Take a minute to consider whether that corporate training scheme is really the best option. If you like beer, the Internet and lots of parties joining a startup could be for you.
Popular media will have you think it’s a relatively bleak time to be a student. Soaring tuition fees, lack of prospects, high unemployment among graduates are commonplace in the headlines. Some truth can be found in these stories, however for students with a bit of gumption, a bit of get up and go, who aren’t afraid to explore paths not taken by the masses. Great rewards can be found. Whoever said a corporate training scheme was the best way to go? A job at IBM, Microsoft and the like used to part of my ambitions. Today the thought of working for those corporate giants strikes dread within me. Yes
I’ve caught the startup bug and so should you.
There are a bunch of reasons why you’d work at a startup:
You’re an integral part of the company. Within the corporate world as an intern or fresh graduate it’s really difficult to make a big impression. You can shout all you like and the small team around you may listen, but getting to the actual decision makers takes time. You have to navigate the political minefield of corporations and the biggest challenge is finding people who actually care. Too many of their employees turn up at 9 and go home at 5:30. During the day they’ll do as little work as possible, anything new or different is shied away from. Change means effort and unfortunately not many people like putting in the extra effort.
Startups reflect completely the opposite. Turning up and doing as little as possible, not creating new opportunities or challenging the way things are done will get you nowhere. A world where your opinion counts as much as the CEO’s is the type of environment where you can make a real contribution from day one. Bringing a level of responsibility you’d never be offered in a corporate and the feeling that the company is relying on you to make the right decision and not mess things up. At some point, or multiple points you’re going to mess up or make a bad decision and because you’re in a startup this matters. The biggest thing you’ll learn at a startup however is not to be scared of this. Failing is part of startup life and joining a startup will teach you to fail fast and fail often. The only thing to be scared of about failure is not learning from your mistakes. Learning is the one thing you’ll do most in a startup, and you’ll do a lot of it, very fast. Personally I’ve learnt more from working at a startup for six months than in my degree.
Culture is the single biggest concern you should have when choosing your employer. Too many students are obsessed with the pay and the brand reputation of the company. Sure being able to say you work for Apple may impress a few people in the pub but neither of these matters. More important is that you find a group of people who you can put up with all day, and most nights. If you can find a group of people you can have a laugh and a beer with you’ll work with them just fine. Startup culture involves a lot of beer, takeaways and hard work. It’s fun, you’ll meet some great people and know where all the best takeaways are but you’ll also be working long hours. Startup work is more of a way of life than a job. Being a student and working for a startup actually merge quite well together.
Pay is a hot topic in the world of interning let alone at companies with no spare money around. Organisations such as Intern Aware will lead you to believe not paying interns is just as terrible as shooting them. This is of course absolute rubbish. I’ve done my share of internships from small companies to global brands. Some have been paid, some pay expenses only and the one I did with a major cellular network didn’t pay a penny.
How dare they demand I work for them with no pay, I was doing the same job at the same quality as people earning proper salaries. In truth that internship cost me around £500 in fuel and buying lunch. I could have spent less by using public transport and bringing my own lunch. However that internship introduced me to the world of digital products. I met some awesome people who built digital products and I learnt that was what I wanted to do. I’m sure if you ask someone who doesn’t know what they want to do with their life: “For £500 if I told you what job will make you want to get out of bed every morning and not go to sleep till 3am each day would you pay?” I happen to think most people would.
In essence getting paid should be a bonus. If you’re willing to do the job for free you know that you’ve found a great job. I was never expecting to be paid, with very limited experience, no connections and no reputation you are a risk. Therefore to make that risk worth wile you wont get paid as much as someone with experience. Although it doesn’t take long to get that experience, which if your current company aren’t, someone will be willing to pay for.
How to get a startup job
Job hunting in tech startups is quite different any other industry. Forget everything you’ve been taught at university about assessment centers and preparing for interview questions like “what makes you a team player” or other pathetic interview questions. Chances are you’ll meet up for a beer or coffee, chat about what you’re into and what interests you. You’ll probably meet the team and if they all like you then you’re in. Don’t be expecting any fluffy inductions you’ll be in at the deep end and doing real work from your first day.
Steps to getting a job at a startup.
First off you need an online presence, you can’t expect to get a job in the internet if you don’t use it yourself. Twitter, blog, LinkedIn are the basics anybody looking to break into the space require. If you don’t have these, go set them up. Now.
Next get yourself known within the industry. Go to the big conferences, a few have popped up in London this year. Yes tickets are pricey but there are ways around that. Student tickets are often available at discounted rates or for free. Alternatively these events usually have volunteer positions. In exchange for a few hours helping setup, do registration or direct people to the toilets you’ll get a free ticket to the event. Small events are constantly happening, use meetup and lanyard to track when these events are happening and who else is going. Pick the people you want to meet and make sure you have a great conversation with at least those people. Don’t forget to tell them you’re looking for work.
Networking is the fastest and most effective method of getting into a startup. Going out and meeting people, talking about what you’re doing and looking for will get you so much further than a pleasantly worded covering letter. Brian Wong CEO of Kiip once said the application form on his site is a trick, they don’t hire anyone from those applications. It’s the people who get out, meet up with the team and get their introductions that way.
Working at a startup is great fun and hard work. Take the student life style and input real hard work everyday. Startup life isn’t for everybody and many prefer the security and routine that comes with working for a traditional company. For those who get hooked however, you’ll never go back.