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an employee in salary. They usually work off a template based on confidential market surveys that tell them exactly what, say, a director of manufacturing is worth in their market. Employees rarely have access to this same kind of detailed human resources information. But this is where it’s important to use your network, and to know someone who works as a corporate attorney, an HR consultant, or a venture capitalist who has access to these kinds of proprietary compensation surveys. Oftentimes, these people are happy to help prospective candidates understand if they are being offered a fair deal. Finding the right person to help you gain knowledge is key. University career counseling offices sometimes have this kind of information, says Third Rock’s Greaves. If not, proprietary salary surveys may not be public information, but they “do have a way of widening through networks,” Greaves says.
Learn about the company culture: This is a tough one. Hiring managers tend to put on their best possible face during the hiring dance, and candidates do too. Often, there’s little time to evaluate a company’s true work habits, processes, relationships, quirks, and values. But every insider I spoke to said candidates need to carefully evaluate company culture.
Greaves, the recruiting partner with Third Rock, said he tries to find clues about a company’s culture when he visits their offices. Does the company work in a fancy high-rise, or a scruffy old warehouse? It might sound trivial to people trained to look for answers in data, but this is important stuff, even if it’s subjective. Greaves said he asks himself, “Am I excited about the person across the desk? Would I like to work with this individual? Is this person a good leader? Can they further the business in the way they describe? Has this person worked at companies in the past which are known for having strong cultures? Do they have some idea of how to build a vibrant one?”
As Le put it, “we spend a good portion of our lives working. It’s important to make sure the company culture, values and norms are aligned with yours.” If you have a sense of humor, and these people don’t, one could say you’re not aligned.
Folks coming from Big Pharma may have more adjusting to do than others. At a startup, people wear multiple hats. A lot of things need to be done that don’t fall in anyone’s specific job description. You have to be able to tolerate uncertainty about whether your company will be in business in 12 months. People often need to sublimate their own ego for the team objective, if the team is going to have any chance to win. Put another way, you have to be resourceful, and do the little things. As More put it, “inevitably you bring somebody into a startup from a big company, and they’re not used to a startup culture. They’ll say, ‘Oh, the copier’s broken, where’s the person who fixes that?’ Or, ‘Who’s handling my travel?’” In a startup, you might be the chief medical officer, and the chief copier fixer. If you’re the kind of resourceful sort who’s comfortable fixing the copier, after spending $0, then a startup culture might be OK for you.
OK, that’s a lot to absorb, but these are big decisions people make all the time. Like anything else, it’s best to go into a situation with your eyes wide open, and learn the things they don’t teach you in graduate school, or inside a big company. If you still believe leaving a big company for a startup is right for you, then by all means, go for it. I did it myself five years ago, and haven’t looked back.
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