If you are looking for a way to accelerate your experience, build a diverse skill set and graduate with a head start, there is no better time to intern in a startup. A recent report from Australia’s Chief Scientist’s Office state that startups are the largest contributor to job creation in Australia. From 2004 to 2011 they created more than 1.2 million new jobs.
The secret really is in the sauce when you intern in a startup. It doesn’t really matter what industry a startup is in, it is the way in which they work and the skill sets they foster that makes them important to you and your survival as the world of work changes dramatically over the next 20 years.
Traditional businesses operate a proven business model, know their market and rinse and repeat. Startups often begin with a hunch, an annoyance or a problem they want to solve. They often don’t have a defined business model, market, or value proposition and they build a process to test and explore what works, building feedback loops to keep testing until they get product, market fit.
Startups are just like an undergraduate student; baseline knowledge, untested value proposition, limited understanding of their target market and verticals, trying to identify their value, find their audience and price point somewhere between perceived value and cost of paying off a university degree.
Startups foster skills such as creativity, problem solving, analysis, judgement, negotiation and more. As an intern you will often have the opportunity to observe how lean teams operate, diversify your skill set, be responsible for real outcomes and learn by doing.
Whether you want to be a consultant at PwC, a social worker employed in the Department of Communities or want to startup your own business or social enterprise, working in a startup is an experienced valued by employers. Students can really transform themselves through an internship in a startup, but something to note for the uninitiated, like all catalysts for change is that the experience can initially feel uncomfortable and challenging when you enter the whirlwind of a growing startup. Hold tight, dig in and accept the uncertainty. Interning in a startup can be life changing both personally and professionally with the right team and founders. So let’s jump into to getting YOU into a startup in 2018, just follow these 5 easy steps.
Introverts relax. Step one is all about desktop research, and this is your ‘safe space’. Preparedness is the best way to prevent you from wasting your time and being disappointed. Depending on where you live there may be an available list. You can also look at Crunchbase. You can look to local reports generated out of the government or advocacy bodies like Startup Muster here in Australia.
2. Know what you can offer
Before you walk into that meetup or co-working space, pick up that phone or ask a friend to introduce you, know what you have to offer and what the value of a startup having you around the office is? Maybe in first year it is making a great coffee and answering customer emails, maybe it’s using your side hustle skills of producing videos and graphics combined with your research skills from your law degree that could help that startup at that time. Maybe it is your cultural background combined with language skills, which could assist the startup in ironing out some issues with their Chinese manufacturers, or Russian outsourced tech team? Your value proposition is made up of your technical skills, side-hustle and/or your hobby (note: random hobbies like pigeon racing may not qualify but it is startups and you never know) and personal characteristics. Here’s an example, “I am studying marketing and have a YouTube channel on Psychological Science explained which has over 20,000 followers and I am energetic and willing to learn all about startups”.
3. Understand a startup’s natural habitat
Think about where your startups naturally congregate. In the desert, it is normally around a watering hole providing the essentials for survival like shelter, food and drink. For startups that is a co-working space! Go to events in the space, drop in and hand some resumes to the Community Manager. Yes, it will probably be a bit scary but gone are the days where you wait for a job ad to appear online. It’s time to become active in your career strategy not passive.
4. Get ye to a Meetup
One-step on from understanding your startups natural habitat is understanding their movements, circles, kinship systems and communication methods and tools. Welcome to startup anthropology. Knowing about the startups you are interested in, in detail provides a deeper understanding of how the founders think, what challenges they are facing, what is important to them, where you can find them and how you can connect. Search on podcasts interviewing the founder, go to ‘in conversation sessions about their business. Find out if they live on Linked In or Twitter. Can you leverage this information to create opportunities and chance meetings without turning into a stalker?
5. Rinse and repeat
If you go to one meetup in one year you could maybe meet 3 new people. If you go to 10 meetups, 1 Startup Weekend, that’s maybe 40 real connections. ‘Getting out of the building’ is what startups have to do to find their customers. You need to do this not just to find a job, but to find what jobs exist out there. Getting out of the building helps you meet more people, learn about them, their, work, find a co-founder for your own startup, in fact I can’t say what will happen because it is all up to you, the timing, opportunity and a little bit of magic
You need to start with just one step. Then, one foot in front of the other. Those small activities, build momentum towards exploring what you like and what you don’t like. What you are good at and what you need to work on. Now, go forth and ‘startup’ your career.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life”. Steve Jobs
Rebecca McIntosh, ilab Community Manager