Working at a Tech Startup: What to Know and Expect

Working at a Tech Startup: What to Know and Expect

By: Daniel Steingold | September 05, 2016

We all hear about the alluring benefits of working at a tech company like Google or Facebook.

Sure, not all tech firms give their employees a wide choice of free meals, sleep pods, and massages, but they usually are on the leading edge when it comes to what they provide their workers.

Regardless of benefits, however, there are typically a number of things you should expect when you decide to start working at a tech company.

This post will discuss some of what you should indeed prepare to expect when working at a specific subset of tech firms: tech startups.

These companies differ from companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google in that while they may one day be household names, they aren’t quite there yet.

Unconventional Hiring Process

Startups as a whole typically go through the hiring process in a manner that other companies do not.

You should expect your first interview to comprise of nearly anything, whether it’s a phone interview, a lunch with the company’s founder, or a daylong sit-in on meetings.

The hiring process at startups is also much quicker than it is at bigger companies; you can often expect to be hired on the spot after an in-person interview.

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Lastly, you might be asked to complete an assignment to prove your skills before being presented a formal job offer. Approach this assignment as seriously as you would an actual work project.

Comfortability with Change

In large part because they are small and have the ability to adapt to the shifting needs of their market, tech startups are likely and willing to make dramatic changes to how they operate.

Whether this means changing an employee’s job title, the company’s products or services offered, reporting methods, or projects worked on, tech startups are constantly looking to improve and enhance their current ways of doing business.

Before deciding to work at a tech startup, it’s important to know that you can personally embrace change and chaos. Welcoming change doesn’t always come naturally, but it is an essential skill that anyone can be taught.

If you have a fear of change and uncertainty, it’s important to examine the driving factor behind that fear. For many of us, it is a fear of failure, embarrassment, or simply a bruised ego. Some people end up discovering that they would simply rather not win at something than lose.

Comfortability with change also means that you need to be prepared for any personnel changes, which includes you being let go. Working at a tech startup— or any startup for that matter— can prepare you to deal with the unexpected.


Although it should be clear by now that you need to be flexible in order to work for a tech startup, some might feel confused or insulted by what they’re asked to do.

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It’s by no means unheard of for a tech startup employee to pick up food for lunch, stuff envelopes, and answer the phones— all before they attend an all-important meeting with their boss or board of directors.

Even though you may not have been aware that you’d be doing projects and tasks outside of your job description, it’s important to never say something akin to, “This isn’t part of my job description.”

A good mindset to come into working at a tech startup is that of you performing a wide variety of tasks, both boring and challenging. You need to think of yourself as a team player who will sacrifice for the better of the company.

This point is all too-important, especially considering that many new hires at startups think about how they can make money and bolster their resume, as opposed to actually making a significant contribution.

Make no mistake: if you don’t demonstrate flexibility, a teamwork mentality, and the willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done, you will be replaced by someone who does demonstrate these qualities.

Look for Mentorship

Typically, a startup that is established by a young maverick or two will initially hire other young likeminded people. This is largely because the entrepreneur in question feels more comfortable around people his age, while younger individuals will also be more able and willing to sacrifice all that they have for the success of the company.

No matter the tech startup, however, there is a good chance that they will eventually look to hire more experienced or senior employees. They usually do this because they believe that more veteran employees can bring the company to a new level of success.

It’s important to look at more experienced employees as an opportunity, rather than a threat. It may seem natural to look at someone who gets paid better than you with resent, particularly if you’ve been working tirelessly for months on end. It also is possible that the more senior employee could take over some duties that you previously proudly held.

Regardless of how much of a threat they might pose, it is important to look at more senior coworkers as potential mentors instead of competition.

This is particularly true because you’ll most likely be working with them hands-on. At bigger companies, they’d likely be inaccessible, often in a physical sense— blocked off by an office door, a receptionist, or by a telecommuting arrangement.

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It’s also important to note that mentorship doesn’t need to come from someone who is significantly older. Literally anyone with a decent amount of knowledge or experience and a passion for helping others can serve as a mentor, whether this is the person in the cubicle next to you or someone in a completely different department.

The benefits of mentorship are well-documented, so there is no reason not to seek out a mentor.

Perks Change

When any startup begins operations, they’re likely to provide many of the perks touched upon earlier— for example, free catered lunch, tickets to sporting events, and weekly happy hours.

While these benefits may be easy to provide and coordinate when a company is small, they might not be quite as feasible as the company grows.

Therefore, it’s important to not expect to receive these perks indefinitely. Generally, however, you will still get other benefits as the company grows.

As for what you might receive, think pay bonuses or health insurance. Sometimes monetary bonuses don’t play the same motivating factor psychologically that non-monetary perks do, but they should be more helpful and enticing in the long-term.

In a sense, this point is a small-scale manifestation of how you should expect things to change in a startup environment.

Company Could Fail

When working at any startup, it’s important to remember that the company could collapse at any time.

Contrary to popular belief, employees aren’t always made aware of potential financial problems at the startup at which they work. This is why it’s important to learn as much as you can about the state of the company at which you work.

Setting up a Google Alert on your company is one good way to keep abreast of how your company is doing. This allows you to know what the press is reporting on the company, its investors, etc.

It may also be a good idea to ask the leadership within your tech startup as for their insight on how the company is doing.

Ultimately, working at a tech startup is not for everyone, but it can serve as a great learning experience.

You’ll should expect to likely put in long hours and experience a lot of uncertainty in terms of both your role at the company and job stability.

Not expecting a stable opportunity, but rather just the ability to learn and grow can prepare one properly for making an opportunity at a tech startup the right career choice.

It should also be mentioned that much of the advice provided within this blog post can pertain to any startup, not just one in tech.

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