By Dr. Maria G. Hernandez
Latina Cubicle Confidential™
Have you been asked to work at a technology start-up? How do you know if that's better for your career than a job in a traditional workplace?
If you live in some of the tech centers of the nation you may at some point have the chance to work at an early-stage company. There is enormous opportunity if you succeed at getting a job at the next big success story. Imagine the employees who joined Google, LinkedIn, or Facebook during the first couple of years of their launch.
They began working in companies that were completely different from what anyone had previously seen in the business environment. At one level, these companies were great experiments into the early stages of the social media scene we take for granted today. They are also sometimes the most chaotic, tumultuous, and fast-paced work environments you’ll ever experience.
In Silicon Valley, the metaphor is that start-ups are often like building a plane as it goes down the runway — all the while hoping that the wings are done by the time you need to lift off.
Three important skills can make or break your success in a start-up: Flexibility, Tenacity, and Creativity. Fortunately for many Latinas, these specific skills are some of the same characteristics that often define how we succeed against all odds.
When you enter a traditional business environment, they may have years of experience brining on a new employee and most likely you’ll have a clear role defined for your job. At a start-up, your role may be defined but it will change as the needs of the start-up change. It is unlikely you’ll have a human resource director that will give you an orientation to your new job. All of this uncertainty requires that you stay flexible and develop a strong “can-do” attitude.
That “can-do” attitude means having the tenacity to stick with a tough assignment despite a myriad of obstacles: few resources, little time, or no prior experience with a new product or product feature. If you don’t easily take “no” for an answer or give up at the first sign of a challenge, then you know people already see you as tenacious or yes, stubborn. Here’s an environment where that kind of determination can be a genuine asset.
Creativity is at the heart of all start-ups — it’s about trying something that’s not been done before or improving on something that has been tried and failed. The ability to see opportunities that others have missed or where others see failure is the creative genius that often gives birth to a start-up.
New and sound ideas are the currency you have to exchange for greater opportunity within a start-up. It is possible to enter a start-up with one role and as a result of your creative approaches you’ll find yourself as part of several teams looking at different aspects of the business. The more visibility you have in a start-up the better your opportunity to ride that bumpy ride down the runway and stay on board.
There are also a couple of cautions about joining a start-up: Look carefully at the founder’s history. Is this his or her first start-up or have they developed other products and services successfully? Even if a founder has tried once and failed, this may be the best person to trust with your career because they have the experience to know what doesn’t work. And, no matter how much you may be sure that the start-up is going to be a “game changer” or the “next big thing” — don’t work just for stock in the company.
Before the technology bubble burst in 2001, this was a common practice and less so now. Your time is precious. Don’t let anyone assume you’ll ever give that away for free.
Dr. Maria G. Hernandez has 20 years experience consulting in both the United States and Mexico to senior executives in Fortune 50 companies and facilitated change initiatives for elected officials and their staff. She has worked in academia, business, nonprofits, technology startups, and public agencies. For more information, visit Latina Cubicle Confidential™ on Facebook or on Twitter @SavvyLatinaInfo.