Have you considered working for a startup, applying for their available roles, going through the interview process and finding yourself rejected time after time? Or have you been surprised to find yourself being asked to attend a second, or even a third interview at the startup you applied to join? Well, you aren’t the only one.

Working or interning for startups has become a more and more attractive option in Singapore in the recent years. Go to any university career fair and you’re likely to see quite as many startup booths as you do those of traditional corporations.

Some schools, like the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), even give startups a dedicated area so that students who are interested in working in a small, close-knit environment with a flat hierarchical structure, as well as in trying out various job functions, can head straight for those companies.

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A bustling career fair located in Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Photo: NTU

It’s not just universities companies dedicated to assisting startup owners in their hiring process are also abound. Startups can post their job opportunities on a variety of platforms: StartUpJobs, TechinAsia, e27 and Glints, just to name a few. Many of these platforms charge nothing more than a nominal fee and some even allow startups to advertise job opportunities for free. Startups looking to expand can post as many job descriptions as they would like without additional cost.

In a country where working for big names in the industry still confers some prestige, and startups have so many roles to fill, some assume (wrongly) that the selection process at such companies is and ought to be less stringent, since startups are less well-established, do not have the same clout and cannot possibly expect so much from their employees. This assumption fails to understand the importance of hiring the right people at a company’s infancy. So if your application has been rejected by a Singaporean startup, and you’re not quite sure why, let me break it down for you:

I. Startups need employees who are flexible and dynamic.

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The relatively small size of startups means that they need people who are able to fulfill a variety of roles. Sure, the role that is being advertised on their website may read “Marketing Manager” but if you are applying to a startup that does B2B marketing and you only want to be involved in big, conceptual ideas to market the product but refuse to contact potential clients directly to do sales, a startup with only 3 full-time staff on their team would be unlikely to hire you.

So if you prefer fulfilling only one function, whether this is in marketing, customer service or client management, or you have a 5 year career plan in mind, and you want only to do work that would help you reach your eventual career goals, you are most likely not a good fit for the startup environment.

II. Startups need employees who can think and operate independently.

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If you lack confidence in executing work without precise instruction or prefer to be assigned tasks rather than create and work on them based on the company’s needs, then it’s time to rethink your role in a startup. The smaller the startup, the more roles each member has to play, which means that none of these people are likely to have the capacity to micromanage you.

This is not to say that all startups expect employees to operate at full capacity from day one without guidance or training. It simply means that startups expect employees to take initiative whenever they can, and to be in charge of and enjoy being in charge of their own little work projects.

III. Startups need employees who are a good cultural fit.

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In the ‘make it or break it’ culture of the startup world, it is important that employees believe in the vision, missions and core values of the startup. Only when employees share the beliefs of the founder(s) can they be committed to working to achieve company goals. While such things can similarly be said for traditional corporations, startups typically have less leeway to accommodate employees who do not believe in the product or service being sold and only wish to work for the money.

When assessing for cultural fit, hiring employees whose values align with the startup is particularly crucial, since all employees are likely to be working very closely with one another and clashes in core values are more likely to affect company morale. So if you’re applying for a marketing position in a startup committed to improving a tourist’s travel experience, but personally have very little interest in travel, don’t be surprised if you’re rejected, even if you do have lots of experience in marketing.

IV. Startups need employees who are worth what they’re being paid (and more).

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Capital is seldom easy to come by and for cash-strapped startups, every bit counts. While it is possible for traditional corporations to hire entry-level staff on a full salary based on their perceived potential, the same cannot be said for startups, especially those that are bootstrapping. Startups need people who are able to produce what they are being paid to produce. So if you did not understand why that well-established traditional corporation is willing to hire you and to pay you more than the startup is, you know now.

If you believe you’ve met the above criteria, but still did not manage to get that job with the startup of your choice, here’s a final thing to consider: perhaps it really wasn’t you. In order to survive, startups must be quick to adapt themselves when changes happen in the industry and your submission or interview could simply have happened at a bad time. If the profile of this startup truly attracts you, consider sending your application in again in a couple of months (if the company still exists then).

Do you agree with us? Whether you’re a startup founder or a startup employee, if you have something you’d like to say about hiring in startups, drop us an email at hello@upcode.media. Let’s have a chat!

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