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What qualities and skills do startups look for in a new hire?

I am in 10th grade, living in Boston, and I am very interested in business and entrepreneurship. I have been hearing a lot about startup companies and wonder what kinds of qualities or skills I’d need to have in order to get an internship with a startup and to eventually work for one #business #entrepreneurship #startups

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Joshua’s Answer

Hi Lindsey.

Great question. A lot of this has to do with the type of role you are interested in. There are vast differences between hiring someone to fill a technical role than a business or product role. Given that, there are also similarities that all successful startup employees have.

At my company we really like to find people with an entrepreneurial spirit. We realize as a startup we are not going to keep people employed here forever. We are but one stop on a long list of companies that a person will work at in their careers. Having that entrepreneurial sprit is obvious in those that are driven to succeed, are willing to wear many hats, and push past the "no, that can't be done" attitudes. It takes a lot of strength to be able to start a company up from scratch and having these qualities at any level of the organization is imperative to success.

On top of that, it is important that startup employees are constantly looking to learn new things (deepen your understanding of a market, trying out new technologies, learning other aspects of the business like finance or marketing). This will increase the value you are able to give to the startup but also proves great as a way to increase the value you take away from that startup.

Good luck!

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Frederic’s Answer

Leaders look at a variety of traits when hiring, but when it comes down to it, there are two different kinds of people: builders or movers. Startups need builders.

Builders are centered on innovation: they transform existing systems and create new ways to execute on a vision. They take a product idea and not only turn it into a reality, but add features that make it even more appealing to your customers. Movers, on the other hand, add and grow to a company’s infrastructure to scale your business in a massive way. There are certain business processes for which established methods are important – and this is where movers thrive. Builders and movers are both critical for different stages in your company’s growth. However, builders are important in a company’s early stages because they’re the ones who are going to get the business off the ground, establish a positive company culture and enable organizations to scale rapidly when the time comes.

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Natalya’s Answer

Hi Lindsey,

You're smart to want to work for a startup rather than a traditional corporate company.

Working for a startup is hard work, but there are endless benefits. My advice would be to get a technical degree, preferably engineering or computer science. Read as much as possible about business and the way companies grow and innovate. I use audible.com for audiobooks. They have an iphone app. I listen to books ranging from how to build a brand, to how to negotiate the best deal. Subscribe to newsletters and stay up to date on everything happening in tech and big business. It will only help you. Once you are in college, you'll notice very quickly that the professors aren't teaching you how to make it in the world. They are only teaching you how to do what's expected. You need to take ownership over your education and make it your own. Get involved in as much as possible, stay as busy as possible. The more varied your interests are, the more you grow, the more you think, the more you innovate, the more likely you are to be successful.

You're on the right track. I wish you the best!

  • Natalya (from Boston, currently in San Francisco)

I agree with Natalya, it is much better to work for a startup rather than a traditional company. With new and growing company you have many opportunities to generate new ideas and new ways of doing things as they are not that much hang on on 'that's how we are doing things here'. Also you are much more likely to have more responsibilities which make you grow professionally much much faster. Viktoras Luko

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Elaine’s Answer

Working at a start up presents so many opportunities. In my opinion, the most important thing is a can-do attitude. You must go into it wanting to push yourself, you need to be flexible, you'll need to get involved in many tasks which are outside of your comfort zone.

But the rewards are worth it.....you get to influence the shape of the business, you're not stuck dealing with legacy issues, you gain broad experience quickly, you get things done quickly (as nature of start ups is such that you need to deliver quickly). Joining a start up is a great experience for any ambitious individual.
Good luck!

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Farid’s Answer

Its so great that you are considering this while in 10th grade. May I please ask if your school has an entrepreneurship programme? As is are any founders coming in and talking about what its like to create a business and run it.
I think that the top qualities that you need are:

a) Being super curious and having a real zest for learning (this never ends at every stage of the business this changes)
b) Risk tolerance (goes without saying)
c) Ability to marry left and right side brain thinking
d) Ability to get people to join you on the quest for whatever it is you want to change
e) Tenacity and the ability to rebound from rejections (think of each one as just another frog along the way)
Being an operator is tough but is rewarding if you believe in what you are doing. There are two things here:
1) You can start your own business if you feel like you have a great idea and a burning desire to breathe life into it
2) You can join a startup or perhaps a grownup (a startup going for a few years that is scaling) and get invaluable experience in a sector where you may want to learn the ropes.
Which ever choice you make pursuing entrepreneurship can be exciting, rewarding and a huge 'life lesson'.

