Should I Work for a Startup Company?

By Matt Cynamon

Working for a startup company can be one of the most challenging, exhilarating, sometimes heartbreaking, and oftentimes fulfilling journeys of your life. But if you’re serious about dipping your toes into the world of startups, it’s important that you hear some real talk before you start sending out resumes.

Working at a startup is not just a career. It’s a lifestyle.

Working at a startup can be an all-encompassing experience in which many people often devote their entire selves to the larger mission of the company. After a few months you may find that you’re giving elevator pitches on first dates when someone asks you tell them about yourself. Now, for the most part, it’s a special feeling to be so bought into your job that you lose track of where your company ends and you begin. But some of this newfound commitment is born out of necessity.

At an early-stage startup, survival of the company is not guaranteed. If the company isn’t growing at an exponential rate, then oftentimes it goes out of business or won’t be able to secure that next round of funding. It’s incredibly exciting because you will work harder than you ever have, hand in hand with people who will likely become some of your closest friends. But the pressure and responsibility is enormous. Before you start applying, make sure you’re ready for the challenge.

Every startup is different.

Saying “I want to work at a startup” is kind of like saying “I want to live in a city.” Sure, New Orleans and Kansas City have a lot in common, but there’s just as much, if not more, that makes them different. Startups vary in industry, size, amount of funding, values, priorities, work-life balance, and culture. Each of these components has a major impact on what your experience will be working at company, as well as interviewing there. The best way to differentiate one company from the next is to talk to the people who work there. If that option isn’t available to you, check out its company profile on The Muse. Things to watch out for are work-life balance, compensation, how goals and objectives are set, and what the founders value.

It’s important to remember that you’ll be joining a small organization, and as a result, each new addition impacts the collective culture more than they would in a larger, older company. Aligning with the people in the room will be far more important for sussing out whether a startup is for you than some of the traditional trappings like a ping-pong table, 24/7 keg, or working remotely.

There are no universal golden rules.

HR team? Internal recruiters? Formal hiring processes? Maybe. But chances are, the person who’s interviewing you may be the same person you’re working for. They may have hired someone before, they may not have. It’s entirely likely that you can interview for different jobs at the same company and be offered a role you didn’t even know you were a candidate for. As a result, there truly are no golden rules to getting hired at a startup.

There may be some trial and error, some failure, and a lot of confusion — and that’s OK! If you find yourself seeing a lot of rejection when you’re on the job hunt, the best thing you can do for yourself is be diligent in understanding why, and at what points, you aren’t getting the results you desire.

How to Break In to the Startup World

If you’re reading this, you probably want in — for your career, for your spirit, for your future. But wanting in and breaking in to this competitive industry are two different things. Landing an opportunity at a startup is about more than luck. There are terms to learn, steps to take, and skills to grow to make you a candidate who stands out from the crowd.

In our eBook How to Get a Job at a Startup, discover firsthand tips on how to break into a startup career, clear up confusing industry jargon, and learn about important resources that will aid you on your journey. You’ll get a concise how-to guide for landing your dream job at a startup, through the knowledge of startup job-hunters, founders, and employers

General Assembly believes that everyone should be empowered to pursue work they love. We hope you’ll find this book to be a helpful first step in getting there yourself.

Ready to pursue a career in startups?

Learn how to start your journey in our exclusive guide.