Just five to ten years ago, the dream job or internship that many Singaporeans entering the workforce is working at a large Multi-National Corporation (MNC) or joining the civil service.
Thanks to popular big-name startups like Grab, Carousell, Lazada and ShopBack, working in a startup is becoming increasingly popular among today’s millennial jobseekers and those looking for internships.
After all, what’s there not to love? When picturing startups, what often comes to mind is young, dynamic colleagues who are full of passion and big ideas, well-stocked pantries, and flexibility to work however you want, whenever you want.
For better or worse, life in a startup isn’t always what is portrayed in the movies or recruitment ads.
Based on my firsthand experience working at a startup for three months, here are four things you need to consider if you’re planning to work or do an internship at a startup.
# 1 With Great Flexibility Comes Great Responsibility
Startups often pride themselves on having flexible office hours – you may arrive later and leave earlier than your bosses. The caveat? As long as your work is done.
Unlike most conventional companies where you are expected to be in the office from 9 to 5, working at a startup usually entails self-discipline to manage your own time. Truth is, flexible working hours in a startup means hustling hard most of the time.
Also, such flexible working hours may appeal to student interns, especially those who have other commitments such as CCAs or tuition. However, thriving well in a working environment with ‘flexible schedule’ is a two-way street. While flexible working hours means it is easier to accommodate your schedule for other commitments, interns themselves have to be flexible in their schedules as well.
Leaving early today means having to stay back another day to finish up your undone work. Would you be willing to come back to office on a weekend? If you have to write a time-sensitive article, are you able to sacrifice your weekends to do so?
Flexibility works both ways – be flexible in your own schedule for the company, and the flexible working hours will serve you well in juggling your commitments.
# 2 That Isn’t Mentioned In My Job Description – Wearing Multiple Hats
In startups where teams are generally small, it is unavoidable that everyone has to wear many different hats. When work gets hectic, you may be tasked with all these other side projects that can be overwhelming at times.
What you ended up doing is probably way beyond, or even totally different from the job scope that you signed up for. However, changing your mindset matters: how often do you get the chance to experience so many different fields? Having a steep learning curve also means a greater personal growth.
In the 3 months of internship, I’ve had a taste of digital marketing, content creation in the different forms, and even had a taste of filming short videos. Without any prior experience, these tasks seemed scary at first but when done well, the sense of satisfaction makes the learning journey worthwhile.
Another benefit of shouldering multiple responsibilities also teaches one to look at things more holistically. Compared to a myopic view of the entire ecosystem if you were to only focus on one process, wearing multiple hats helps you to understand how different aspects interplay with one another.
# 3 Content Creation Isn’t Just About Creativity
Any content that earned a nod from the readers/ audience doesn’t just come by easily. Behind each successful content are hours of brainstorming, non-stop hustling, several drafts and countless rounds of editing. When periods of writer’s block and ideas drought hit, you will have to crack your brain and think harder.
Content creation is also more than just being creative or topics you are interested in. It is important to understand the unique selling proposition that your company can offer to your audience. Moreover, the needs of different stakeholders are to be given due considerations as well – what would the audience like to see? What messages does your client want to convey?
Therefore, it is imperative to keep in mind that creativity alone is unsustainable; it needs to be merged with business strategy for the business to be viable in the long-run.
# 4 Autonomy Comes At A Cost
“Change is the only constant” – A very apt description for startups where there is no one-size-fits-all solution and more room for your entrepreneurial spirits to grow. Start-ups are, well, starting out and directions for the company might not be crystal-clear. While this gives one the freedom to think out of the box and chart the strategic direction for the company, it also means that there is no standard structure to follow.
The idea of freedom may seem attractive at first, but only when you are left to solve the problems with vague instructions, no clear rules and a multitude of choices do you realise that things are not as straight-forwards as it seems. This would challenge you to think thoroughly on your ideas and never stop thinking about creating new initiatives.
Although the absence of structure and rules may not be the most suitable working style for some, it serves as a valuable springboard for you to develop any (crazy) ideas you might have. Don’t underestimate your ideas and put forth your opinions, because who knows? Your colleagues and bosses may just love your ideas and you may even be surprised when they seek your help with their work. The satisfaction that comes when your hard work pays off is well-worth every minute of headache you spend cracking your brain for new ideas and initiatives.
Challenge Your Limits
“You should experience the start-up life at least once in your lifetime.”
Having been through a start-up internship, I couldn’t agree more with this advice. Yes, the learning curve is steep but that also means your personal growth would be boosted exponentially as well. In a start-up, your bosses and senior colleagues are most likely your direct mentors.
There is just endless learning and tapping on their wealth of experience to develop as a person. As long as you are willing to rise up to the challenge, a start-up internship would be the best time for you to make mistakes, learn, and grow.
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