Should you join a startup?

Image courtesy of Flickr user homard.net

Joining a startup means taking a pay cut of anywhere between 5 and 10 percent, according to recent research. That's because typically pay is lower, benefits are fewer and almost no one will reimburse you for relocation costs.

Many entrepreneurs will counter with the lure of stock options. Joining a startup could make you rich! Well, yes, it might. But it's more likely that the company will fail and the stock options will be worthless. So if it's only the stock options that are alluring, forget it.

What the research doesn't quantify is the value to your resume of having worked at a startup. Both entrepreneurial organizations and more traditional businesses will think of you differently if you've had startup experience. Why?

Nerve

That you've been willing to join a new venture indicates a significant degree of nerve. The fact that you can and will take a risk is meaningful in itself. A number of companies look for precisely that quality, because they know that being prepared to take risks is essential to creative thinking. It's one thing to say you're brave -- it's quite another to prove it.

Opportunity

Startups almost always give you more opportunity. Short-staffed and urgent, they need people with the energy and vision to see needs and fill them -- before being asked and without the work being detailed in their job description. If you have an ounce of energy and initiative, you will use the chaos inherent in most startups as your chance to prove that you can do far more than a traditional organization would allow. And then you can put those achievements on your resume.

Networks

When I was running startups, most of our new recruits came via our existing employees. Because startups hire and fire fast, there's a lot of turnover. That means they are wonderful places to fill your network with energetic, dynamic entrepreneurs. While it is handy to know lots of corporate chieftains, they're not the only people with money and opportunity.

Flexibility

The best resumes I've ever seen have combined solid corporate achievements with startup experience. These demonstrate an understanding of process coupled with experience of managing ambiguity and change. This is a golden combination.

Investment

Why should anyone invest in you if you haven't been willing to invest in yourself? Ultimately, this is what working for a startup demonstrates: self-belief. That's key when you want other people to believe in you, too.

  • Margaret Heffernan On Twitter»

    Margaret Heffernan has been CEO of five businesses in the United States and United Kingdom. A speaker and writer, her most recent book Willful Blindness was shortlisted for the Financial Times Best Business Book 2011. Visit her on www.MHeffernan.com.

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