10 Traits to Succeed as a Startup Employee

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You know, before you accept a startup job, it’s going to take a while. High-growth, fast-paced startups are dynamic and challenging. In other words, someone who crushed it at their 50,000-employee, publicly traded organization might feel underwater at a Series B company (and vice versa). So, what do you look for in a prospective startup? What traits do you cultivate so your employees can grow and flourish?



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If you are new to the wild world of startups, I am here to be your guide. I’ve completed thousands of hours of behavioral research and worked with every kind of startup under the sun. Over the years, I’ve compiled a set of 10 critical traits that employees must possess, develop, and cultivate. Do you know what it takes to succeed? Learn now.

Related: 4 Essential Skills Needed to Thrive as a Startup Employee

Features you need to thrive in a fast-paced environment

Startups are made from scratch. This means that when you accept a job, you also accept uncertainty, fluidity, and regular points. In order to succeed in this type of environment, employees need to grow in the following areas:

  1. Ambiguity Tolerance: Does the phrase “gray zone” stress or energize you? It is imperative that startup employees not only feel comfortable with ambiguous situations, but see them as desirable, interesting, and an opportunity to solve complex or original problems.

  2. Flexibility: Flexibility is essential for startup employees. They will be asked to rotate often and must do so without anger and resentment. They must also be comfortable owning multiple tasks or work lanes — some of which may be outside the scope of their role.

  3. Openness to learning: Every startup is a learning laboratory. Employees should seek to challenge the status quo, ask for feedback, gain other opinions, and engage in discussions that will help improve the team.

Traits you need to work well with others

Lone wolves don’t make it in startups. An employee’s attitude toward cross-functional collaboration will make or break their success. Here are the qualities that startup workers must have if they are going to achieve interpersonal wins:

  1. Emotional Intelligence: In an ever-changing environment, you’ll need to quickly read a room and adjust your approach in real time. You should also be able to regulate your emotions. Startups can be stressful and you shouldn’t allow the negative energy to affect your colleagues.

  2. Conflict management: Recognize when there is a problem and take action to resolve it. Startups are notoriously short on time, so if you can face issues head-on, resolve them, and move forward, you’ll prove your worth — fast.

  3. Team Support: Regardless of your rank and title, you should recognize and appreciate the efforts of your teammates. Be publicly vocal when people are doing good work. This will help everyone stay motivated, even during the toughest times.

  4. Knowledge sharing: Communication is important in any job, but especially in startups. Share industry knowledge, context and resources with others so that everyone — and everything — can move fast.

Features you need to perform at your best

Priorities can change on a dime, and startup workers must accept constant change and competing demands. If clean guardrails and procedures are a must for you, you may need to look elsewhere. But if you have the following traits, you probably have what it takes to succeed at a startup:

  1. Personal initiative: A to-do list delivered on a silver platter and on time? This is simply not possible in a startup. You have to be a self-starter, identify opportunities, make plans, develop goals and bring new ideas to life — without being asked.

  2. Reliability: Do what you say you will do and deliver on your promises. Be honest and realistic about what you can do. Rumors build quickly (noticing a trend?) and people who are reliable, solid and reliable will find their footing more easily.

  3. Gravel: Grit = passion + persistence. It is the ability to overcome setbacks, work hard and get things done. Your startup journey will be full of thrills and excitement. Do you have the stamina to stay the course even when the going gets tough?

Related: What is Grit and Why Does It Matter When Hiring for Your Startup?

Just like the startup itself, employees must be prepared to enter the ring knowing that there are risks involved. These fast-paced jobs aren’t for everyone, but if you strongly identify with the ten traits, take it as a sign. You could be ready to join a venture that will deeply appreciate what you bring to the table. And what do you get in return? A place to grow fast, learn constantly, and contribute in ways you never imagined possible.

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