Start-Up Culture: What the Job Description Says and What It Really Means

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Since the dawn of time immemorial, people have been trying to hire other people to work for them.

I’ve been applying to jobs for the past six months, and I’ve noticed two trends of note.

The first is that there are a serious number of start-ups during what is supposed to be a very difficult economic period.

The second is that these start-up companies are all posting job descriptions with a large number of similar-sounding offers — about the office, the culture, and the place.

Here are some of them that I have successfully decoded after too many face-to-face and virtual interviews over the past 8 months:

When talking about what they do:

There is always an “exciting new technology” that is probably in development and as yet unproven and probably untested, and not safe to deploy.

Needless to say, it is going to be very “disruptive” to the status quo which is why they have not been able to find a client/buyer/customer for said new technology.

When they talk about finding the right personality and attitude

“Looking for a Ninja” means: Someone young (under 25) and passionate for the team who is going to be doing the dogsbody work of photocopying, buying coffee, picking the dry cleaning, generic office management, and paper filing. You may also become the office chauffeur.

“Looking for a Rockstar” means: Someone that survived the “Ninja” phase and is a bit older (over 25), has managed to get some experience and can do a few things. You’re still going to be the chauffeur, but at least now you get to sit in on those meetings.

Whether you are a “Ninja” or a “Rockstar,” you have to be passionate about what you will be doing because the salary is going to be lean, so “attitude” becomes very important.

When they talk about their culture:

 [I’m pretty sure that the “flat structure” is partly responsible for these middle of the night dilemmas.]

“We have a flat structure” means: The CEO has all the decision-making authority. Nobody else wants to make a decision without his input, because he is out “working hard and playing hard” with clients.

There will be an “Advisory Board” comprised of important folk who get free equity because they either lend credibility to the start-up or gave a loan. But they can’t make a decision without the CEO’s input either.

Another feature of these flat structured startups is the culture of “we all wear many hats” — so everybody does everybody else’s job, and no one knows what’s really going on most of the time.

But since everyone wears more than one hat, they don’t have job titles like “Manager”. This simply means that there are no clear lines of authority, no clear line of promotion, and no mentorship.

The “fast-paced environment” generally means everyone is pretty stressed out, because no decisions can be made due to having a very flat structure and an Advisory Board.

“Work Hard, Play Hard” means that you will work hard, while they play hard and bill it to the company under the guise of “building relationships” with clients and business partners.

[Because karaoke night is for everyone but you. Image via Unsplash.]

But don’t worry, because “you’ll have lots of autonomy” — this means that the CEO will make all the decisions and then call you to do things, regardless of your working hours or schedule.

When they talk about working hours:

“Flexible Working Hours” means: You can work 24 hours, 7 days a week. You are expected to work these hours but they won’t hold you to it, until they need something very urgently, at three in the morning.

“Flexible Working Schedule” means: You are on call 24/7/365. You will be called and expected to do things immediately because everything is urgent and can only be done on weekends.

Good thing you’ve got lots of autonomy, because “Unlimited holidays” means no paid holidays or paid leave.

Needless to say, when they say “we are like one big family”, you can take the job, but keep looking, because you will not have a career.

For more stories about careers, read: 4 Career Lies We Need to Stop Believing Right Now and I Quit My Job To Be A Manager – Here’s Why I Regret It.

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