Never Clock Out: What Startups Look For In Fresh, Young Hires

by Stephen Vlahos

Many Millennials are attracted to the idea of landing a job at a rapidly growing start-up company. This makes perfect sense.

The dynamic, the fast-paced work environment and the chance to get in on the ground floor of something that could turn into a big success are all sexy start-up characteristics.

Of course, since startups are much different than more established places of employment, start-up employers have their eyes set on some very distinct employee traits.

I’ve been fortunate enough to hire many young professionals over the past few years. At the company I cofounded in 2013, almost 100 percent of the workforce falls into the Millennial age bracket.

So, here are the things I, and many other employers like me, look for in a fresh, young hire.

First thing’s first, let’s accurately define “startup.”

Ask 10 people to define “startup,” and there’s a good chance you’ll get 10 different answers.

To me, a startup is a young organization that is exponentially creating value, with an emphasis on the “creating value” part. Without growth and value, it’s not a startup; it’s just a well-intentioned concept.

Many companies share similar life stages. They are:

1. Exponentially creating value — the “startup” (Uber)

2. Incrementally creating value (Costco)

3. Maintaining value (AT&T)

4. Minimizing loss of value (Sears)

5. Exponentially losing value (Blockbuster)

When a company is exponentially creating or losing value, things are probably a bit insane, but there is usually no room for new hires in that Blockbuster stage. (That’s the bad kind of insane.)

If you’re looking to work at a startup, make sure the organization is in or moving toward that Uber stage.

Here’s the best way to get that start-up job:

If you’re serious about landing a job at a startup, make sure you take these three steps:

1. You have to prove you love creating. Even if the company doesn't need what you specifically built, wrote or designed, you still need to show you know how to create, and you value that process.

2. Be completely obsessed with the mission of the business, and explain to the company why you love what it does. Let the company know you are dying to be a part of it.

3. If the previous step doesn’t yield immediate fruits, repeat it until it lets you work there. Being annoying can be viewed as persistence, so long as it’s done with tact.

Most importantly, here’s how you keep that job:

You have to understand that working at a startup is going to dramatically impact your entire life. And I mean it when I say, “entire life.”

However, if it’s a great startup with a solid mission, vision, culture and leadership, this won’t be a bad thing. You’ll be mesmerized by what you are contributing, and it will consume your head and heart.

Know the very nature of a true startup is that of an experiment, so you shouldn't be doing things by the book.

You’ll be taking chances and tinkering with new solutions, which can tax your mind and mess with your psyche when things aren’t panning out how you’d like.

At a startup, you’ll regularly be asking yourself things like, “Am I capable?” “Is this right?” “Is this the best way to do this?” “Am I totally messing this up?” Self-questioning like this is completely acceptable at a startup, and if you’re not wrestling with these thoughts, you’re likely not living the true start-up experience.

Since your coworkers will be experiencing the same daunting scenarios as you, you will need to understand their work and their challenges.

You also need to respect and support them when they get near the edge of insanity. Both they and your employer will appreciate this immensely.

Empathy and emotional investment create a team that builds something new and great. Unfortunately, many new start-up employees don’t understand the emotional demands of their work environment, and they’re not ready to commit to them.

Sometimes, they want the best of both worlds. They want the glamour of being around something special, but they don’t want to immerse themselves into their work completely.

It’s really easy to spot this kind of worker in a start-up environment.

So remember, when you’re considering a start-up position, make sure the company is exponentially creating value. Then, make sure you love its mission enough to dive in head first and all the way to the bottom.

Stephen Vlahos is CEO and cofounder of Bellhops, a tech-enabled platform connecting college students to moving and lifting jobs across the United States.