Working for a tech startup sounds like fun—game rooms, casual dress, laid-back rules on paid time off, etc. At least that’s the cliché. The reality is that working as a leader at a tech startup is a demanding job that requires a combination of hard and soft skills that isn’t easy to find.
Economic improvement the last several years has led to increased startup growth, which might make working for a startup more appealing. If you’re looking, the first thing you’ll need to watch for is companies in which the business has grown so rapidly that HR leadership and company values have yet to be established.
Smart companies will put an HR team in place early in their growth cycle, enabling the company to deliberately determine the company culture rather than letting it develop on its own. It’s much easier and more efficient to create the right culture from the beginning than trying to fix it later.
Once you’ve decided on a company, realize that technology startups need leaders who can handle both the fast-moving day-to-day dynamics while planning and scaling for long-term growth.
When recruiting for a tech startup, we typically look for individuals with the following characteristics:
- A variety of work experience in their portfolio. We want both large and small scaling company experience to ensure the individual is “hands-on” and “scrappy” enough to actually do the work and has enough perspective for pattern recognition about what sustainable world-class organizational capability looks like.
- Intellectually curious and naturally innovative. These people view the past as lessons learned, but not the road map to the future. The willingness to create and try new solutions is at the foundation of many startups and is reinforced throughout the culture, helping them stay competitive in the industry.
- Grit. The most successful startup industry professionals possess a characteristic cocktail of perseverance, motivation, resilience and a willingness to get things done through all obstacles. When blazing a new trail, as startups often do, challenges, long hours and stress will demand grit.
- Gravitas and leadership. Tech startups face significant competition for talent, and people naturally gravitate towards strong leaders in the same manner that they look to work on great technologies or service offerings.
While there’s not one perfect formula, it’s important to understand whether your experience—and grit—can be a match for tech startup leadership opportunities that might come your way.
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