person in informational interview
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Maybe you have a friend who works at a startup and their job intrigues you (there are only 30 employees? What’s that like?). Or, you came across an article on a company that just got funding and is hiring like crazy. Or, you’re about to join the workforce and decided that the startup culture appeals to you more so than corporate life.

Hey, that’s great! Clearly you have an idea of the kind of work environment you want to be in—now it’s a matter of actually landing a job you’re excited about at a company you like.

The thing is, navigating the startup space—just as you would any job opportunity—requires you to keep a few things in mind.

1. What Kind of Role Is Right for You?

So, you know you want to work at a startup, but you’re not entirely sure what you want to do at one. Really, the only thing you can rule out is engineering, because those skills certainly aren’t in your own toolbox.

It’s OK to want to join a company for the sake of the company, but if you want to be happy long-term you do have to find a role that’s actually a good fit, too.

This is where you have to do a bit of research. Schedule informational interviews with startup employees who seem interesting. Do a bit of online stalking—on social media, on their website, via blogs, even on The Muse’s company profiles—to figure out what the day-to-day is like in certain positions. Carefully read through job descriptions to see what you’d enjoy doing (and what you wouldn’t). Maybe even hire a career coach.

You also have to realize that what’s listed is never the whole picture. This means that your role is highly prone to shifting, depending on the company’s goals and resources, and may require you to take on assignments or pick up skills outside your normal responsibilities.

And that brings me to:

2. Do You Have Startup Skills?

The next thing you need to figure out is: Do you have skills beyond the role requirements?

After all, you’ll most likely be joining a small team with limited resources. Anything you can accomplish on your own (without the help of an engineer, designer, copywriter, and so on) makes you that much more appealing to hiring managers.

In addition, working at a startup also tends to require long hours, a bit of innovation, and the ability to wear multiple hats.

Skills that get hiring managers excited include:

  • Resourcefulness
  • Flexibility
  • Ability to change direction quickly
  • Accountability
  • Work ethic
  • Passion for trying new things and taking on new challenges

It’s important to ask yourself if you have these skills (or want to practice them more). Because if you don’t, you might not thrive in a startup environment.

Every startup is different. Contrary to popular belief, not every single one has a ping-pong table or flexible hours.

How do you find the right startup for you? Ask the right questions, get in touch with current and former employees, and read reviews. Also, use your time in the office (before an interview, for example) to evaluate the situation—and look at the people, not just the “cool” stuff the office has to offer. Do people look engaged and happy to be there?

There are some benefits and downsides to working at a startup that are consistent across the board and worth noting. The benefits include gaining experience into the workings of how a company is established, having more say and less hoops to jump through to get things done, exposure to more senior-level execs, a small, tight-knit team, and the ability to build something from the ground up. The downsides include not having guaranteed job stability, less structure, fewer resources and perks, and more systems and spaces to outgrow and rethink.

The reality of all this is that startup life isn’t for everyone, and you should know whether it’s a fit before committing to a job completely.