Startups have existed long before those portrayed in The Social Network, but the film certainly helped to sensationalize the space, not to mention heighten their appeal to twenty-somethings.
The challenge with startups, however, is that they are inherently cash-strapped, making landing a job with "the next Facebook" incredibly difficult.
But if you've weighed the risks and are ready to catapult yourself from the corporate world to the startup space, here are ten tips to help you out:
1. Start early. Prepare to devote months (or longer) to your search for the right startup. Ideally, you should conduct your search while you still have your corporate job. Even though it can be challenging to balance a full-time job with opportunity-hunting, it beats the alternative: accepting the first offer you receive because you're desperate for a paycheque.
2. Avoid lifestyle creep. Startup gigs are a lot of things, but high-paying jobs they're not. Resist the urge to let your lifestyle expand as your corporate salary does – you'll create options for yourself by living as lean as possible. And save as much as you can! It will come in handy if your startup's initial compensation plan is equity-only.
3. Know what you want. Many people think they want to join a startup, but don't know why or what exactly they're looking for. Take the time to understand what you need in a startup gig. Things to consider include the industry, function, company size and revenue model. When people ask you what kind of job you're looking for, your search will be much easier if you have these important details figured out and can communicate them succinctly.
4. Do your research. Once you know what it is you're looking for, it's time to discover the startups in your city that fit your requirements. Use sites like Techvibes or Crunchbase to find startups that are a fit for you, but also be prepared to be flexible. It's worth noting which startups have recently received funding. By following the money, you can discern which companies are likely to be hiring.
5. Brand yourself. These days, you make your first impression before you've even entered the room. Ensure that anyone searching for your name on Google, for example, finds a startup-friendly professional. You'll have to decide for yourself how far you can go when it comes to changing your online brand (hint: you may not want to tip off your boss or colleagues), but the way you present yourself online to your startup community is worth considering. For example, you may want to emphasize flexibility; startups are often looking for professionals who can wear a variety of hats.
6. Follow your community. Twitter and other social media tools make it easy to "join before you join." You can become a member of your startup community before ever leaving your corporate job. Follow your favourite startups and founders or employees on Twitter and other social media sites. You'll start to understand what they're reading, where they go, what they think about, etc. In time, you can join in the conversation. Though you won't be a true member of your startup community until you officially make the leap, this step can make your eventual transition much easier.
7. Be visible at startup events. Depending on where you live, you may have access to a particularly vibrant startup community. What you'll find about this group of people is that they're famously open and welcoming. Take advantage of that fact by being visible at startup events. Be interested in what members of the community are doing, and ask questions. See how you can help. Over time, people will start recognizing you. Once you decide to start sharing details about the startup gig you're looking for, they'll already know that you're serious about making the jump.
8. Meet for coffee. Once you've done your research, tweaked your online brand, followed your startup community on Twitter and become visible at startup events, it's time to get serious. Ask the startup founders and employees that you admire to meet you for coffee. Throw in some flattery – but be genuine –and ask for 15 minutes of their time. Make sure you meet at a coffee shop near their office, and it has to be your treat. Use the time to ask them how they got to where they are, and if they have any advice. If you've got the guts, ask them if they know any startups hiring for a role that might be a fit. You'll never know unless you ask, right?
9. Showcase your skills. Sometimes the only way to show people that you can do the work is to do the work, especially if you are still in the early stages of your career. Reach out to the startup (or three) that you're most interested in working for and offer to complete a specific task or assignment – within a specific timeline – for free. Be sure that the work you offer to do is something that your target startup won't be able to resist and then do an incredible job. If they're impressed, they'll be more likely to think of you when they need to expand their team.
10. Don't give up. The startup life can be tough; entire teams can go from feeling elated one day to completely deflated the next. If joining a startup is really what you want, show the world and your startup community that you have what it takes by not giving up until you land the right role for you. Repeat steps 1 through 9 until a desirable opportunity appears, and when you finally find your great startup gig, recognize that it comes with its own set of completely unique challenges. And welcome them.
Heather Payne is the founder and CEO of HackerYou, Toronto-based programming bootcamp that offers the best full- and part-time courses for people who want to learn to code.