Keep in mind a few things:
1) There are lows also and you need to many a time tough it out!
2) Friends and family are a huge source of support not just emotionally but never be afraid of hitting them up for the first few dollars to start a business
3) Try and do things with a co-founder not only is it more fun, the support system is invaluable and investors like it a lot
4) Try and speak to as many people as you can to understand the nuances of the sector or business you want to pursue e.g. Financial services, health and education startups ALL need to consider regulation as part of their planning...
5) Read...there are countless blogs from really experienced operators that prove to be a great 'school of hard knocks and common sense'
6) Do not be too worried if you get a 'are you out of your mind' response from parents that come from a 'safer' corporate or professional services (doctors, lawyers etc) background...stay the course and educate yourself and them about the choices that others have made and the impact they have been able to make.

I work in Education Technology and am pursuing my dream of making Learning Fun. Most importantly pursue something that you love so that you jump out of bed in the morning!

Good luck!

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Jill’s Answer

There are two aspects to start-ups....

  1. They are scrappy and lean, and therefore need people who can hit the ground running. This means you need experience doing whatever they are hiring you for (engineering, marketing...). It also means they need generalists who can shift and execute in a variety of positions as needed. When you have a few people, everyone needs to be flexible, agile, and smart.

  2. They are cheap, budget conscious, and ambitious. So free interns are a boon... so this might be a good approach. Or an entry level position, lower pay, might be an option as well. For these, energy, initiative, and excitement about the start-up solution are key. Willingness to learn and being a quick study go along with those attributes.

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Kristin’s Answer

I was hired by a startup early in my career for a role I had never done before, and have since helped hire more people who are early in their careers and who don't necessarily have experience in the exact job they're applying for. The company knew that I didn't have direct experience in that role, but they looked for other ways that I had experience in the types of things they were looking for - dealing with customers, working in a team, building out processes, etc. They looked for ways I could demonstrate the skills I had, even if I built those skills doing a really different type of job, or doing something like volunteering . Look for the skills the company wants to hire for in the job posting, and then look for stories/examples in your experience that can show you have that skill.

When the company was hiring me they were also looking at my personality and attitude about the work. Was I passionate about learning new things or tackling something I'd never tried before, working on problems with others, or did I communicate clearly? Could I handle a startup environment that changes very frequently? Making sure you smile and make eye contact really helps too! All of those things go into consideration when hiring someone, especially if that person doesn't have a lot of background in the role.

Lots of companies (especially startups) hire employees who will grow into a role or grow with the company, and joining a startup is great for building experience and exposure to different parts of a business too!

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Michele’s Answer

In my experience of starting my own small business and working for larger/growing start-ups, you need to be ready to wear any and all hats. A resume that shows diverse skill sets is valued, so don't be afraid to apply to a start-up if you like variety, if you've bounced around work-wise, and/or if you are multi-talented and hate to be tied down to just ONE of your strong areas. I have heavily varied experience and success across many areas, and my current CEO described my vita as "balanced." He just gets it, because he's a start-up entrepreneur, too.

It's a fast-paced environment like more established companies, but far more creative, with collaborative dialog that ignites ideas across disciplines that can be put into action immediately (vs. the exhausting, cumbersome processes of large orgs. that seem to defeat the creative spark and any sense of impact/accomplishment).

Check out the book Innovator's DNA - a great read about innovative entrepreneurs (not just entrepreneurs). Really spells out key behaviors we can all do to ignite ideas vs. personality traits or inborn creative gifts that we can't much control. Turns out the most successful innovators you know practice these skills diligently!

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Greg’s Answer

I think a key here is that all employees of an early stage start-up are evangelists for the brand. You will need to help build the community. So, as a founder, I always valued passion about our company's mission above all. Consequently, I would rephrase the question back to you and ask "what are you passionate about? and "what start-up are in that space?"