Houston VC launches founder-focused workshop series
As an executive recruiter, two questions I regularly receive are how to land a role at a fast-growing SMB company after being in a larger and often global organization for a significant amount of time, or how to change career paths. career – whether it’s to a different department (eg, sales operations) or breaking into a different industry altogether (often the O&G technology space).
I’ve helped several candidates successfully navigate one or all of those scenarios, but I’ve also been able to do it myself when I transitioned from owning a booking agency to working as a freelance makeup artist. And in my experience, those who were able to leverage transferable skills gave their new employers a unique perspective and a significantly broader lens, especially in terms of strategy.
With the state of flux in our economy—as some industries announce layoffs and others continue to experience labor shortages—I’ve put together the following tips for employers and job seekers.
First of all, let’s identify the traits of someone who is a good fit for the SMB or startup culture:
Persistent, a self-starter and someone who thrives on being busy at work. He is honored as a loved one. When leadership needs something done, this is the team member they know they can count on to get it done well and on time. Volunteer to step outside their comfort zone and take on new responsibilities. Intellectually curious and thrives on learning new things. Identifies problems, but also takes the initiative to solve them or identify solutions without waiting for someone else.
Looking to break into the startup scene? Consider highlighting and/or acquiring these industry-agnostic skills:
I always recommend that people interviewing for any position create a “verbal resume” or supplement to accompany the traditional one. These are examples of projects or scenarios you have successfully navigated in past roles that prove your ability to meet the expectations of the prospective employer.
Job descriptions often list the most important requirements first. Identify similar skills expected in your previous positions and examples to cite in the interview. I also recommend that you briefly indicate the most impressive ones in the resume. Going through this process will help you personally identify if you are able to confidently take the position.
We often underestimate some of the perspectives we can bring to a role if they are something that comes easily or is done regularly. Don’t assume hiring companies know your skills relevant to the role, and don’t be afraid to share notable accomplishments.
Smaller companies often rely on positions that have broader reach than their larger counterparts. This requires employee flexibility rather than sticking to a rigidly defined role.
As a recruiter, I’m hesitant about only placing experienced candidates from larger organizations where people aren’t typically asked to wear as many hats. Smaller companies require people to be self-starters and exemplify persistence in order to get through the clutter that fast-growing startups often possess. It’s exciting, challenging and rewarding for the right person.
Be able to identify times when you were proactive, especially if you identified a problem or breakdown in the process, developed a solution, and then executed it. With rapid growth, this must happen frequently to sustain scale. You don’t have the luxury of going to senior management and saying, “I can’t do my role because of this problem and I need to fix it.” They need candidates who are able to identify issues but also want the opportunity to fix them. Especially if you’ve worked in a corporate environment, identify times when you raised your hand to take something that wasn’t needed, started opportunities to collaborate with new teams, or stepped outside of your comfort zone.
Be flexible about compensation, especially if you’re entering a new industry. I almost never recommended a lateral move in compensation, much less a step down. But it is important to recognize that there are exceptions. If you are changing industries or entering a new part of the company altogether (eg engineering to sales), you should expect to not be compensated similarly to others who may have years of work as you but more experience in specific role/industry.
The company is taking a risk on you and knows there will be a learning curve. For the right candidate, that assimilation will be quick and compensation will eventually balance. Smaller companies in startup mode can sometimes find it difficult to compete with the salaries of larger organizations, especially if a candidate has a longer tenure (7 to 10 years or more) with the same company.
However, at the executive level, the reward of gaining experience and successfully navigating the startup scene can pay off exponentially in the long run for people, especially in equity roles. Often, I’ve seen candidates make moves and initially the role doesn’t offer equity or additional incentives. However, over time, their performance can be rewarded with it.
While other SMBs may trust that you will make the transition successfully and can offer packages with it from the start. Where this recommendation becomes consistent is that candidates historically don’t stay in a role very long if they take a pay cut. It’s much easier to say you can do without it for a period of time than to actually do it. Carefully assess whether a cut is something your budget can really afford.
Leah Salinas is a managing director with Houston-based executive recruiting firm Sudduth Search LLC.