Want To Join The Next Big Company? Be Wary

Job seekers who dream of joining a start-up company, hoping it will become the next Starbucks or Google, should carefully consider the risks and rewards of change, according to a Wake Forest University expert.

Polly Black

“It is very exciting to join a start-up,” says Polly Black, director of Winston-Salem NC school’s Center for Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship. Because “it is often an all-hands-on-deck situation, you will have the opportunity to be involved in all aspects of the business right away,” she added.

There is some risk involved, though, and she warns those tempted to accept job offers from start-up businesses without a long-term track record must ask the right questions before making the leap. Here are Black’s top five things to consider:

  • Passion. Do you have a real passion for what the start-up company is doing? You will likely be working long hours for little pay, so you need to have a passion for what you are doing.
  • Financial stability. What kind of financial backing does the company have? If it is already in business, is it profitable? If it is a social enterprise, how is it sustainable?
  • Chemistry. Do you really fit with the people? With small start-ups, it is all about the team and working together.
  • Market need. Can company leaders clearly articulate, in a sentence or two, the market need they are meeting with their product or service? If not, that may indicate a lack of focus and clarity that could result in the company going nowhere.
  • Experience. What type of work will you be doing? Will you be included in meetings and decision-making? How much autonomy will you have and are you comfortable with that?

Even if you can’t find out directly what resources a company has, Black offers ideas for getting a clearer financial picture. “Ask if the company has any outside investors,” she suggests. “Ask how much of a burden adding a new person will have on the budget for the year? How will they make money to support operations or generate profit? If the business launch is delayed, how long could they afford to keep the same staffing?”

If a company has been trying to get off the ground for a long time and hasn’t yet made it, that can be a bad sign, she notes.

Photo from Wake Forest University