How to get a job at a startup Part 1: perceptions vs. realities

This post is the first in a series that will relate all the great conversations that took place Wednesday night at the “How to land a job at a startup” panel discussion at General Assembly. Thanks to (panelist) Andy Pittman for the idea and Will Chinburg and his team at GA for putting it together. The panelists were:

We took on four different aspects of landing a job and working at a tech startup, the first of which was perceptions vs. realities of startup life. Below is a list of perceptions that the crowd of 40 or so attendees offered up, and the panelists various responses to what the reality actually is.

  1. Twice the work for half the pay. Maybe sometimes, but startups are (or will be) businesses, and they have to keep the people they hire if they want to survive, while being as frugal as possible with OPM (other people’s money), so they usually pay less than market rates, and reward all the sweat with equity. That’s the upside.
  2. Startup life is a roller coaster ride.  True, but that’s why 2 years at a fast-moving startup are worth 5-10 years in a very stable, process oriented environment. Some people are cut out for daily change, while others are not.
  3. You have to be a Jack of all trades. It’s not true that you have to know how to do everything really well. What is true is that you have to be willing to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. Are you willing to clean the break room, empty the trash, babysit a customer, or QA someone else’s code? It’s the “get shit done” attitude that prevails.
  4. Startups are risky.  True, but that’s no different than any other job. Georgia is an “at will” employment state, meaning your boss can fire you today for any reason – or no reason! – at all. Yes, many startups fail, but how often do Fortune 1000 companies have layoffs?
  5. Tech startups hire only twenty-somethings. Not every startup is Facebook, with a teenage founder. The average age at Pindrop is over 40. Fifty-one percent of Salesfusion’s employees are over 30, and the average age of Ionic’s 170 employees is over 35. It’s true that most of the engineers writing the newest software code are going to be younger, because that’s what they have most recently learned and are accustomed to. However, Pindrop focuses on security for voice, which is a very old technology.

We finished that topic with a surprise question to the panelists: what is the biggest surprise to new employees at Pindrop, Ionic, and Salesfusion?

  • Pindrop: Gerald makes the point that it’s his job to make sure each candidate accepts the job with full knowledge that Ionic is a high pressure, high expectations hyper growth startup, and it’s absolutely crazy. His job is to properly set expectations. Gerald added that, more often than not, 3 – 6 months in, when someone asks how their new job is going, they say, “it’s not as bad as Gerald said it was going to be.”
  • Salesfusion: Susan noted that, despite the craziness and pressure cooker startup atmosphere, employees have a lot of flexibility as to when and where they get their work done. People have families and lives, and have to pick up kids and go to doctor’s appointments. “You can leave in the middle of the day and get stuff done.”
  • Pindrop: Andy described what they call “Pindrop Shock”, which is kind of a syndrome that new employees get when they realize that Andy wasn’t kidding about the speed at which Pindrop operates. After a few months, they’ll have that “Pindrop shock” look in their eyes, but then they’ll say, “but I’m having a blast and learning a ton!”

Tomorrow, we’ll delve into the discussion of how to stand out among all the other people who are trying to land the gig at one of the hottest startups in Atlanta. Hint: there are good ways to stand out of the crowd, and bad ways. Also, special bonus if you can name three of the people in the picture at the top.

What do you think about that?

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