What qualities do you need to work in a startup?

With the number of new companies being founded growing daily all over the world, it’s no wonder that many business school graduates are thinking about joining a startup – a new business specifically designed for rapid growth and scaling. While it may be hard to imagine a world without AirBnB, Instagram & WhatsApp, it’s worth remembering that they weren’t always this big. These were companies founded by a small group of people who dreamed big, and had the ability to make true on these dreams. Success stories like these are among the most inspiring in the world of business, and it’s no surprise that the brightest and best are coveting a position at a startup that’s going places.

Now startups don’t have cash to burn, so are typically looking to maximize the benefit gained by the business from hiring fees and salary expenditure. With that in mind, below are some examples of what we look for in a graduate at our startup, Funeralbooker.


Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. As with any job you apply for, it’s helpful if you’re an expert on that job. You wouldn’t hire a dentist to do spinal surgery, nor would you hire a wordsmith for an analyst’s position (not that you can’t be an expert in both). Think about the job that you’re applying for, and ask yourself how much you know about that topic. If you have a strong background in social media, you should go for jobs in social media, rather than SEO or editorial, although these are often grouped together. If these sorts of jobs appeal to you, though you lack experience, there’s a lot that you can learn online, especially within digital marketing, and there are courses available where you can learn from the experts. Make sure you mention this on your application.

No reasonable company would expect a graduate to already be a thought leader in their chosen field, though if you can show an aptitude and an ability to learn from your limited experience thus far, that counts for a lot.

Often you’ll see job postings for ‘all-rounders,’ which basically means ‘someone who can do a lot of things.’ Typically graduates will join as an all-rounder before specializing, for example in sales or analytics. In this instance, having expertise in some field is still important, though the remaining points on this list are arguably more so.

Work ethic

There isn’t much time to waste in a startup. Everyone needs to be firing on all cylinders to get the business to that next round of funding, or to that hallowed sales target. You also need to be able to move past a setback, and keep driving the business forward. If you can show that you understand the value of hard work within your application, that’s immediately going to make you a stronger candidate.

This can be as simple as having held a part time, or Summer job while you were at college. Don’t hide these from your CV, as they show that you know what it means to work hard.

If you are accepted as an ‘all rounder’ make sure you give every task you’re given the same level of work and effort.

Attention to detail

Attention to detail is a must in any job. If there’s a typo, or lazy formatting in your application this will immediately count against you, and first impressions really do matter when you’re job hunting.

It’s an especially important quality in a startup because there’s less people there to catch mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, but you will be relied upon to catch your own mistakes before they become problematic.

Interests & Personality

Startups can vary in size, but generally have lower staff numbers than an established company. Therefore it’s important that everyone can get along well, and work together in pursuit of a common goal. Personality is more important here than what football team you support, and what movies you like to watch, though it’s usually a good idea to try and establish some common ground early on in the interview process.

By Antoni Swidlicki
Antoni Swidlicki