5 things to keep in mind when looking for a startup job

by Jess Ryan
May 31, 2016

Whether you’ve just graduated, are looking to change careers or you’re simply curious about why you’ve heard so much talk of startups lately, the startup world may seem exhilarating to you — or it may seem totally bizarre.

From the crazy perks to some of the more challenging aspects of working for a startup, it can be hard to determine whether it’s really the right environment for you. We spoke with three Colorado startups to find out what “startup life” means at their company, and what you should consider when deciding to apply for a startup job.


Hard work

Startups often get a bad rap for being full of people who don’t care about the work they do. For many, though, that isn’t true: “Digabit has many employees from the Millennial generation who devote long hours to critical projects and really care about contributing to our company's big-picture success,” said Ashley Martinez, Talent Acquisition manager for Digabit.

With that being said, hard work is critical at a startup — especially at one experiencing high growth or just getting started. “Not everyone is equipped or designed for a fast-moving, somewhat ambiguous atmosphere, and that's what's important to recognize as a candidate potentially looking into a job at a startup,” said Lauren Arensdorf, Manager of People & Culture for Parkifi.

Candidates should consider their preferences for a workplace pace before applying to a startup.


Dylan Etkin, Senior Software Engineer for StatusPage.io said candidates should be aware of the basic difference between startups and the corporate world, like a more flexible and less structured environment, and less certainty overall. Arensdorf emphasized the importance of flexibility: “Anyone who wants to work at a startup needs to be willing to change their mindset, their tasks, their way of thinking, on a dime,” she said.

Team structure

Startups generally have less hierarchy than large, corporate companies — like at Digabit, where any employee can approach any member of the executive team to ask questions or make suggestions for improvement. They’re also often structured around transparency. At StatusPage.io, engineers and sales alike have access to the company’s financials, and they do demos every week where anyone can show the rest of the team what they've been working on and get feedback.

This structure typically gives employees more autonomy and responsibility, but it can make personality clashes more apparent. “Most startups are going to be on the smaller side where one person with a bad attitude or a bad fit can have a strong effect on the rest of the team,” said Etkin. “So it's incredibly important to find people who are equally excited about the company and can work together comfortably.”

Multiple skills

“In a small team with a fast-growing company and product, there are going to be new things popping up everyday that don't necessarily fall cleanly into one particular role,” said Etkin.

That requires the notorious “wearing of many hats,” where employees will need to have everything from leadership skills and the ability to talk about their company with PR-like levels of pizazz to helping plan events and making grocery runs.

Knowing the company inside and out comes with some great value, too. “You have a say of where the company is going and you can influence that, which is pretty cool,” said Martinez.

Time management

Startup life has a reputation for being all about long, grueling hours — and, while some of that reputation is well-earned, spending a lot of time at the office keg doesn’t help, either. “If you’re not comfortable managing yourself and your time, a startup is probably not the best fit,” said Martinez.


Now that you know what to consider when looking at a startup, how can you find out whether a particular company is right for you? Ask them. Send an email before you apply or save the questions for the interview process.

“I'd suggest asking the company what their goals are, where they see themselves a year from now, what internal and external communication processes look like, if they value transparency from management down and if they value autonomy but also offer support,” said Arensdorf.

Every company takes its own approach to creating company culture, so it’s always best to find out what “startup life” means at each company. But if you enjoy building something out of nothing, working toward a big goal and supporting your team, the startup life might just be for you.


Ready to start applying for a startup job? Check out hundreds of open jobs here.

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