How to Survive Working for a Startup

Published: Oct 10, 2023

 Career Readiness       Workplace Issues       
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There are many aspects of working at a startup that might seem attractive to job seekers. For example, the possibility exists that you’ll be working at an as-of-yet unknown company that will one day grow to become a widely recognized and publicly traded juggernaut of its industry. The problem is, many startups don’t survive the early years and working for one can be a major risk. If excitement is what you seek, working for a startup could be that white-knuckled experience you’re looking for. Here’s how to survive working at a startup.

Company Values and Mission

If you’re looking to get into a startup, take the time to conduct some research into the company’s core values and mission. In most cases, you’ll find that the owner of a startup is particularly passionate about the company’s mission, so you’ll have to share in their enthusiasm if you want to thrive and have a positive experience.

When doing your research, look for companies that share the same values as you, and that have a mission statement that aligns with your beliefs and passions. This will make everything so much easier, and when you’re pushing towards goals that matter to you, you’ll always feel motivated and enthusiastic about your work.

Be Flexible

Working at a startup can be somewhat chaotic. When a company is just starting out, it might not know exactly what it needs from each of its employees. In addition to this, the company might be unaware of which roles it needs to fill, or how to properly construct a job description. When applying for jobs with a startup, always keep this in mind, as your responsibilities could change frequently, especially early on.

Set an expectation for yourself to remain flexible about your job responsibilities. If your boss asks you to help out with a task that is outside of your wheelhouse, do your best to contribute in any way that you can. Remember, the company is trying to get off the ground and there will be a ton of growing pains and lessons to be learned.

Take the Initiative

Startups are notorious for making multiple organizational changes early on. Showing up to work on time and being productive may protect your job in larger, more established companies, but you’ll need to prove your worth in other ways when it comes to a startup. Taking the initiative is a great way to show your boss you’re committed to helping the startup succeed.

If you see your coworkers struggling with an assignment and you’ve got the bandwidth, take some time to lend a hand. For extra points, share your expertise with your boss in the event they’re having problems trying to figure something out. When you take the initiative, you’re demonstrating the traits of a leader, and your boss will certainly notice.

Set Expectations

We mentioned this earlier when talking about being flexible, but there are still some other expectations you should set for yourself. For starters, you’ll likely be working long hours when you join a startup. If you have the expectation that you’ll be working more than the other people in your life, it won’t feel as jarring when your boss inevitably asks you to stay late. You can still salvage your personal life, you’ll just have to be a bit more creative with how you spend your time.

Another expectation you should have is the possibility that the startup will fail. Yes friends, this unfortunate circumstance is more commonplace than you might think. When you go into a situation like this, you have to be prepared for anything, so use your intuition and pay attention to what’s going on around you. Being a passive job seeker is a great way to protect yourself in the event the startup is about to tank.

Know Your Limits

You’ll be working long hours, and you’ll be working on projects that might be completely foreign to you. Along with this, you’ll be subject to all the stresses of working at a startup, including an uncertain future. It’s important to know when to take a break or when your body and mind need rest.

Even if you’re stuck in the office for a twelve-hour shift, there’s nothing wrong with walking away from your computer for a few minutes to give your eyes a rest and stretch your legs. Try taking breaks at regular intervals to save your sanity. When you’re off from work, make sure you’re getting plenty of rest and spending time with friends and family, and on things that make you happy.

Working for a startup can be an endeavor, to be sure; however, the excitement and potential for great rewards may be just what the doctor ordered for certain job seekers. Perhaps most importantly, be aware of any warning signs that the company is about to go under. Even if you’re passionate about the company’s core values and mission, it’s far more important to protect your own well-being.