Things You Should Know Before Applying to Work at a Start Up

Start ups are the new rock and roll. These days start ups get as much promotion and media coverage as Justin Bieber. The start up and funding game is all about in-your-face positivity so when job hunting you need to try and see through what is bullish/realistic and what is dreamland.

Before you join a start up you must ask two questions;
1. Does the company have any customers or potential customers?
2. Is it funded?

Working in a start up generally falls into two categories: intern or salaried job. I will start with salaried jobs. Internships will be dealt with in the next blog.

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People are often bamboozled by the new language in tech recruitment. Ninjas are everywhere about Dublin and London these days. Job listings with the term 'jedi' increased by over 2,500 percent between May 2006 and May 2012. Workinstartups claims to introduce you to 'rockstar' employees. Geospock in Cambridge describes themselves as a 'crack team of developers' who are looking for and 'android alchemist.' Badass Rock Star Code Ninjas are needed in Portland, Oregon. I am not joking.

Let me translate for you
Android alchemist = mobile programmer who is happy to converse with people
Ninja = programmer
Digital marketing ninja = tech savy marketer
Hacker = programmer
Growth hacker = tech savy marketer
Jedi = programmer
Evangelist = techie who can speak at events and sell a product (generally is a role for the experienced)
Happiness hero = customer support and social media marketer -- who in this specific case reports to the chief happiness officer. Again this is no joke.

A growing number of successful founders and tech bloggers are asserting that working in a start up is better and more relevant than an MBA. This makes sense on many levels but you need a certain amount of self awareness to make your decision. Steve Blank offers excellent analysis on this topic. He distills the question down to the life cycle in a company which would appeal to you. If you enjoy the excitement and uncertainty of the early stage, a start up is likely to benefit you more than an MBA. But if you thrive on structure as masters qualification may be the better option.

The learning experience working in a start up is in your hands. It is not structured like a regular degree. A recent Harvard study found 75 percent of start ups fail, so the chances are you will not be starting a long career but view this as a positive. Working in a start up can help you find out what you DON'T want to do. Working in a start up will be more fun than an MBA and you get paid rather than you paying for it!

The final thing to think about is the salary negotiations. Most start ups are cash strapped so you will probably be offered less pay than a corporate would offer. You can try and ask for a small equity stake based on hitting milestones but this is very much negotiated on a case by case basis.

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