7 Ways Startup Recruiters Lie
Years ago, a friend observed the advertising industry would be best served by a truth translator. Agreed. Not to mention, inside the industry or not, we’re all advertisers. We are constantly communicating our worth or lack thereof via every single conversation, post, article, label, mere presence, or product itself. Frankly, most of us are but one nail away from the real estate industry, where cozy = tiny; charming = matchbox; fresh rustic scent = previous tenants had dogs; needs a little work = very possibly a hot mess of wall-to-wall green shag carpeting and cracked disco lights. That said, startup recruitment engages its own special brand of euphemasty. If you’re considering joining a startup, FOR THE LOVE OF WHATEVER’S SACRED TO YOU, READ THIS BEFORE COMMITTING TO ANYTHING.
1. Claim: We, like, literally, just launched this business.
Often accompanied by: tired sigh.
Translation: Look us up on Dunn & Bradstreet, Bloomberg, and in the state’s corporate records. If you don’t find us in the obvious state, check Delaware, Nevada, Wyoming, Florida, and other states easy on corporate fees and/or tax. If you still don’t find us, you probably don’t know our legal name. Find out and eventually you’ll discover we started this or other similar businesses a while back but didn’t think it was important to thoroughly research our competition, nail our differentiators, set up an accounting system, or do anything, really, to build a basic day-to-day operating structure beyond budgeting our overhead. Look, there’s no money in organizing and we’d rather spend the time and resources selling. Never mind we can’t deliver what we’re selling in any way that won’t physically and emotionally drain our employees and frustrate our customers.
On the other hand: Your research may conclude that the business is, in fact, a mere few months old, in which case, of course they’re tired. So far, so good; proceed with caution.
2. Claim: Ours is a revolutionary product/business.
Often accompanied by: exclamation points and/or manic face.
Translation: It was revolutionary…when the first person ever thought of anything at all like it. It’s not now. But we’re so invested that IT HAS TO FLY OR ELSE. Yay?
On the other hand: Actual revolutionary products and businesses have existed over time. The chance of this being one is extremely slim; but look into it. Ask around. Research. Maybe you hit the jackpot.
3. Claim: We have no competition.
Often accompanied by: arrogant wave of the hands, change of subject.
Translation: See above. Also, we’re narcissists.
On the other hand: Nothing. Everyone’s going after a population being incessantly sold something. So, even if it seems there is no direct competition, there are similar products or even dissimilar products selling into the same market and the company in question is competing for 4.5 undivided seconds of a buyer’s attention (good luck).
4. Claim: We don’t believe in titles or job descriptions.
Often accompanied by: Number 3 above.
Translation: Everyone has a public focus to their role but we have little or no human resource planning because that doesn’t directly bring revenue. Although our industry is not chaotic in the day to day, expect your priorities to routinely change on an hourly basis. You will never have a solid prediction of what’s actually expected of you and your coworkers, or when, so don’t plan to complete much. Actually, don’t plan on anything except change — the chaotic sort.
On the other hand: Perhaps you’re simply and validly expected to join in on the “all hands on deck” mentality when needed, which is not often, as inspired by natural disaster or other truly uncontrolled influence. Ask. Probe. This point is a telltale sign of organizational sanity and will make or break the quality of your working life and thus potentially your entire life.
5. Claim: We are a sales-driven business.
Often accompanied by: serious face and thoughtful nods around the room.
Translation: Any operational company not engaged in a sales-driven business is actually in full time R&D, a phase we left long ago. So we’ll just use this term as a false descriptor of organizational differentiation to emphasize the fact we’re money-motivated and expect you to be. Moreover, we’re disorganized in ways to be revealed like Chinese water torture followed by the crashing of several pianos and we’ve every intent of holding our disorganization and its liabilities against you the moment you walk in the door. How soon can you start?
On the other hand: No other hands. Run.
6. Claim: We’re looking for someone who can grow with us and have a real say in the business.
Often accompanied by: tentative delivery, shifting in seat, nervous smile.
Translation: You’ll be micromanaged and we’ll likely never trust you enough to let you do your job in full. It’s not you, it’s us.
On the other hand: If the role has been clearly and comparably described by the multiple people you’ve interviewed with, you’re offered a commensurate title, a decent salary and fair severance package, a piece of the company clearly laid out in writing as to all particulars, ample vacation time, and are asked to submit a 90-day plan which both parties expressly agree is at least mostly valid considering your limited information about the inner workings, chances are good you met someone suffering from a rash and that’s the worst of it…unless they’re hiding a card-carrying psychopath CEO or other highly influential senior executive whom you won’t meet until months later. Proceed with caution.
7. Claim: We are a passionate team with an entrepreneurial mindset.
Often accompanied by: other items on a list of work culture benefits.
Translation: You’ll receive work texts, emails, and phone calls at any hour, any day. You’ll be expected to answer them immediately and if you don’t, we’ll hold that against you.
On the other hand: This is okay if you are honestly over the moon about the product, business, teammates and compensation plan, and know how to set and communicate boundaries in such a way that doesn’t offend anyone or otherwise endanger your job. (Frankly, this is a good skill to have; perhaps this is your chance to hone it…just don’t forget to breathe.)
Bottom line, anyone with a decent imagination has a vision. Some people have skills. Some people have money. People with money have a way of attracting people with skills. Together they may or may not make a sane and profitable business. The faster we all wake up to the truth, the faster those who are guilty of euphemonstrosities will run out of places to hide. In the meantime, want more startup BS translations? Here’s a favorite collection.
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