Archive for ‘Startup Career’

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Risky Job Changes

Risk is always a consideration when changing jobs. What are the downsides of making this move and is this a risky move for me?gambling

Usually when you hear the word risk, reward is not far behind. With job change, the reward does not necessarily increase along with the risk.

So first, let’s look at what the downside could be when making a job change. First we should note that when someone is just getting going in their career, there really isn’t much risk to any job move you make.

1. low job security: Once you realize that your job security is not provided by the company you work for you will realize that a job change is not risky in that sense. Your job security is derived from your skills and value in the market. If a company is having financial problems, you can move along if you have built up your career equity. The risk is more about the fact that it is a pain and inconvenient to look for another job when you weren’t planning on doing so.

2. skill atrophy: For example, if you move to a company that is using legacy or proprietary technology then the risk is that you are limiting your options in the market and not growing your knowledge and skill set. Interestingly, skills can atrophy if you stay at the same job too long as well.

3. network dilution: If you are the best performer in your group or company and no one challenges you or motivates you to higher performance you risk losing your “edge”. Cultivating a network where you are the star does not provide you with the kind of reference network that will increase your value in the market. Chances are you will sink to the level of your peers if you stay around them too long. The risk is that your value will decrease with the quality of your references.

The other kind of risks are related to the “fit” of the specific job change you are considering. In this case both you and the company have risks.

The important relationship to consider is the inverse relationship between a risk hire and the quality of the company. Companies assume risk when they hire someone to do a job they have never done before. The risk is; will the new hire be successful at the new position, will they come up to speed soon enough and how much resources will be required to get them productive. If you analyze why a company would offer you a “risk fit” job, at some point you will ask the question, why couldn’t they hire someone that is qualified for that job? The answer will be that the quality of the company cannot attract qualified candidates.

The risk to you is similar, will I be able to perform this job at a high level? A case can be made that a good strategy is to move to a new company in a position that you know you will excell. Then grow into new roles and responsibilities once you are a known performer and the promotion can be done with less risk on both sides.

The point is not that you shouldn’t make risk moves, sometimes it works, but be aware of what you are getting into by taking a job you have never done before.

In general, great companies hire people that are qualified and a company that gives you a promotion and a job you have never done, may have some downside issues to be aware of.

So risk can be managed by understanding the downsides and the factors involved in a job change. With this knowledge you can make the decisions that will minimize your risk appropriate to the goals you are trying to achieve.

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Career Traction

When managers review resumes, one of the key points they look for is traction. If there is a succession of moves after only one year for the last seven years, there is no traction. If the job titles or amount of responsibility don’t increase over time, there is no traction in the job history.

Traction equates to passion, commitment, willingness to learn and take on more responsibility. All attributes required by startups. Without traction, it is clear that the person is a 9 to 5er and not the caliber of employee desired by a startup or any performance oriented organization.

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5 Reasons to not work at a Startup

1. Getting two to five times more accomplished and building my experience and therefore my resume much faster is not my kind of thing.

2. Working with the top 20% in my field and learning from some of the brightest individuals in my industry means I won’t be the big fish in the little pond.

3. I’m much more interested in collecting a paycheck than looking forward to getting up in the morning and building something useful with a group of other people that share my enthusiasm for what we are doing.

4. I rely on the stability of my established employer even though I know that job security doesn’t come from my company. I prefer to rely on a faceless, impersonal corporation whose sole concern is self preservation, rather than on my skills and experience which provide my real job security.

5. That sounds like a really good opportunity for me but I hadn’t planned on making a move now.

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Job Postings are Dead

Are job postings going to go away? No. The point is that a posting is a requirement that is fixed in time, when in reality a position’s requirements are dynamic and “alive” in the sense of being subject to change. This is especially true when an early stage company is building a team. The analogy is akin to building an amorphous jigsaw puzzle where each subsequent piece changes to fit in with the one preceding it. Hiring managers put the team together based upon the skills and experience of each additional member. The six job requirements that were posted originally have now changed, and the remaining three positions are much different than the originals.

