Want to Work for a Startup? 4 Skills You Need Now
There’s a middle ground, though: specific job skills that probably aren’t listed, but that will impact your success in any role. And this is especially true at startups, where having to pitch in for “other duties as assigned” is the rule, not the exception.
Regardless of your role and its requirements, here are four great skills to have that will make you better at almost any startup job.
1. Excel (or Google Spreadsheets)
Whether you’re on the engineering team or the support team, data should be guiding many of the decisions you make. It may not be sexy (or super fun), but knowing how to crunch numbers in Excel or Google Spreadsheets will come in handy over and over again. Want to ask for more engineering resources? Use data to show how an existing project is helping retain users or drive sign-ups. Trying to justify a larger budget for your department? Be ready to project what the larger budget will allow you to do.
Not every startup employee needs to be a quant, but knowing the basics of Excel will help you save time and make better and smarter decisions.
Wireframing gives designers and engineers something to work off of when building a new product—it’s the blueprint for what a new feature should look like and how it should act.
While most wireframes are put together by product managers and UX designers, they aren’t the only people who design products. Marketers, for example, create social referral programs, and customer service specialists design feedback experiences. Knowing how to use a service like Balsamiq can help non-designers better outline, convey, and communicate their ideas—and, as a result, make them easier to implement.
Almost everyone has seen lorum ipsum before, the Latin text you often see in mockups before final text has been written. At InstaEDU and most other startups of our size, two of us write the majority of the copy both on and off our site—which can be good, because it allows us to keep language and style consistent.
But just because you’re an engineer or designer and not a communications coordinator or content manager, doesn’t mean you should rely on placeholder copy when you’re building a product. Using real text can help guide a product in its inception phase. And, it forces you to design around text constraints. If you make up default text for every element on a given page, you may not realize you’re giving yourself two times as much space as is needed.
There are also places where it can be helpful to have the person who designed or built a feature write the final copy (troubleshooting guides, for example). Being able to do this yourself can help your work get out the door with few cycles.
Large tech companies have hundreds of employees dedicated to QA (quality assurance)—technical employees who help ensure that any new product or feature will work flawlessly when put in front of real users. But at small startups, QA engineers are few and far between; as a result, every team member should be ready to help with testing.
Being awesome at QA first and foremost takes a strict attention to detail. (Did this button look different on the previous page? Why are we capitalizing a call to action in one place and not the other? Something looks strange in Safari but not in Chrome.) You should also have an encyclopedic knowledge of how your product should work, so that you can easily identify if something isn’t quite right, and the ability to track and explain your steps through a product so another employee can reproduce any bugs you might find. In other words, skills and qualities that anyone, regardless of role, can develop.
There’s no one right way to build these skills, but they all can be learned by tackling real-life problems. If you’re already at a startup, volunteer to help another team. If you’re thinking about making a transition, see if you can help a friend with his or her website. The good news is that once you have the foundation of these skills, they’ll grow naturally over your career as you take on new challenges and contribute to your startup.
Alison Johnston Rue is the CEO and cofounder of InstaEDU, an online tutoring company that makes it possible for student to get high-quality, one-on-one academic support the moment they need it. Previously, Alison worked for several awesome technology companies, including Box, Aardvark, Nextdoor and Google. She loves to travel and has a disturbingly large collection of hot sauces.More from this Author