Here are the skills best suited for startup employment, says Houston expert
As an executive recruiter, two questions I regularly receive are how to get a role in a SMB fast growth company after having been in a larger, and oftentimes global organization for a significant amount of time, or how to change career paths — whether it’s into another department (e.g., operations to sales) or breaking into a different industry altogether (quite frequently from oil and gas to the tech space).
I have helped several candidates successfully navigate one or all of those scenarios, but also was able to do so myself when I transitioned from owning a booking agency in the beauty industry. And in my experience, those who were able to leverage transferable skills, provided their new employers with a unique perspective and significantly broader lens, especially in terms of strategy.
With the state of our economy influx — as some industries announce layoffs and others continue to experience labor shortages — I have culled together the following tips for hirers and job seekers alike.
First of all, let's identify the traits of someone well suited for SMB or startup culture:
- Tenacious, a self starter, and someone who thrives on being busy at work.
- Revered as a go-to person. When leadership needs something done, this is the team member they know they can rely on to do it well and on time.
- Volunteers to step outside their comfort zone and take on new responsibilities.
- Intellectually curious and thrives on learning new things.
- Identifies problems, but also takes initiative to solve them or recognize workarounds without expecting someone else to.
Looking to break into the startup scene? Consider highlighting and/or acquiring these industry agnostic skills:
I always recommend people interviewing for any position create a “verbal resume” or addendum to accompany their traditional one. These are examples of projects or scenarios you successfully navigated in past roles that make the case for your ability to meet the prospective employer’s expectations.
Job descriptions often list the most important requirements first. Identify similar skills that were expected in your previous positions and examples to cite in conversation. I also recommend briefly bullet-pointing the most impressive ones on the resume. Going through this process will help you personally identify if you are able to confidently take on the position.
We often undervalue certain perspectives we might bring to a role if they are something that comes easily or is done regularly. Do not assume hiring companies know your role-relevant skills and do not be afraid to share notable accomplishments.
Smaller companies often rely on positions having wider scopes than at their larger counterparts. This requires worker flexibility instead of sticking to a rigidly defined role.
As a recruiter, I am hesitant about placing candidates with experience only from larger organizations where typically people are not required to wear as many hats. Smaller companies require people to be self starters and to exemplify tenacity in order to make it through the messiness that fast growth startups often possess. It is exciting, challenging, and rewarding for the right person.
Be able to identify times you were proactive, especially if you identified a problem or a breakdown in process, developed a solution, and then executed it. With fast growth, this has to happen often to support scale. There is not the luxury of going to senior leaders and saying, “I cannot do my role because of this problem and I need it fixed.” They need candidates who are able to identify issues, but who also love the opportunity to fix them. Especially if you used to working in a corporate environment, identify times you raised your hand to take on something that was not required, initiated opportunities to collaborate with new teams, or stepped outside your comfort zone.
Be flexible around compensation, especially if breaking into a new industry. I almost never recommended a lateral move in compensation, and even less so, a step down. But it is important to acknowledge that there are exceptions. If you are changing industries or breaking into a new part of the company altogether (e.g., engineering to sales), you will need to expect to not be compensated similarly to others who may have as many years of work as you but more experience in the specific role/industry.
The company is taking a risk on you and knows there will be a learning curve. For the right candidate, that assimilation will be quick and compensation will eventually balance out. Smaller companies in startup mode can sometimes find it challenging to compete with larger organizations’ salaries, especially if a candidate has a longer tenure (7 to 10 years or more) at the same company.
At the executive level though, the reward of gaining experience and successfully navigating the startup scene, can pay off exponentially in the long term for people especially in equity bearing roles. Oftentimes, I have seen candidates make the move and initially the role does not offer equity or additional incentives. However, over time, their performance can be rewarded with it.
While other SMBs might believe you will make the transition successfully and may offer packages with it from the get go. Where this recommendation gets sticky is candidates historically do not stay in a role very long if they have a reduction in pay. It is much easier to say you can do without for a period of time than to actually do it. Carefully assess if a cut is something your budget can truly bear.
Leah Salinas is a managing director with Houston-based executive hiring firm Sudduth Search LLC.