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What do I look for when taking a job at a startup?

5 Feb , 2020  

Taking a new job can be scary, even scarier when it’s a startup as you’re often taking a risk. Whether that be an unproven product market fit, lower salary, or simply starting at a lower level role in order to work your way up.

I’ve written this guide (specifically for the UK job market), so you know what to look out for, and make the best judgement call when taking your next job.

First, I’ll start off with a list of factors you should consider, these should hopefully all be positive! The second stage looks at negative factors, and if the company you’re looking to apply for relates to any of these points, these should count as detractors towards your decision!

The role: You should be excited by the role, the job description made you have a warm feeling in your heart, and you instantly smiled (or saved the job to your to do list) (+2!)

The interview process: It’s fast, you spoke to the right colleagues (not just the founders or just your immediate team), the interview process should have given you a good view of what it’s like to work in the company. Bonus points if the company was transparent about their metrics, what they’re not doing well and gave you an opportunity to ask your own questions. (+5!) If at point you were made to feel disrespected/had to wait a long time for a reply/your interview didn’t start on time then (-1!)

Culture: This is a tricky one as you can’t always tell the culture until you start working there. Try walking in to your interview 15 minutes early so you can see how your potential coworkers are in their working environment, is it silent/fun/full of laughs? Or are everyone’s heads down? There’s no right or wrong culture, it’s what is best suited to you! (+3!)

Values: Related to the above, companies tend to write their values on the office walls/on the team page on the website. Do the values correspond to you/do you understand and agree with them? If all you are left feeling is uncertainty as to what the values mean, then make sure you ask about these in the interview. Beware, if you are applying for a very early stage startup, they might not have shared any values yet, this is ok, as it tends to come into play when companies grow! (+2!)

What problem are you solving? Can you align with what the company is trying to solve? Is it an industry you are passionate about or you feel you could build a passion for? If not, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you know what motivates you. But do make sure that the problem is a difficult one to solve, that way you will (hopefully) be working with talented people! (+2!)

What does progression look like? Are there clear routes of progression? The answer may not always be clear, but you should be able to get a sense of whether the company has a meritocratic policy. (+4!)

Bonuses: (these shouldn’t impact your decision in isolation, but rather should make the role more attractive to you): Is it conveniently located, are there any perks (health insurance, fruit bowls, monthly socials, access to therapy, away days)?

By now you should have a score out of 16. Now is the time to be sceptical. You’ve figured out the how great the company is from the outside, put on your detective hat and find out what’s not shown in the interview process. 🕵️

Do some background research on the company you are looking to join.

Here are some sites to check out:

Crunchbase/AngelList — This site will tell you how many funding rounds the company has gone through.

Things to look out for: Small and frequent consistent rounds of money aka bridge rounds. Not always a negative sign but can be an indicator of potential funds/future raises.

These two websites are great tools to dig into who the investors are. Make sure you research who they’ve invested in previously and what their track record shows. (Usually a positive indicator!)

Companies House — This site tells you who owns the company, who owns the shares and any important board of directors.

Things to look out for:

  1. Board of directors leaving the board. How do you check this? Look out for ‘Termination of appointment’. This is neither a good/nor bad factor. (This does happen often especially when the directors tenure is done, or there is a board reshuffle to reflect stakeholder changes).

2. An abnormally large number of shareholders. How do you check this? Confirmation statement

Glassdoor— Bad reviews/bad interview feedback. Take this with a pinch of salt though. Often it’s ex employees, or turned down interviewees with raw feelings that add their feedback!

Linkedin — A great tool to see who works at the company, how many people work there and how many people used to work there!

Warning signs: Lot’s of people leaving at around the same time could be an indicator of redundancies. People leaving before 3 months could indicate a tough probation policy.

(How to search for past companies):

How many points should I deduct? This is entirely up to you and how important it is that a company is 1. Stable 2. Has cash in the bank 3. Has a good reputation.

My personal opinion: a score below 10 is not worth taking the risk. There should be more positives than negatives and it’s important to you, to make sure that you have a list of priorities of what matters most to you in your new job.

Still undecided? Go one step further — ask a past employee who has the left company for a CANDID view of what it was like working at the company. You can easily find these people through the ‘past company search’ on LinkedIn.

P.S Anything I’ve missed? Add it in the comments below!


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