Failure is considered to be a stepping stone to success. But what if that failure is not yours, so to speak, but of the CEO of the startup that you decided to risk your career to work in. While we hear the stories of the mega success of certain entrepreneurial ventures, we also need to note the inevitable fact that a lot of startups fail, constantly. Some of the founders may carry failure as a badge of honor while some may feel too fallen down to be able to get up and walk again soon. The failure and subsequent closure of a startup has devastating effects on the founders and investors. It also has a very distressing effect on another set of key stakeholders – the employees.
When life give you lemons
Imagine this scenario where a 35-year-old man, let’s call him Jack, decides to join the team of young engineers who got funding for their company to create eco-friendly and affordable alternative solutions for pollution problems in the cities. He believes in their vision to create a better world for the future and wants to contribute to something worthwhile. The company has a great product idea but like many others who face similar fate, the cash runs out and they have to shut down the operation. Jack loses his job but that is not the end of it. He feels a deep personal loss since he was invested in the vision of the company and put in a lot of hard work to make the cause a success. He was a very small fish in the big pond of the corporate world while in the startup he knew he was making an impact and being recognized and appreciated for it.
Make a refreshing lemonade
If you are or fear being in Jack’s position, help is on the way. With the job market getting more competitive each day, you also have to deal with the additional pressure of coming from a failed organization. It would be a good idea to look for companies in the same industry so you can sell your skill sets that are specific to the industry and hence valuable. While you may follow the general drill of updating your résumé and using job portals, recruiters may take their time in calling you. A simple advice from recruiters is to make your profile compelling to read and make it stand out among the melee of profiles that they have to go through. Look at it this way, the recruiters are actually looking for a shiny and good needle not in a haystack, but in a stack of needles. They need to locate quickly the needle that stands out and you can use your past experience of working with a startup to your advantage.
Organizations generally look for such employees who share their strategic vision, think of innovative solutions to business challenges, not back down during adversity, have a similar ethics and values code as the company and are good in their technical know-how. The demise of your last organization may not have been your fault but it still does not bode well to blame it all on the founders. A better idea would be to incorporate in your job sales pitch on how some of the things that led to the failure of the startup proved to be learning lessons for you. For example, one of the common issues faced by startups is a failure to plan for the future. You have to learn the hard way that shortsightedness can cause business failure and losing investor interest. Many founders also have arrogance and inflexibility as common traits that ultimately become a bitter cost to pay. As an employee, you can learn from the mistakes of these founders and be more self-aware and cautious while dealing with your own career.
Failure as a test for character
Tough times are common to all but what sets strong minded people apart from others is how they react in those tough times. Recruiters would be interested in knowing how you have kept yourself sane in such times of despair. They would also want to know the work you did in the startup. Be prepared to answer questions on your decision to join the start-up, your belief in their vision, your thoughts on what went wrong, your role in the failure, if any, your plan for your future if the startup had survived and how your skills as a manager have improved having worked in such a different atmosphere. If you are applying to another startup again, they would have more questions on your lack of preference to have a safety net to go back to established organizations. It is also important to remember that the one story of being an employee of a failed startup cannot dictate your entire career path. Even if it was your first job, you have to showcase your repertoire of skills and talent that you possess independent of the last job experience.
The fable of the spider and the lessons it taught a fallen king comes to mind while the post-pandemic buzzwords of ‘resilience’ and ‘fortitude’ may feature in your thoughts. They are valued for a reason. And learning from your experience, good or bad, is not just a smart career move but a veritable personality trait.