Startup job searches are hard. There’s more risk (most startups fail!), there’s less information and the best opportunities are sometimes hidden and hard to find.
So how do you navigate a startup job search successfully?
I learned about this over the last six months. Earlier this month, after six months speaking with Boston-area startups about new opportunities, I left HubSpot to begin a job at the Cambridge book discovery website, BookBub.
It’s not easy to leave an amazing place like HubSpot, so I wanted to do it right, and got a lot of different advice. Here are some of the best tips I got:
- Take Your Time. Job searches are not fun, so everybody’s tempted to jump at the first opportunity that comes up. Resist it! If you’re looking for anything other than an entry-level job, it’s going to take you some time to find the right thing. Six months is normal. You’re much better off waiting and landing in the perfect job than rushing through the search and ending up in a job you want to leave after six months.
- Tell Your Manager You’re Looking. If it’s at all possible, you should be upfront with your manager. If you have a strong relationship and your manager is smart, he or she will help you. I told my HubSpot manager, Mike Volpe, shortly after I began my job search. He was very supportive, providing many key introductions and strong references to potential employers.
- Look For a Company Where You Can Make a Big Impact. Try to find a startup where you bring new skills to the table. If you can teach the company new skills, you’ll have a bigger impact than if you have the exact same skill set as the other five marketers or engineers at the company. I was attracted to BookBub because they’re planning some exciting new content initiatives that my background in marketing and media can help them with.
- Look at the Numbers. Startups are risky, but you should do as much as you can to minimize the risk. One way to avoid ending up at a bad company is to get as much data about the company’s traction as possible. I knew BookBub was the real deal when CEO Josh Schanker walked me through the company’s latest board deck, highlighting their millions of members, amazing member engagement, and great revenue growth. If a startup isn’t willing to share this kind of information with you, it’s a red flag. I’d start looking at other options.
- Look for Companies With Big, Disruptive opportunities. Is the company you’re interviewing with making a modest incremental change, or a big disruptive change? You’re better off with a disruptive company. If your new company’s opportunity is narrow, your opportunity will be narrow. If your new company is thinking big (if it’s trying to change a whole industry) your opportunity will be big. BookBub excites me because it has a massive opportunity — an opportunity to completely change the way authors promote books and readers find them.
- Make Sure You’ll Be Building the Right Skills. When I started my search I found a lot of companies looking for traditional B2B marketers. I eventually steered away from those companies because I don’t want to develop traditional B2B marketing skills. Instead, I want to build on my inbound B2B marketing experience with B2C marketing skills. This is another reason I was attracted to BookBub, a company that does both B2B and B2C marketing.
- Make Sure the Company You Pick Has Realistic Expectations for You. During my search I spoke with a few companies that had done zero inbound marketing (no blog, no social following, no SEO), but were looking for a marketer to come in and generate huge new lead flow with almost no new spending in a matter of months. That’s impossible. Inbound is awesome, but like most things, it takes time and money. I steered away from those companies.
- Look for a Company With a Good Network. A company’s network is another good way to judge its prospects. If the startup has awesome investors and advisors, and its team members have strong relationships from previous experiences, its chances of success are higher. BookBub’s network, including NextView Ventures and Founder Collective, as well as many strong startup and publishing-industry relationships, was very attractive to me. An added benefit of a strong network that I saw first-hand at HubSpot: When it comes time to start looking for your next new job, your company will be able to connect you with new opportunities.
- Use a Spreadsheet to Evaluate All of the Companies You’re Speaking With. If you’re doing it right, you should be talking to a lot of companies. And if you’re talking to a lot of companies, you should create a systematic way of comparing them. For my search, I created a spreadsheet that listed each company and scored them along criteria such as “role fit”, “business risk”, “business opportunity”, and “team caliber”. The spreadsheet didn’t produce any surprises, but did help me keep track of all the opportunities, think clearly about them and prioritize them.
- After You’ve Done Your Research, Pick Something You’re Excited About. Once I collected company performance data, put everything into my spreadsheet and finished my research, I had a handful of great companies left on my list. There were a lot of reasons I ended up deciding on BookBub — I loved the team, it was a unique opportunity to combine my media and marketing experience, and I love books. But at the end of the day, BookBub was simply the company I was crazy-excited about. That’s more important than anything else because, like most people, I do my best work when I’m excited.
One last thing about a startup job search: The most important factor in your search is something that’s already decided by the time you’re looking — your current job. You can’t change the experience and the job you have now — but you can do your diligence, ask the right questions and be patient. If you pick wisely, it will pay off later.
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