For most people fresh out of college, or transitioning from a corporate job, working at a startup can be a shock to the system. There’s typically less structure and employees are often left to fend for themselves.
For most folks, the expectation is mostly about how cool the office will look, or what local restaurant will be catering lunches. Most people see it how James Pearson, the executive vice president of corporate communications at Grooveshark, does.
“Everyone is young, nobody prints anything, digital is as digital does,” Pearson said. “There will be open areas, a loft, a dog, metal desks and Sonos involved.”
Still, startups can provide an empowering sense of freedom, fulfilling work, and a ripe proving ground for professionals to learn about running a business.
Here are four things you can expect on your first day working for a startup.
1. Expect to start working immediately
One of the first things you will notice about working for a startup is there will be little to no ramp up time for you to get going. There’s no time to “settle in” because you never truly settle in at a startup. Startup culture thrives on innovation, and you can’t innovate if you’re standing still.
“Onboarding may be different than you expect… because you may be onboarding yourself. If you are the first team member in your department (sales, support, etc) there really is no one to train you. You forge your own path with help from the rest of the team,” said Scott Klaus, strategic account executive at DivvyHQ.
Andreas Nilsson, senior engineer at MongoDB, had a similar experience, even starting to contribute to work discussions by the end of the first day.
“An orientation was scheduled for 11 am my first day and included a tour meeting with the main people I would be working with. My first work-related meetings were the same afternoon and that tempo has since never slowed down,” Nilsson said.
You were hired for a reason, so working on developing resources for getting questions answered and remember that almost no one at a startup will fault you for asking questions.
2. Expect to be flexible
Many people see the potential flexibility as the reason why the want to join a startup. But, flexibility doesn’t just entail a unique vacation system or the ability to wear sandals to work. You also have to be flexible with the amount you are willing to work.
“There’s often some flexibility that comes over time with startups (e.g. working from home, vacation), but that’s balanced with the fact that you’ll be working nights and weekends as needed,” said Daniel Honigman, marketer with G2 Crowd.
Flexibility in a startup also shows itself in what you do for your job. Be prepared to throw your job title and description out the window as you will probably be doing a little bit of everything. Be open-minded. If you aren’t technical, you might consider learning a bit of HTML or Java, if you’re working at a tech startup, so you can contribute. Conversely, if you don’t consider yourself a “creative,” try reading up on modern design principles.
3. Expect independence
With the flexibility of a startup comes a huge degree of independence. Micromanagement is not likely to be something you will encounter in your new role. It’s fantastic to not have someone breathing down your neck, but it means that you will have to determine the cadence of your workflow.
“It’s a blessing and a curse having that freedom. It means being able to test your own theories but it also means you’re responsible for your own development as well as the effectiveness of your marketing,” said Matt Lim, vice president of marketing at Procurify.
This level of independence also means that you will have to take control of your development. If you want to know how you are progressing as an employee or what’s next for your role you have to be the one to figure that out. Skyler Slade, co-founder and CTO of Coefficient, said that startup employees need to set the wheels in motion for a review of their work.
“You’ll need to ask for feedback,” Slade said. “Startups don’t usually have any formal review system in place. If you want feedback on your job, set up a meeting with your boss and ask.”
All that independence means that the work you do matters all the more.
4. Expect to matter
“Just like there would be no Megazord without the rings of all the Power Rangers, there would be no successful startups without the dedication of each employee,” said Katelyn Trela, marketing, social media and community manager at Yapp.
Funny, but true.
The pressure placed on your work won’t be placed there by some arbitrary employee productivity rules, it will exist due to the fact that the success of the company as a whole depends, in part, on the work you’re doing. That trust is motivation to stay on top of you work.
“At a startup, you’re usually working with a relatively small team who rely on your specific skills to get things moving and growing — fast. There is so much trust invested in you from day one on the job. That alone makes it hard to slack off,” said Nancy Essebag-Christie, Brand & PR Manager, Budge Studios.
Don’t let these expectations hold you back from your startup dreams. Working for a startup can be the most rewarding experience of your life, and it is almost always guaranteed to be more fun than a lot of other jobs.
“Startups aren’t for everyone. There’s no guarantee you’ll make it big, no job security, and it’s highly competitive. But if you’ve made it to through your first day, remember what it does offer is one exciting ride,” Lim said.