The point is, not applying for a role at a company that is a match for you because you do not see a job posting is a major mistake. Good companies make roles for great candidates based upon the availability of the candidate.

Another fact to consider: The majority of hires are made prior to or without a job posting. Not submitting a resume to a “good fit” company is a very limiting proposition.

Bottom line: As you cannot really be described by a resume, neither can the opportunity available to you be described by a job posting. There are probably several different positions for you to consider. Don’t depend on seeing a job posting that fits your experience and interest. Find a great company first and then explore with them what you can bring to the team.

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Handling Multiple Offers

At the peak of the bubble, top candidates were receiving up to ten offers. Is that a good thing? Yes and No. Since we are again in a period of multiple opportunities, it makes sense to re-visit the issue.

Of course it is good to have multiple companies interested in you from an ego standpoint, and it doesn’t hurt the negotiation leverage either. But the problem is that if you let all those deals go to offer stage, you can only take one job and therefore; you now have nine managers that do not have a fond memory of you. There is a better way.

If handled properly, you can have ten managers think well of you rather than just the one that hired you. As we mentioned, the hiring process is just as stressful and emotional for the hiring managers as it is for you. If you can decrease the negative impact of you not taking their job, you will be perceived in a much better light. Any interaction you have with managers and interviewers will create an impression. You always want these impressions to be positive. The community in your local professional field is not that huge, so chances are you will run into some of these contacts again. If you let an offer go out from a company you knew you would not work at, you are unnecessarily creating a less than positive impression with that hiring manager. Maybe they had to go to their VP to press for a higher than typical salary level to entice you to join. Now they have egg on their face, since you turned it down anyway.

So here is the deal. It is fine to get companies to want to hire you, just don’t make them go to the trouble of putting together an offer you never intend to take. The ideal approach is to evaluate the opportunity prior to receiving an offer. Once you have decided which opportunity is the best one for you, you proceed to the offer stage with that company and professionally request that the other companies refrain from making you an offer at this stage. You don’t have to close down all the options, it is good to keep the 2nd and maybe 3rd deal live as back up until you receive the written offer. The companies that you know you would not work there, you should be professional and tell them “I appreciate your interest but I have decided not to proceed with XXX” . Now if you run into the manager of XXX a couple years down the road at a great new start up, he won’t remember you as the guy that turned him down, but rather as someone he wanted but it didn’t work out.

In summary:

multiple companies interested in hiring you. Good.        Turning down a lot of offers.     Bad

BTW: some companies make offers anyway. As long as you have asked them not to proceed to offer stage, you are off the hook. Why they do it, I don’t know, since it doesn’t work.

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Interview Process

An interview is a problem solving scenario. The company has a need or problem and you are there to solve it. Having a plan of attack for the interview will help you focus and get the offer.the interview

The process can be broken down as follow; Discovery: Provide Solution: Relate: Close

Your Goals for the Interview Process are;

Make them want to make you an offer
Evaluate if it is the right opportunity
The order is important, there is nothing to evaluate until the offer is imminent

You accomplish this in the interview first by listening  and then asking questions.

Find out the company’s problem. Position and responsibilities.

Show how you can do the job. Use Past examples

Close: demonstrate and express your interest in the company. Get feed back from each interviewer, show interest, ask if they will recommend you to next level.

Salary discussion, do not give a target at the early stage. Initially it is best to say something like “Make me your best offer.”

Discovery: If they give you an open ended question like “what do you want to do here at X?” before you know exactly what they are looking for, a detailed answer may send you down a road that is not in line with their expectations. For this scenario, it is best to answer generally, “I would like to work on interesting technology with a great team? And then ask a question like “tell me about what you are looking for, what is you ideal candidate for this position?

