Starting up Once More

It’s official: I’m a real person again. My first post-MBA paycheck is moments away from hitting my bank account, and my alarm clock is routinely set to predawn hours. I was one of those “nontraditional” types who took on the renegade post-graduation job search, and I’m happy to report that it worked out quite favorably. I am an ex-consultant who managed to break into the San Francisco startup scene.

As such, I hope to impart some wisdom to help others make this transition:

• Keep an open mind. Especially in San Francisco, people are well connected to technology startups and happy to help. For all you know, your Lyft driver could be a retired venture capitalist or entrepreneur, and the more you engage in happenstance conversations the more likely you are to find a link that works for you and leads you to your dream job. Also realize that there are a lot of places to look: AngelList, VentureLoop, the Wharton job board and informal connections.

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Enjoying a new day in the Bay Area startup scene. Photo credit: David Ball, Wikimedia Commons

• Be flexible with goals: When I started my search, I thought I would end up at a fewer-than-50 person consumer Web startup. Instead, I’m at a pre-IPO, 500-person SaaS company—but I’m hard-pressed to find a better role or place for me to learn and grow.

• Be humble. I aimed to show versus tell as much as possible, voluntarily making presentations outlining my growth ideas or showing how I would structure my role at a company. This combination of work products, sheer hustle and passion not only is  an indication of your future success, but can differentiate you from other candidates while removing stereotypes about consultants lacking execution ability or MBAs requiring comfortable salaries and lofty titles.

• Stay busy. If you look for a job 24/7, chances are you’ll go crazy. Particularly if you’re an ex-consultant, you can easily pick up some part-time projects. Check out Wharton’s own startup, Skillbridge, for inspiration, or find entrepreneurs who could use your help. I built a financial model and pitch deck to help raise capital over the summer, and it an incredible experience that used almost everything I learned at Wharton.

• Know and be yourself. You may never escape “strengths and weaknesses” questions, but  think about who you are and what you want as you focus on this exciting phase of your career. For me, it boiled down to product, people and role. I need to be in a place where I am passionate about all three and can feel comfortable bringing my energy and sense of humor to work. It sounds simple, but checking all of those boxes is actually rare. For every 50 jobs I saw, only one or two looked remotely appealing.

• Brand yourself. It’s important to draw out the relevant aspects of your skills and experiences, and weave them into a cohesive story about who you are and what you will contribute to a nimble and growing enterprise. I literally made a slide called “About Me” and shared it with a number of people I was interviewing with. I also increased my activity on social media outlets. The more you tell your story, the more you understand your true priorities.

• Don’t settle. It may be tempting to apply to jobs willy-nilly, but doing this can distract you from finding the opportunity of your dreams. Had I exhausted myself by pursuing marginally interesting places, I would have lacked the focus and energy to excel at the opportunities for which I was genuinely passionate. I was grateful for my friends’ help, but I didn’t take every connection they offered. I also intentionally threw out my security blanket, turning down the return offer from my consulting firm.

At the end of the day, if you aren’t excited about what you do, you’ll be hunting for jobs again in the blink of an eye. Even though traditional jobs may offer stability, the entrepreneurial life provides such amazing opportunity that even if you initially fail, you’ll have the ride of your life.

Editor’s note: The entry above is the author’s own and does not necessarily represent the views of her company.

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