Promotions and Startup

At larger companies, career tracks are well defined, and there are clear paths on how to move up. But at startups, there isn’t a playbook for how to get promoted. Promotions here means a more signification title, more compensation, more responsibility or whatever one cares about.

At a startup things move quickly, there often isn’t a defined HR - if there is the promotion norms change every 6 months as company vision, strategy, team, evolve. Despite the ever-evolving landscape, there are things you can do to get promoted early:

  1. Get on the floor & take action. The exciting opportunity at a startup is a chance to work without perfectly laid out roadmap developed by someone 9 levels above you. That’s scary and exciting. Being proactive and going beyond your JD gets rewarded.

  2. Stay focused on OKRs. At a startup, you could work on an infinite number of things, in part because there are so many potential problems & opportunities. With opportunity comes responsibility - stay focused on what matters. You can be proactive and stay focused. Not mutually exclusive.

  3. Drive impact. Be the engineer that drives 10x more impact, maybe because you’re smarter or you are better at prioritising. Don’t pick task because it is fun or because it is neat new tech. Do it because it drives impact. At every startup, there are 1000s of problems without answers. The startup pro can identify the key issues to focus on and jumps to action. Impact gets you promoted.

  4. Pitch in on recruiting. Recruiting is hard. No one likes it, but it’s a necessity for a growing company. Ask how you can help and then help. Identify, reach out, take first calls, sell to candidates. You have a chance to help build a team you want to be a part of.

  5. Be positive and upbeat. Founders are on a brutal rollercoaster. They appreciate it when someone else pulls up the torch and can be the positive & upbeat energy. This stands out and gets you promoted.

  6. Verbalise the vision/mission & values. Founders generally layout frameworks that they believe will help the company grow. If you use them in genuine and meaningful ways, people will notice. The founders will notice.

  7. Effective communication. Be responsive and respond to Slack and emails on the same day or at least within 24 hours. Even if they are simple replies as “I am on it” or “I will come back to you in 5 days”. Startups get hurt a lot by communication delays.

  8. Engage. Ask questions at all-hands. Stay off your phone during meetings. Have an opinion. Engagement from the team is a shot of adrenaline to your founders.

Note: If you’re helping in your spare time, the founders will notice.