Provide Solution:  They may give you 6-8 items that are the requirements. Once you have these, you can go down the list and demonstrate how you are a fit for each one.

Handling Negatives: If you do not meet one of the requirements, you don’t bring that up. But they may, and the best way to diffuse a negative is to agree with it and then outweigh with a positive. For example you are right, I have never done X, but here is an example of a project where I had never done Y, I came up to speed quickly and we shipped it on schedule. Etc….

No negatives or confrontational discussion. Agree with negatives and then outweigh them with positives.

Get Quantifiable Feedback and Express Interest:  If two candidates have equivalent skills and background, the advantage will go to the person that expresses interest and exhibits enthusiasm for the company and project. Each person you interview with get feedback.  For example, when you feel things are winding down, say something like “based upon what we have discussed so far, I am interested in Company XXX and the project. Will you recommend me to the next round? Yes is the easy answer and if they are positive they will probably have no qualms telling you yes. No is different and people don’t like to directly say no, so they may say something like, “I need to discuss this with the rest of the team”. In which case, if you feel it is not positive, ask “ is there something about my background that concerns you, do you have any questions regarding my experience?”

An interview is a very short span of time and significant decisions are made in that short time. If you walk out of an interview and do not have quantifiable indication that it was positive, it probably wasn’t. If you can get potential reservations out on the table you have the chance to out weigh them with positives. If you don’t ask the question you will never know. Also asking the question after saying you are interested shows that you are more assertive than the average.

Handling the Salary Issue:  If you give an answer to “what salary would it take to get you to join us” question in the early stage of the interview process, at the end, your offer will be that number, no matter how badly they want to hire you. The problem with giving that number at the beginning or during the interview process is, that if it is too high, you may scare them off before they find out that you are well worth that amount, or if it is too low, you are leaving money on the table.

The best answer is no answer, “ it is too early to discuss salary, I hope you will make the best possible offer.” If they persist, you can say “ I currently make $ xxx and I hope you can put together an attractive offer. “ this is just negotiation 101, once you know they are interested, you are in a better position to maximize the offer.

So remember, discover the problem, demonstrate you can solve it,  get feedback and close the interviewer on the next step.

see also

5 Questions to Ask a Prospective Manager

Decision Time: Offer Stage

Offer Negotiation

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Resume writing

Your resume does not get you a job. It gets you an interview. Therefore it should be written to succinctly describe your quantifiable accomplishments and create interest with the hiring manager.

When a manager receives your resume, they are going to read every line and take their time to delve into the details of your career……….. not.

Usually a manager will have a stack of resumes and quickly pass over them all. What stands out for managers is where you work or have worked, quantifiable accomplishments such as what products you have shipped or how much you have exceeded quota. What they do not look at is a summary or objective. At this point they are trying to fill their needs not yours.

As much as some people dislike the idea, buzzword compliance is necessary. Mainly to make it through the recruiters screen. But do not just throw a skill on without the experience. This will quickly kill an opportunity when a manager finds you don’t have the skills you said you did.

Beyond accomplishments, personal details can potentially create interest with a hiring manager. Certainly a blog is a good idea.

Here is a perspective on resumes from a managers point of view.

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Mark Andreessen Knows what he is talking about

In a post on Career Development, Mark Andreessen hits the nail on the head.

Take Away Points

Grow your value in the market

Be aware and available for opportunity

Manage risk and reward

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Offer Negotiation: the Chips are Down

Now its time to negotiate an offer, the sweat starts to pour, butterflies twitter in the stomach, and that’s just the hiring manager.

Once an offer is on the table, the pressure is at the max due to a time limit and the ramifications of a life effecting decision.

If you have a plan and process in place, the offer stage can be a painless and positive experience. Without them, not so much…..

First point, make sure you do not pre-negotiate your offer during the interview stage. If the company asks you how much you are looking for, whatever amount you answer will be your offer, no matter how badly they want to hire you. If you give them a number too high, it may preclude you from the process, even though you would want to enter into a reasonable negotiation once you realize that you like the opportunity. Too low and you are leaving money on the table. The best answer is my current salary is X and ” I hope you will make me your best offer”. Do not give a target number at this early stage.

