Women at Work: Qualities That Will Get You Ahead at Startups

Something I don't talk a lot about here is my job: you know, the place I spend the majority of my time each week outside of my house or this blog.

Where I work

For those of you who are new around here, hello! I work at a startup in San Francisco called ThirdLove—we make ridiculously comfortable bras and underwear (and you've probably seen us on Instagram). I run social media and content, so most of the time I'm filming Instagram Stories, working with the press on interviews, sending products to influencers or writing blog content. Some days it actually feels like all I do is churn out blog posts, between my job and my blog!

Since I graduated from college just over three years ago, I've always worked in startup environments. I started my career in social media and content at Glassdoor (I was there for about two years), and for the last year (how time flies!) I've been at ThirdLove.

Corporate vs. startup

Growing up, I had no idea there was an alternative to a corporate working environment. My dad was in finance, and I saw him go to his 9-5 job every day, work in a cubicle or in an office, and wear a suit to work. I thought that's what work was.

Fast forward 20 years, and I live—and work—in the center of startup life. San Francisco is inspiring, incredibly fast-moving, and home to some of the most brilliant minds on the planet.

But startups are very different than traditional, old-school companies, in almost every sense. And characteristics that might get you ahead in extremely corporate environments won't necessarily get you ahead in the startup world.

New series: women at work!

Out of all of the Instagram messages and emails I get, most of them are from young girls who are just entering the working world and who have questions about getting a job, what to wear to an interview, and what it's like working in Silicon Valley. Because of that, I'm launching a new series: women at work. I'm going to be breaking down questions I get about the workplace, and also taking your questions (in the comments section!) and answering them in future posts as part of this series.

The first topic for today's start to this series is all about the qualities that will get you ahead in a startup environment. (Keep in mind, this is just my experience, and I can't speak for everyone in startup experiences everywhere.)

Here are some of the qualities I've found are extremely helpful (in both in myself and in my coworkers) in a startup culture, that might help you score a job at one, too:

  1. Flexibility

    The #1 thing I've learned in my career at startups so far is this: change is the only constant. If you don't learn to roll with the punches early on, you won't survive long in a startup environment.

    This is something that I'm happy I learned early on. I'm a control freak, and in my early days at Glassdoor, I would get overwhelmed when things changed on a dime, or a project took an entirely new direction at the last-minute, and I had to hustle to get it done. Now, I've come to expect it: and it's actually what keeps my job so exciting.
  2. Adaptability

    In a corporate job, your role is typically clearly defined, and you follow your description. You're allowed to say things like "that doesn't fall under my responsibilities", and you typically have a large enough team where someone else can pick that project or responsibility up.

    In a startup world, your job description changes from day to day, and it evolves so quickly. My job description lists me as the person in charge of social media content and our blog—but I also manage press interviews, have put on events for the company, oversee company partnerships, and take on new odd jobs almost every day. This is what I love about startups: I'm never bored!
  3. Confidence.

    This one is a bit trickier—flexibility and adaptability are things I believe you can train yourself to be, but confidence comes over time. In startups, you're oftentimes working on a small team, and you are really owning your category. There's no one else to look to for questions or to hand things off to—you're the one who has to know everything about your projects. 

    That means you're the one standing up in meetings presenting on results (pretty much no matter which type of role you're in), and are oftentimes presenting to co-founders or the CEO. The level of visibility you get in a startup requires you to be confident in yourself and your work on a pretty much hourly basis.
  4. Perspective.

    Startups can get STRESSFUL, real quick. People are pretty much always online, and it's easy to get extremely invested in your work and want to be plugged in all the time. This kind of environment can also make it seem like everything is a big deal: every email matters, every social media post needs an immediate response, etc.

    You need a healthy dose of perspective to succeed at startups. Unless you're working at a startup that is quite literally curing cancer, it's not that serious, and it can always wait until morning. Make sure you're someone who knows how to balance work and personal life before you hop into a small, scrappy team.

Do you have any questions about women at work? Let me know in the comments section below—I'd love to hear your thoughts as I work on the next installment!