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Getting Past Truthiness: Three Ways to Assess if You’d Be Happy (and Effective) at a Startup

Startups inspire so much excitement that it can be easy to forget that working at one is not for everyone. When I assess candidates for “startup affinity,” I sometimes see Colbertian truthiness rather than real self-awareness about preferences and strengths. As you consider your career, it’s critical to identify what your interests and comfort zone really are, rather than what you want them to be or assume they should be. To do that, ask yourself these questions: 1. What’s Your Risk Tolerance? You’ve probably thought through your financial risk tolerance in the context of managing your 401K and other investments. But as you consider whether a startup could be a good match for you, it’s critical you think about how much safety you need in other ways, as well. Being tasked with building value when a path has not been laid out yet is not for the risk averse. Ask yourself whether you could be comfortable making changes on your own, or if you feel more at ease executing an established plan. If the latter, a startup may not be the place for you. You have to be the kind of person more concerned with the positive growth aspect of a company than the possibility of a layoff — and that’s not everyone. 2. How Wide (and Flexible) is your Skill Range? In Fortune 500 companies, employees develop deep skill sets in specific areas such as project management, process scale-up, or cost-effectiveness. Working in a startup, however, is all about finding and implementing (or managing the implementation of) solutions — whether the challenges you face fall under your previous expertise or not. In a startup, for example, the duties of a VP of Sales may include building and managing a team as well as direct selling, technical support, customer support, business development, and marketing. This is a dream to one person and a nightmare to another. And guess which belongs in a startup?3. Are you a Grower or a Manager? Creating something unique and amazing — even if that means thinking in entirely new ways — is a key motivator for entrepreneurial types. Consider whether you gravitate to the challenge of building something from the ground up, or if you’re attracted to managing well to continue sustained growth. Would you rather develop a business plan that dazzles customers and leverages everything your company has to offer, or would you rather work to deliver on part of the plan?

In the end, one set of preferences isn’t objectively better than the other — even though the amount of ink spilled about entrepreneurs might lead you to believe otherwise. Success can be had in a variety of ways, and in a variety of venues: going against your grain seldom results in value creation or career satisfaction. Whatever your professional preferences, know them for what they are, and don’t settle for what you think they should be. Remember: To thine own self be true. Not “truthy.”

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