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3 things you need to know before joining a startup

April 7, 2015, 3:00 PM UTC

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “What’s your best piece of advice for someone looking to change careers?” is by Sunil Rajaraman, co-founder of

I often meet with people who want to leave the corporate world to work for a startup. And as a professional who made the leap from the traditional corporate life to become an entrepreneur, I can tell you that it is been an extremely rewarding experience. Prior to co-founding Scripted, I worked for a slew of large companies (Lockheed Martin, Navigant Consulting, and Applied Materials)–here is my best advice for anyone thinking of joining a startup:

Know your strengths
I had spent most of my career working with numbers. At Navigant Consulting, I worked for the data and statistics division, where we would look at large datasets and analyze them using SAS and SQL. As it turns out, this is a pretty useful skill in the startup world–given the amount of data you have to analyze to understand how well your company is performing. Similarly, if you work for a large company doing some variation of analysis, you may already have the basic skills needed in a startup. Don’t be intimidated if you aren’t performing the exact functions the position calls for–you can likely learn them if you have the right foundation.

Know your risk tolerance
In order to successfully make a career change, you must have an objective view of yourself. A lot of people fantasize about joining a company that is in its early stages because of the excitement, the lack of bureaucracy, and the “get stuff done” attitude. The reality is, early stage companies are fraught with risk, so be sure to ask yourself these two questions before making the jump: At what stage do I want to join the company? and what industries am I passionate about? The earlier you join a startup, the more risk you’re taking. Be prepared and do your research on the company. Additionally, you shouldn’t join a startup for the sake of joining a startup – be sure to choose a company you admire that is also focused on a problem you’re passionate about solving.

Know the hiring process
Early stage hiring at startups (seed and series A stage) is referral based. Find a way to get introduced to the CEO, or to one of the investors in the company. If you can’t make a direct connection, write to the employer and describe how you would bring value to the company if hired. Most early stage companies don’t have time for an extremely detailed hiring process, so they are taking a leap of faith on you. If you can clearly demonstrate that you have skills the company needs to be successful, you’ll have a major leg up on the competition.

Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question: What’s your best piece of advice for someone looking to change careers?

How to successfully change careers (at any age) by Matthew Salzberg, CEO and founder of Blue Apron.

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