7 Things You Should Know About Working for a Startup

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When you first start working in IT, a job at a prestigious, established corporation may sound like the best way to kick off your career and learn and experience as much as possible. But have you ever considered working for a startup? But working for a startup—a new company developed to meet a need or problem in society—can actually help you gain valuable experience in a fast-paced environment.

Is a startup the right type of workplace for you? We talked to CompTIA AITP member Darryl McCaskill, senior vice president of retail at Mogean, a startup specializing in geospatial customer analytics company, to get his insight on the pros (and some of the cons) of working for a startup. Here’s seven you should consider when starting your IT job search.

At a startup, you’ll wear many hats.

The team sizes in a startup can sometimes be small, so everyone is required to wear many “hats” and do a variety of tasks day to day. This may sound intimidating, but according to McCaskill, “Startups allow employees to try many different things and apply themselves to multi-dimensional business problems. In many ways, in a startup, you have the opportunity to have a broader experience when it comes to roles and tasks in a more condensed period of time.” If you like the idea of learning and doing a variety of IT roles instead of one specific role, working for a startup could be great a great fit.

Compensation may be lower... at least in terms of salary.

Startup companies often begin by scraping together operating funds, so salaries may be lower when compared to similar roles at established businesses. But at startups, compensation could encompass more than just your biweekly paycheck. “Startup compensation may be lower than market rates, but may also include some form of equity, banking on the long-term success of the startup,” says McCaskill. So instead of an immediate payoff in terms of higher salary, employees could potentially look forward to a future payoff.

Expect a lot of “other duties as assigned.”

As mentioned above, you’re likely to have a variety of duties in a startup environment and it’s important to know that going in. At a startup, you’ll be asked to learn things and dip your toes in different tasks and projects. Just because something doesn’t align with your job description doesn’t mean you should be turned off from the job. What kind of IT pro is a good a fit for a startup? McCaskill looks for employees with, “a spirit for continuous learning and willingness to learn and think outside of the box.”

Priorities at a startup change quickly.

Since startups are built on little money and resources, they aim to quickly find out if a certain initiative or goal is feasible and worth spending time on. This means that priorities and plans can change quickly and you need to be willing to go with the flow. Be adaptable and go with the flow.

Communication is key in a startup.

Since there are many moving parts in a startup, communication is vital. In McCaskill’s experience, “Startup team members need to be transparent and forthcoming with questions, concerns and opinions.” No one should ever feel discouraged about speaking up about anything that is going on at work, for the startup environment is very open and encouraging.

In a fast-paced environment, assume the best of your coworkers.

Obviously, no business runs smoothly all the time—in a startup environment or a well-established corporation—you have to know how to deal with problems and be solutions oriented. For example, if something isn’t communicated to you that should have been, your reaction can make or break your relationship with colleagues. McCaskill recommends the following: “Don’t get defensive and say something like, ‘Nobody ever told me about that.’ Instead try saying, ‘Can you get me up to speed on this?’ Always assume positive intent.”

Startups demand proactive employees.

In a startup environment in particular, McCaskill says that being proactive is very important, “Be a sponge. Soak up all you hear and integrate yourself into the team where your experience can be leveraged.” Being a go-getter is a great quality in a startup because management wants to see results. It’s also very important that people working for a startup carry their own weight because it’s obvious in these smaller workplaces when someone is riding the coattails of their other teammates.

If you are a passionate IT pro, interested in being a jack-of-all-trades and always wanting to learn more, you could thrive in a startup environment.