So, you’ve recently graduated and, based on what you’ve seen so far, the job market is looking slightly abstract and completely overwhelming. The famous “no experience, no job” situation is pretty depressing, and there are only so many ways to dress up that summer you spent serving coffee and wiping milk stains before you start sounding like you’re just vomiting up a thesaurus.
It’s a difficult landscape to traverse when you’re starting out, and before you get sucked into the soulless world of corporate nepotism and extreme resume-embellishment; I would suggest investing some time into researching local startups.
Startups often exist in a kind of alternate dimension, where everything moves twice as fast and the usual rules of conduct and hierarchy don’t apply. The atmosphere is solution-oriented and dynamic, and the emphasis is on progress, not maintaining the status quo.
This kind of environment can have a huge impact on your skill-set, and it can challenge and develop aspects of your personality you never knew you had. The barriers to entry are lower, the workload is more diverse, and the chances of meeting inspiring people are a lot higher. So what are you waiting for?
Honest Applications Welcome
Applying for jobs has become a lot like calling your cable company — it seems like every effort is being made to limit human-to-human interaction, often to the point where you find yourself optimizing your resume for the benefit of HR software, not recruiters. There you are, desperately counting keywords, when all you really want is the opportunity to explain to someone that you’re a decent person with hopes and dreams and Excel formulas. Well, startups are different. They usually don’t have the money to spend on highly expensive recruitment software, meaning that HR has to do things the old fashioned way: reading emails and interacting with candidates to find the best match.
And, believe me, they get a lot of emails. So many emails, in fact, that it is actually a huge relief to receive an honest, down-to-earth application from a candidate who shows intelligence, drive, flexibility and passion. So forget keywords and focus on the startup position(s) you are applying for: your cover letter and resume should highlight what you know about the company, how your interests/skills can be useful in that role (read the job description again!), why you would like to work in that field, and when you are able to start. Really, it’s that simple. Try it.
The Smaller the Scale, the More you Matter
Responsibility is a vital component of personal and professional development, and in a startup you are going to get a lot of it. Unlike in large corporations, everything you do (or don’t do) matters. A lot. The simple reason is that a small-scale business is more vulnerable to change, which can be a great way for bright young people to get noticed quickly, and it can save you years of sucking your way up the corporate ladder.
Business needs a thing done, a couple of people can probably do the thing, but the person who has the best solution to the thing will get recognized. It is in the startup’s best interests to solve problems quickly and efficiently, and they don’t have time for meaningless platitudes. An intern can make just as much of an impact as a manager — it’s all down to ability and drive.
If you set your mind to it, you can leave a startup after a year or so with an impressive list of achievements and solid proof of your abilities in a certain field. In a large company, it would take years for an entry-level employee to make any sort of meaningful dent in the figures, and not many people can leave with evidence that their personal contribution directly influenced the company’s well-being.
Efficient Networking Made Easy
The idea of networking can be daunting, especially for introverts, and mostly it just feels like some kind of business-card-confetti charade. Maybe you feel like, at this early stage, you wouldn’t have enough to offer, and try to avoid it altogether.
Well, working in a startup is basically being locked inside a building with a bunch of people who are interested in growing ideas from the very beginning, and in people who grow along with those ideas. It’s an inspiring environment to be in, and it exposes you to a wide variety of specialists, from product management to marketing to business intelligence.
Most startups have quite an informal business environment, which is great for young newcomers who would usually place last in the corporate food chain. Usually all you need to do is express interest in someone’s work or in a certain idea, and your startup colleagues would be happy to discuss it with you. Even if you’re working in a different department, cross-communication is encouraged and it is often very beneficial for employees to have a good idea of how other departments work in order to improve cooperation.
Entry-level employees in large companies are often restricted in who they communicate with and how much they know about other aspects of the business, and it can feel quite alienating, especially if you are not enjoying the role you are currently in. Startups are far more flexible in that regard, and sometimes there can even be the option of changing departments if you come across something that interests you a lot more than your original role.
Less Money More Value
While it’s true that your salary would probably be relatively low in a startup, those who can afford it should never underestimate the value of the experience you can gain.
As a graduate, your main concern is usually the lack of impact you have made in the world so far, and how this affects your career prospects. Startups offer you the opportunity to witness the direct consequences of your work, and allow you to mix with an influential group of people who would normally be out of a graduate’s reach. If you value work and innovation over image, then there is a startup out there just waiting for your application.
Eva Baranova is a wandering European nomad, formerly an HR Recruiter, currently based in sunny Malta. Her specialties include startup recruitment, unsolicited career advice, and spaghetti bolognese.