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Entrepreneur Office Hours: Issue #196
When the crap hits the fan, who's at fault?
In last week’s issue of EOH, I compared my default reaction to life’s normal array of challenges with the way one of my friends reacts to similar types of struggles. I noted that he tends to blame others when things don’t go his way, whereas I tend to question my own contributions to whatever went wrong. Then I went on to argue how taking personal responsibility has something to do with entrepreneurial training, and, in general, it’s a good thing because it leads to a calmer and more zen-like life.
For whatever reason, the issue caused a bit of a stir, and I received a number of emails. The messages fell into one of three categories, so let’s take a look:
Category #1: Effusive agreement
Lots of readers agreed with me. According to your messages, they agreed so much that they shared the issue with a number of friends and family.
For example, one reader wrote:
“Just posted a link to this issue in my company’s Slack channel because you made such good points.”
Thanks for all the kind words! I’m glad to know lots of you feel similarly about the calming benefit of entrepreneurial self reflection and personal accountability.
Category #2: Incredulous disdain
Another contingent of readers were particularly annoyed by my example of taking personal accountability for a waiter bringing me the wrong order. For example, someone wrote:
“I agree that entrepreneurs should be self-reflective and self-critical, but within reason. When a waiter brings me the wrong food, it’s clearly the waiter’s fault. Being entrepreneurial doesn’t have to mean I’m responsible for someone else being bad at their job.”
To be clear, I’m not arguing entrepreneurs should take responsibility for other people’s mistakes. I’m simply noting that entrepreneurial training better prepares us to appreciate why mistakes might happen.
In the case of a waiter bringing me the wrong food, sure, I could blame the waiter. But my entrepreneurial experiences have trained me to consider the possibility that the issue has nothing to do with what I perceive to be, on its surface, an incompetent waiter. Maybe the kitchen messed up. Maybe the ordering system had a glitch. Heck… maybe I actually misspoke.
My point is that entrepreneurs tend to be good at recognizing they don’t always know all the context about why certain bad things happen. It doesn’t make the bad things acceptable. It just allows entrepreneurs to be more calm and rational in the ways they deal with mistakes, and that seems like a good thing.
Category #3: Grammar police
While a handful of people had surprising opinions about my core points from last week’s issue of EOH, the most surprising cohort of emails focused on a single but awkward grammar mistake. Here’s an example of what someone wrote:
“FYI, Aaron — ‘crap shoot’ is one word. At least it is with the way I think you’re intending to use it. But maybe you really do mean job hunting is like shooting at giant piles of shit.”
True, it was a mistake. But I’m comfortable with the outcome. After all, job hunting really is like shooting at giant piles of crap.
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Office Hours Q&A
I really appreciated your take on the best way to get jobs. I am curious if you would mind expanding on that a little bit further and talking about getting jobs with startups.
Would it be the same principle? Is it even worth applying to startup jobs? Because I find myself thinking startups most likely have a very different hiring process when compared with established companies, correct?
First, let’s add some parameters. Specifically, since startups can be different sizes, I’m going to assume you mean small startups… as-in 10 or less people. Obviously, as startups get bigger, their hiring processes change and begin to look more “normal” with applications and interviews, etc. However, before that, most startups find talent in ways that are generally ad hoc and random.
Admittedly, I don’t have the data to back up any of what I’ve just suggested, but experience tells me that the vast majority of startup jobs aren’t coming from LinkedIn job searches.
So, how do you get a job with a startup?
Let’s flip the question and ask it more from the perspective of a startup founder. Instead of trying to figure out how you should get a job, ask yourself how a startup founder might approach hiring someone.
Founders know they have extremely limited resources, so they can’t afford to get their earliest hires wrong. As a result, they try to hire early employees in the surest ways possible. In my experience, those two ways are..
First… getting recommendations from people they trust. Simply put, if someone you have faith in tells you, “You 100% should hire this person because they’re going to be incredible,” you’re much more likely to hire the person no matter what a resume says.
Unfortunately, as someone looking for a startup job, it’s hard to control who’s going to recommend you, so let’s jump to the second way startup founders like to hire.
The second way startup founders like to hire is through some sort of “show proof” process. For example, back when I was building companies, I’d meet with people who wanted to work with me, I’d tell them something I needed help with, and I’d see what happened.
Specifically, I was looking for people who would pick up a project on their own and push it forward without me explicitly asking.
It was a test, of sorts, and very few people passed it. However, the ones who did would ultimately become incredible employees because they’d already demonstrated the kind of self-motivation necessary to succeed in a startup job.
That’s my advice for you. Rather than waiting for a startup to hire you before you “work” for them, find some way to provide value on your own.
I’m not suggesting you build an entire piece of software for free or get them 100 customers. I just mean figure out a problem a startup you’re interested in working for is having and see if you can come up with a clever way to help solve it.
For example, I once had a conversation with someone where I mentioned we were struggling getting leads within a certain vertical. A few days later, the guy emailed me – without my prompting – with a list of possible strategies for getting those leads as well results from a couple tests he’d already run.
Admittedly, the tests he ran didn’t work particularly well, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was the initiative he showed to identify a problem I had based on our conversation and that he took action on his own. That was someone I wanted to hire, and, it turned out, he was a great employee.
Anyone looking for a startup job should consider doing the same thing. Learn about a company, figure out what it needs, and find something to do to help. At the very least, doing so will get you into a conversation about a potential job, which is likely a lot better than what you’ll get with a resume.
Got startup questions of your own? Reply to this email with whatever you want to know, and I’ll do my best to answer!