring managers that you’re excited, ready, and cut out for startup life.
Why not take the first step today?
Photo of puzzle pieces courtesy of Shutterstock.
Sponsored by Startup Institute
Startup Institute delivers immersive education for the innovation economy. Its 8-week program gives you the skills, mindset, and network to get a job at a startup and thrive in your new career. Learn more at startupinstitute.com.
Adrian Granzella Larssen is the editor-in-chief of The Daily Muse, the award-winning daily career advice publication that's helped millions of people find and succeed at their dream jobs. A nationally recognized career expert, she speaks regularly to corporations and women's groups and has been featured in Forbes, Mashable, Business Insider, Fusion TV, and Real Simple. She has 10+ years experience in strategic communications and publications, most recently serving as head of online communications for the George Washington University Medical Center. Say hi on Twitter and Instagram.More from this Author