The skills a startup will give you that don’t fit nicely on a resume
Sometimes difficult to quantify, startup skills are in demand—especially if you want to take them to a larger corporation.
I worked for an early stage startup for a few years when I first moved to New York.
Professionally it changed everything for me. Seriously everything. How I approach my work, how I structure tasks, how I access the resources I need and how I allocate my time during my work day. It made me rethink what a manager should be and the type of company and culture I want to work for.
In the last few years I’ve taken my startup experience back into the corporate world. Most people go the other way—from corporate to a startup. I’ve now worked on both sides of the startup-corporate fence, if you like. Having done both, I increasingly notice just how attractive professionals with startup experience are to larger companies.
Corporations recognize professionals with startup experience come with a mentality, an energy and a different way of approaching problems. They desperately want the same for their own workforce.
If you’ve ever doubted whether startup experience is worthwhile, how it might fit into the context of your career overall or if you’re contemplating a startup-to-corporate move like I did, this post is for you. I’ve chosen to highlight four less obvious skills, ones that were compelling for me and the ones that might not translate well onto a resume. I’ve used each of these ideas successfully when pitching my startup skills during job interviews at larger corporations.
1. Startups train you to be extremely resourceful
Most startups, especially early-stage ones, run on very little money. They are usually lean shops forced to treat every penny like it’s their last. When I worked for a startup I became skilled at making every last dollar I had allocated to me stretch as far as possible.
Do more with less was exactly what I executed every day. It wasn’t a catch phrase I threw around because my manager cut my budget one day—it was oftentimes the grim daily reality of working for a lean company.
I was forced to make it work with whatever resources I had. I’d sit down at my laptop every day and think, “What can I do today to make the company money?” I was highly incentivized to make money so I could (hopefully) get my hands on more precious resources.
2. Startups teach you to anticipate and expect change
Startups make you skilled at dealing with ambiguity and being comfortable with the unknown. Most early-stage startups operate on the principle of iteration, that is, a process of adapting your product to suit the market and in response to feedback from your early adopters and customers. Change, and your ability to adapt to it, is a necessary constant in startup life.
Continuous changes to what you’re putting to market creates a workforce who learns to always anticipate, expect and even demand change. Contrast that to corporate culture where instigating change can have workers quivering in their cubicles and contemplating stress leave (trust me, I’ve seen it happen).
What I began to appreciate working for a startup was the uneasiness I felt when things were going well. When the company was coasting along and things were going swimmingly, instead of feeling great, it made me feel uneasy.
Fighting difficult battles and fixing complex problems was my normal. If I wasn’t doing that, I didn’t feel right. This is what I mean by startups training you to expect change. In the end I wanted change. I learned status quo wasn’t a time to relax—it was a time for the opposite.
3. Startups build your professional resilience
The nature of startups often goes something like this—the highs are really high and the lows are usually rock bottom. Like that one day I said “Yay! We’re partnering with Google!” Compared with another day where I said, “We have a serious cashflow problem right now. Not sure we afford the $20 every month for to pay for this”.
Startup roles are typically high in responsibility. I found myself in over my head, and often. I had to learn to wear lots of hats. I developed a toughness I never knew I had. I got comfortable with what I didn’t know. I plugged my knowledge gaps as best I could. I worked damn hard.
Ambiguity, not knowing what’s around the corner and constant change became a combustible fuel and motivator. That kind of toughness and grit builds a professional resilience the corporate world now sees as highly desirable within their own workforce.
4. Startups show you the value of community and a hyper-connected network
Those who work for startups better understand the power of their own networks. They are typically more willing to find, build and tap into emerging and supportive communities around them.
Working inside a startup exposed me to people, companies and industries outside of what I already knew. I became hyper-connected. My network swelled and it started to develop links within itself. The corporate world thinks differently and can be suspicious others—from the person in next cubicle to whatever their competitors might be planning.
Instead of congregating with other professionals just like me (what corporate culture taught me to do so well), working for a startup showed me the power of pushing my professional boundaries. Startups are usually small, the community they’re in is big and they are much more willing to support each other’s collective success.