Keep in mind that how you handle the offer stage and negotiation is the first decision you will make as an employee of the company. If you are indecisive, and difficult it may color the new managers opinion and change your first assignment from a potential team lead to a member of the team.

As I mentioned here to begin a negotiation, you must first know where you want to work. You will also need a stake in the ground, which is the reasonable amount of compensation at which you would accept the job. Not wow wouldn’t it be great if I got an FU offer. If the stake in the ground is $100k and the maximum offer is $99K, are you willing to walk away from the opportunity that you want with no second thoughts. Saying “the salary is not high enough” is not negotiating. A stake in the ground will give you a point to negotiate from and allow you to negotiate up from that point if possible.

Before you begin, you must be certain that you want the position at the company. Entering into a negotiation with offers and counter offers implies that you will accept the terms once both parties agree. It is bad form and un-professional to negotiate an acceptable package and then not accept the position. To be clear, this method will maximize the outcome with respect to compensation, while minimizing stress and pressure, but you must want the job and be ready to accept negotiated offer.

Let’s begin. First of all some basic negotiation tactics that will serve you well. Silence is your friend. The first person to speak after a term has been presented will usually be the one to compromise.

Say no at least three times and be silent after each.

Don’t be the one to start the negotiation. Let the company start with their offer. Then you will know if they are above or below your stake in the ground and can negotiate accordingly.

Once a company has decided you would be a valuable employee and are the number one choice for their position, the other value you have in the negotiation is your acceptance of the offer. This is the negotiation point that will maximize the offer and get the extra “gravy” to top off getting the position you want at a great company. Your acceptance is what you possess, to offer to negotiate up to the final number. For example; if your stake in the ground is $100K and the offer is $102K, say ” if you can hit $105K, I will accept your verbal offer pending receipt of an acceptable written offer. My start date will be xx/xx/xx.” If the manager needs approval of the VP, they can take it to them with confidence knowing they will get an acceptance, rather than hoping it will be enough, in which case they may just chose to wait and see if you take $102K.

That is the process that has proved to be effective in my experience. Not as easy to execute as to understand, but knowing how you are going to approach the offer negotiation will certainly make it less painful.

Remember, if both parties want the deal to go down and both sides are reasonable, the offer stage will proceed smoothly.

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Decision Time: Moving to Offer Stage

So you have made it through the interview process and companies are checking your references. Now is the time to decide which opportunity is the best for you.

Keeping in mind that logical decisions are preferable to emotional ones, having a structure to evaluate opportunities will minimize the emotional impact. Once you have an offer in hand, there is usually a time frame attached and now the pressure is building.

First of all, you can only take one job, so collecting offers only burns bridges and potentially limits your options in the long run. Every offer you reject will leave the hiring manager with a negative last impression. You will go from the great candidate that professionally took themselves out of the running, to the candidate that turned me down. Remember, it is an emotional event for the hiring manager as well. This will become important when you are interviewing at another start up in two years and there is the same manager you previously turned down.

A common problem is thinking that some factor will make the decision for you, such as “an offer I can’t refuse”. This is a lame approach and is leaving the management of your career in someone else’s hands. It is great for the company that can buy you, but will not produce optimal return for you in the long run.

Be logical and evaluate the opportunity based upon what creates value for your career.

Create a Matrix containing: Company, Project, C0-Workers, Technology/Skills etc… Rate each one and the one with the most pluses is the logical choice.

If all the offers were the same, where would you prefer to work? If you worked for free, which company would you work for. When you can say that I want to work for company A and I will accept a reasonable offer from them, you are ready for the negotiation stage.

Deciding this before you are handed an offer will allow your negotiations to proceed more smoothly while maximizing the result.