Working at a startup can be exciting. Startups are usually hyper-focused on growth, and the energy around you is full of unbridled ambition to disrupt an industry.
However, there’s another side to this very specific kind of company. They're often started by young inventors and don’t have a lot of corporate governance in place. As a result, they can often feel like the wild west of employers: there's a lot of opportunity, but there are almost no rules.
To get the inside scoop on what it's like to work at a startup, I asked women in tech what they wish they would have known before they started their startup jobs. Below are the most common things I heard.
1. Sometimes you can’t grow with the company.
Successful startups tend to grow fast. They usually start out with two founders trying to build a prototype as cheaply as possible. But when they're funded, there's suddenly an influx of cash to hire more people, and grow much bigger. It’s often the case that the employees who work with the founders in the earliest stages are good at very specific things that might no longer be relevant later on. When you're trying to figure out if you're the right fit for a company, make sure to think about the stage of the company, and whether you'd enjoy working there as they grow.
2. You have to be scrappy.
Startups often don’t have the resources that larger companies do in terms of training programs and mentorship. Most of the time, you have to be able to figure out how to solve problems yourself. The women I talked to have used everything from Google and YouTube to finding mentors outside of their workplace to guide them through particularly difficult challenges.
3. You have to wear a lot of hats.
Most people who want to work in the startup world see this as a good thing. The broad nature of the work gives startup employees the chance to gain different types of experience very fast. But you might not be prepared for just how much breadth there is. One woman described her role as Product Manager, but her responsibilites included acting as scrum master and head of operations. That’s a lot for one person!
When you're interviewing at a company, you can get a sense of the culture and how your role might expand by really paying attention during the interview process. If you receive an offer, make sure to carefully evaluate the company for the factors that are important to you before you make your decision.
A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, the largest career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice.
The latest New York Times Corner Office column is one of the most enlightening and inspiring in recent memory. In it, Leila Janah, the founder and CEO of a skin care startup as well as an antipoverty nonprofit, speaks openly and generously about her less than rosy childhood (the daughter of Indian immigrants, Janah was treated like an outcast as a kid, moved 12 times, and her parents divorced) and about the skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur.