5 Tips For Finding Your Place In A Startup

Picture this… You have a fear of heights but someone offers you the opportunity to go rock climbing, and you willingly join. As you begin to scale the rope for the first time, your worst fear is realized. You have no idea what you are doing. 

Why did you agree to rock climb? How are you going to get down? Will you even survive?

Welcome to a startup! I was completely out of my comfort zone. A corporate girl wearing jeans. An introvert shaking hands with strangers. Miss Type A not having a clue how the week or even the day would progress.

During my interview, I was given a basic idea of what my role entailed, and how it fit into the framework of the team. It was up to me to figure out where I could best add value, and how I could make real contributions. Easy enough, right?

Based on my experience, here are a few tactics to help you find the right fit. I have been the only test subject and results have been positive, though they may vary.

1. Do not wait to be told. I was constantly told “no” at my previous job. “No, that won’t work,” “No, that won’t get through Legal,” and “No, we’ve never done it that way before.” I quickly became accustomed to keeping my head down, and doing what I was asked and told to do. But at a startup, you have to take the initiative. If you see something that needs to be done, do it. If it does not work, try something else. Optimize for the next time and move on.

2. Set goals. I worked at my previous job for a year, and on my last day, I still did not know what I did there. It is like that scene from Office Space. What would you say you do here? If you do not have an answer to that question, you should make a change. Write down a few things that you want to accomplish in a week, in a month, in three months. If you ever doubt the contributions you make to the team, look back to see all the things you have accomplished. 

3. Be yourself. I like to have fun and stay positive, and smiling really is my favorite. People will respect you and the confidence you have in your personality. Don’t pretend to be someone you are not.

4. Get sh*t done. If you work at a startup company, there is nowhere to hide. You cannot camp out behind the walls of your tiny cubicle, or “go to the bathroom” for an hour. You will likely be on a small team, and if something does not get done, you will be held accountable. There is no one else to take care of it, and you certainly do want to be labeled as a slacker. Stay engaged and motivated because the upside of accountability is the recognition for a job well done.

5. Time. It takes time to figure out where you fit and to get to know the ins and outs of your teammates - who to joke with, who not to be sarcastic with, who to bribe with candy. Do not get discouraged if you have a bad day, are mind-numbingly bored or completely overwhelmed. Keep with it and see how things organically pan out, both personally and professionally.

Adrian Finch is currently an associate at Startup Institute Boston. Say hello to her on Twitter @anfinch1.