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10 Things You Need to Know About Working for a Startup

Miriam Salpeter

Thinking of working for a startup? If you enjoy a fast-paced environment, the opportunity to make a real difference and welcome the chance to get a lot of experience in a quickly-changing environment, then it may be for you. Matt Mickiewicz co-founded a number of startups, including 99designs, Flippa and SitePoint. Currently, he is CEO and co-founder of Hired, a tech career marketplace with offices in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. Mickiewicz shares these tips if you want to work at a startup.

Before You Land the Job

1. There's no such thing as a standard startup interview. Mickiewicz suggests that applicants could expect anything from a quick phone call, lunch with a founder or a daylong series of meetings with half the members of the company. "Startup founders or managers often don't have a ton of experience with hiring, either, so be prepared to roll with the punches and respond to questions you may not have expected," he says.

2. Startups typically move quickly in the hiring process. You should prepare to move quickly if you want to land an offer. Mickiewicz says: "You just may be offered the job on the spot after your first in-person interview -- there's simply not a lot of red HR tape to cut through at most startups, as is the case in big companies." You don't need to accept an offer on the spot, but it's a good idea to do your due diligence in advance of the interview, so you'll know what you want to ask and you'll be as prepared as possible to entertain an offer.

3. Don't be surprised to be offered an audition as part of the interview. "You may be asked to do some actual work before getting an official offer, such as creating a 30-day plan for what you'd do in the role," Mickiewicz explains. While you may hesitate to provide expertise for free, this is not an unusual request, even in non-startup situations. Decide how important the job is to you and offer your best work if you want to land it.

4. Expect cultural fit to be an issue. Mickiewicz suggests showing your true colors. "It's just as important for you to know if you're a good match culturally as it is for the company to find out," he says. "Don't try too hard to impress with your brilliant skill set -- chances are good you already passed that test before you walked in the door." Instead, Mickiewicz suggests you be yourself and have a clear understanding of why you're a good fit.

The Work

5. Don't expect cushy compensation packages. You've heard about free food, gym memberships and other benefits, but Mickiewicz warns: "When it comes to your salary you may be asked to actually take a pay cut in exchange for equity. Founders often expect this, since it's a sign that you're buying into the mission and will be incentivized to work hard to help make the company's dream a reality." It's a trade-off you'll need to be willing to make and is a potential high-risk, high-reward gamble.

6. Onboarding isn't likely to be very formal. Mickiewicz's warns that your new employers may not have a lot of experience hiring, nor the resources to develop extensive onboarding procedures. "Big-company basics you used to take for granted are history," he says. "Be prepared to configure your new computer, purchase (and expense) your own software and learn the ropes on your own. If you can't be self sufficient, then startups aren't for you."

7. Expect long hours. Don't expect to run out the door at 5 p.m. each day. In a startup, everyone is expected to be fully invested in the work, and that could mean long hours and personal sacrifices. You'll be expected to respond to phone calls and emails during otherwise off hours. "In return, startups tend to be more flexible if you need to telecommute or take care of personal business with little warning," Mickiewicz says.

8. Prepare for volatility. Strategies and tactics may change at any time based on new information or advice, and plan to be available at a moment's notice.

9. It's not as laid back as you may think. Mickiewicz notes that startups are far from carefree, and the fast pace can result in a high-stress pressure cooker at times. While your colleagues may dress like they're ready for a day on the beach or a walk in the park, expect them to be very serious about their company's success.

10. Done is better than perfect. "Leave those perfectionistic tendencies at the door," Mickiewicz says. "Most of the time getting a project in front of your audience sooner rather than later is more important that making sure it's exactly what you'd initially envisioned." Nothing is set in stone, and products can be revised and improved as needed. Luckily, websites are easily updated to reflect changes and copy is easily edited. "As long as pushing it out as-is isn't detrimental to your brand, don't let one project bog you down in the quest for perfection," he says.

Miriam Salpeter, owner of Keppie Careers, is often quoted in major media outlets for her job search and social media expertise. Author of three books and a sought-after speaker and coach, she leverages her extensive background and successes to teach job seekers and entrepreneurs how to easily use social media marketing to accomplish their career and business goals. Salpeter also provides strategic advice and support regarding interviewing, résumé writing and personal branding.

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