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5 things you need to know before working at a startup

By Elli Sharef | VentureBeat.com,

This guest post was written by entrepreneur Elli Sharef.

A recent study by HireArt, a Y-Combinator-backed recruiting company, showed that startup employees often get fired or quit because they are not a good fit for the company. Part of the reason why that is the case is that working for a startup can be a bit different than working for larger companies.

Here are five things people should know before trying to work for a startup:

1. Working for a startup means having ownership over your work and doing something that you really believe in, but it also means doing whatever is needed of you.

Be aware that working at a startup also involves “grunt work,” well below what you might do at a larger corporation. Expect to do whatever is needed of you. Sometimes this will mean building a revolutionary feature to your product and sometimes it’ll mean making phone calls, signing for deliveries, or other tasks you may think are outside of your job description.

2. We all hope for a big exit a la Instagram. However, you should understand the risks and be aware of how rare startup success really is.

A recent Harvard study notes that 75 percent of startups fail. Will your next employer be a success or a failure? Even if everyone is working extremely hard at building a life-changing product, the reality is that it doesn’t always work out and many startups go out of business within a year. Understand what that would mean for your career progression — having too many “short stints” on your resume is a big no-no.

3. While getting equity is a big plus and many startups have yummy snacks and fun perks, expect a lower salary and fewer benefits.

Startups are usually more strapped for cash than other companies. This means that many of them may not be able to offer comparable salaries or benefits to other opportunities you might have. We recently had candidates for marketing positions asking for $150,000 –- note that while this might be doable at a large company, startups, in our experience, pay about 70 percent of what you might get at a larger organization.

4. You’ll have lots of exposure to founders at a small startup, but you may get less mentoring than you need.

The team atmosphere of startups is what makes it irresistible to many of us — working in a small group to achieve a big goal is energizing and feels like you’re back in college. But your managers are busy and often don’t give you the kind of formal mentorship you might get elsewhere. Don’t forget that your managers are often less experienced than you are in a given field, so it’s up to you to learn on your own. If you’re the only marketing hire at a start-up, you’ll get much less mentorship than if you worked at, let’s say Proctor and Gamble, where people with tons of years of marketing experience can teach you the tricks of the trade.

5. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, while startups are a lot of fun, the pressure can be much higher than at other types of companies.

The pressure to achieve results, hit metrics, achieve growth, and get more traction can be overwhelming for many. We’ve seen lots of people quit startups because they realized the emotional pressures were simply too much for them. It’s awesome to know your work can help make or break the business, but with great opportunity comes great responsibility!

Overall, we still think startups are amazing –- working at one will change your life, how you see the world, and what you think is possible. You’ll become a doer and fixer overnight and things that seemed overwhelming will seem like a piece of cake after a while. You’ll learn more about yourself and about how a business ought to be run than anywhere else. But the risks, discomforts, and drawbacks should not be ignored.

Elli Sharef is CEO and co-Founder of HireArt, a jobs marketplace that uses online challenge-based interviews to vet job applicants. She began HireArt to fix a broken hiring and interview process and get people hired based on skills, not connections. Since starting HireArt, Elli and her team have placed hundreds of candidates in sales, service, and marketing jobs at dozens of employers. Prior to HireArt, she worked as a Business Analyst at McKinsey and Director of Strategy at the University of Phoenix.

Copyright 2013, VentureBeat

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