Are you cut out for working at a startup?

Startup life has gotten the Hollywood treatment in a string of movies from The Social Network to The Intern to Steve Jobs. Most young people already have a mental picture of what working at a startup would be like: free snacks, nap pods, sprawling offices with open floor plans, and late-night team meetings where everyone’s tapping away at their Apple laptops.

Startups generally offer more perks than the average workplace. But few people who join startups as their first job cite the perks as something that wooed them. We talked with several startup team members about the benefits and hazards of having their first jobs with a startup. They describe the flexibility, autonomy, and learning opportunities that their jobs have afforded them.

“There is a larger opportunity overall for individual growth,” says WeWork 42nd Street member Alina Heim, who works as the “social media hero” at Roomi. “At a more traditional company, you could be in the same job for two years and not feel like you’re moving up. But at a startup, you could be a manager within six to nine months. At a startup, your presence is felt at the company.”

Flexibility and ingenuity

Ashton Wall, director of customer marketing and brand at Tradesy, says that for approximately 30 percent of Tradesy employees, the company was their first job after college. For Wall and others, it’s the unique work environment that attracts them.

“I can set my own hours, and my own approach,” says Wall. “I sit down with our CEO—we talk about the objectives we want to focus on, and the key metrics we’ll watch to indicate we’re making progress towards that said objective. She then leaves it up to me on how to get there.”

Wall says that she thrives on the confidence that the company places in her.

“It’s amazing,” she says. “Whereas my friends who work at talent agencies or other old-fashioned, corporate companies, they are told exactly how to approach their objectives or tasks. It sometimes seems like they’re being paid to comply, not to think critically or experiment.”

But working independently can also be a challenge.

“These very things are double-edged swords,” says Wall. If you’re the type of person who needs to be told what to do—you will fail.”

Opportunity and personal growth

The difference between a startup and a “small business” or “young company” is that startups intend to grow very quickly. “Scalability” is a fun buzzword, but it generally comes with hard work and long hours. (Not first-year analyst at Goldman Sachs long hours, but definitely more than a typical 9-to-5.)

One of Wall’s co-workers, Danielle Hruska, says her current job as marketing designer has meant wearing many different hats.

“Though this is my first job, I was given numerous opportunities to work on significant projects that allowed me to make an impact and grow within the company,” she says. “I’m not narrowed into one job. For example, though I am on the marketing team, I often work with the product team on projects and am able to learn about other departments.”

The most challenging part for Hruska? Time management.

“Joining a fast-paced startup environment, I had to learn to manage my workload in an efficient way, while also leaving sufficient time to receive multiple rounds of constructive feedback,” she says.

Teamwork and connecting with others

Kaitlyn Carl, media relations coordinator at GrubHub, says it’s the connections with her teammates that matter most.

“Although things move quickly in the startup culture, what’s delighted me the most is how much of a team presence there is,” she says. “Even when there’s an abundance of projects moving quickly at once, my team takes the time to figure out how to strategically conquer them by working together.”

Carl’s trick to managing it all?

With so many fun and exciting opportunities stemming from the startup culture, you have to learn when to take a step back and know what is manageable—and when to ask for help.”

Photo credit: Lauren Kallen

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