New Year’s resolution: Land a job with a startup

By Puneet Mehta , written on January 14, 2013

From The News Desk

The New Year is upon us, the fiscal cliff has been averted (kind of) and as always, people are resolving to make financial and professional improvements to their lives. To do that, many are targeting the startup world as their next career stop.

As it has long been for entrepreneurs and risk takers, startups are becoming highly attractive and promising as a career path for all types of professionals – not just developers.

The passion and innovation found within the startup world has been attracting some of the best talent in some of the hottest markets in the United States, and that trend is likely to continue in 2013 and beyond. But as demand for startup jobs grow in some of our nation’s best cities, candidates need to differentiate themselves and appear as marketable to claim the best jobs.

Assuming jobseekers’ core skills are superb, there are several other “special” skills entrepreneurs look for in early hires. Startup founders, by nature, do whatever they can to avoid pigeonholing themselves and their employees. To us, limiting their flexibility with departmental silos – or actual walls for that matter – is a recipe for disaster. In the startup world, employees are expected to do their jobs well but also contribute outside of their specific responsibilities. Org charts and offices simply don’t mean that much to us.

So don’t be shocked or caught off guard when asked, “And what are your other strengths?” Landing the gig and wowing the boss will take a better response than the canned “fast learner” or “team player” bit. In fact, keeping your New Year’s resolution will require improving on these five “special skills” and communicating them in the interview process.

1. Learn how to fish (for information within a sea of data)

We are swimming (sometimes drowning) in a sea of data. Every piece of information, on any subject, is just a mouse-click or finger-swipe away.

The key skill? Knowing exactly where to cast your net into this ocean of data, then making sense of what you catch. Plus, you need to fillet that data into relevant, digestible, bite-size chunks of information. Fast.

Remember, a good startup bases its decisions on the information they can get via constant data analysis – about customers, competitors, market shifts, and more. You have to be able to read the changes, determine their impact and hook the catch of the day!

2. Become bilingual (even if digital is a second language)

Today, seven-year-olds have smartphones and 14-year-olds create apps. Repeat after me: Technophobia is employment-phobia. Technology “is” our world. To succeed in it, you don’t need to become a cyborg…just the closest you can get without actual implants.

Even if your job focuses on sales, customer support, business development, or other non-tech responsibilities, you should expect this interview question: “How is our startup impacted by international mobile device growth, social photo sharing, enterprise mobility, Big Data, new app platforms, or cloud computing?” Make sure you have a brilliant answer – no pressure.

3. Remove the blinders

You may not feel it, sitting in your cubicle, but you’re part of a massive, constantly evolving organism called “work.” Your job is interconnected with those you work with, the start-up you work for, the sector your company occupies, and related sectors globally.

How do your actions impact every level of this super-organism? Staying attuned to the big picture lets you see new opportunities that transcend your job. It also lets you stay relevant to the embryonic businesses created by our fast-changing world. Make sure you effectively communicate your vision or viewpoint in the interview process. Even if the interviewer should disagree, he’ll respect you for it.

4. Be obsessive about clear communication

95 percent of us believe we communicate clearly. Also, 95 percent of us think we are excellent drivers. If other people misunderstand us, or if telephone poles are constantly crashing into our cars, we think it’s their fault, not ours.

Clear communication, the ability to inspire others with your ideas and build on the feedback, is a highly employable asset. Just ask Jonny Ive.

Most of us need to “relearn” how to communicate. Especially in the worlds of Facebook, Twitter, text messages, and social working platforms. With their relative lack of context and nuance, it is more important than ever to learn how people listen and how you can tune into their wavelength. Learn to hear what others “think” you’re telling them. A bit of context revision can go a long way towards knowing how to really hear someone - and ensuring they hear you.

5. Hustle (but with integrity)

What impact can you make beyond your assigned duties? How will you find opportunities to solve problems outside your cubicle? Bringing value to the whole company is key to developing relationships beyond your immediate circle. That enables growing in the job, and finding new opportunities for learning and advancement...inside and outside your startup.  Start-ups are meritocracies, so be able to explain how you plan advantage of that. You will evolve an even stronger set of skills and a higher profile in your company - and become more attractive to other start-ups looking for someone to have truly hustled and grown elsewhere.

There is no cookie-cutter manual for mastering these five “other” skills, but demonstrating expertise in these areas will certainly turbocharge your employability and serve you well while job seeking—in a start-up or in a Fortune 500 firm that wants start-up-level agility and aggressiveness…and that’s all of them.

By the way, did I mention we are hiring?