Today is the new age of the entrepreneur, and I see an increasing number of new startups as the economy stabilizes. For new aspiring entrepreneurs, that’s the good news and the bad news, as it increases opportunities, but also increases the startup risk. Thus I often recommend taking a job in a startup first, to build connections and learn what you can, before stepping into the lead role.
Yet finding the right startup for your job interests and skills, or having them find you, is no small challenge. Startups generally don’t have the money or time for executive searches or large job boards, and many don’t even know what to look for. Other entrepreneurs don’t even realize that they badly need a co-founder or team leader who can complement their own skills.
Thus the burden is heavily on the job seeker to sell their value, and proactively find the roles that will get their entrepreneurial career off on the right foot. Here are my top ten tips to get the best ones interested in you, as well as deciding if the entrepreneurial fit is right for you:
1. Optimize visibility and image on the Internet.
No online presence these days may brand you as irrelevant, or not able or interested in contributing. A non-professional or negative image will likely eliminate you from consideration. How you manage your “personal brand” on the Internet is indicative of an ability to manage a startup brand later.
2. Extend network through startup organizations.
The more people you know in existing startups, and the more entrepreneurs who know you, the more likely you will be found as a candidate for the right jobs, and will recognize potential bad fits or low potential opportunities. Despite the Internet, networking is still a person-to-person activity.
3. Build a list of startups to begin marketing yourself.
If you wait for startups to find you, or limit your attention to posted job opportunities, you won’t convince anyone that you can be an entrepreneur. Demonstrate your communication skills and your marketing skills in researching opportunities to add value, and practice relationship building and closing.
4. Volunteer for temporary roles to get experience.
Practical job experience is often more valuable than academic training in the startup world. In addition, working with people already in the business gives you connections to others and insight into areas where you may need to update your portfolio. It also prevents a gap in your resume.
5. Be an expert on new markets and new startups.
Do your research on the top ten startups in your area of interest and be ready to best and worst attributes of each. Update yourself on their history, founder backgrounds, and competitors. With startups, the big picture understanding and value are more important than technical skill depth.
6. Adjust your lifestyle to work for equity value.
Whether you are working for a startup, or running your own, get prepared for living on Raman noodles, or depending on the support system of a spouse. Entrepreneurs are in it for the long-term payback, and have to be comfortable with the lifestyle constraints. Expecting a large salary won’t work.
7. Make a list of questions to validate viability.
You won’t help your image or your experience by joining a startup that quickly fails. Be prepared to ask some hard questions, including current traction, burn rate, and runway before the next cash infusion. These are questions you need to understand well for you own business.
8. Ask questions and do more listening than talking.
Practice active listening with advisors and startup founders. This is important for finding a startup job, and later when you have your own startup, it’s important for finding investors, business partners, and even customers. Practice exuding humility and confidence at the same time.
9. Be sensitive to culture and operating mode.
Look for a fit in long-term values and mode of operation, as well as what you wear to work or to an interview. It’s smart to visit the office before an interview, or talk informally to other employees to make sure you understand what is expected. T-shirts and beer are not the norm at every startup.
10. Sign up for some career coaching and auditing.
Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur, or even to work in the unstructured environment of a startup. There is no time like the present to take a hard look at your strengths, weaknesses, motivations, and aspirations. This life is too short to go to work every day stressed out and unfulfilled.
As an entrepreneur, or while working in a startup, only you are responsible for your career. You won’t find a fine-tuned human resources organization to pave the way for you, or protect you. If that frightens you, then I recommend the more traditional corporate career path.
Just remember that according to most surveys, entrepreneurs have more fun, and a higher probability of really changing the world. Use these tips to join the revolution.
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