Managing one’s career, especially within a startup, almost always falls upon the individual to look out for what is best. There are varying degrees of career development and support within startups, but in the early days there isn’t a lot of time or money allocated to help further everyone’s career. It always ‘pays’ to keep your career goals in mind as you dive into all the demands of your role within a fast-growing company.

As you make your career choices to either join a startup for the first time, or to take a different role within a startup, make sure you have a career roadmap/master career plan. Think through how these roles will deepen your experience and how that will help you progress towards your short and long-term career goals.  What does success and achievement look like for you?  Listing concrete goals and a timeline can help keep you focused. Determine what type of role and responsibility you strive to have over the next 1-3 years so that you have milestones along the way. And no success can be achieved in a state of stasis — that is to say: without a prolific learner’s mentality.

It’s table stakes to pursue graduate level courses that further your career along with professional seminars or conferences.  It’s almost as important to get a better understanding of the other areas of the company outside of your own team or department.  The deeper your knowledge of the company’s strategy, products, and the like, the more effective you can become at working cross-functionality. A great way to keep up with company specific items and your broader industry is to do things like attend lunch and learns that your company probably already has. Other great opportunities include attending any type of customer events that your company may sponsor.

As you look at joining a startup (or any company), do your research before you accept any interviews. It’s amazing how many candidates show up unprepared for interviews. I’ve had interviews with candidates who weren’t aware of who the primary competitors were, what the core functionality of the product is, etc. This sends a direct signal about preparedness and desire to work for the company.

At a minimum, understand who the investors or owners are, what product(s) the company sells, who their competition is, key characteristics of the market and opportunity, etc.  Not only does this help you be more effective during the interview process, it will also help you at the offer evaluation stage.

As you are progressing along your career journey, make sure you are focusing on networking.  A couple of no-brainer moves are to seek out mentors along the way that can help with critical decisions, like taking a role that is different than what you have done previously.  I’ve been lucky enough to have great mentors who would focus most of their feedback on areas of improvement.  It’s good to get reinforcement for what you are doing well, but most of your growth will come from improving your areas that need more attention and development. The discipline is moving from your comfort zone to drive the meaningful growth. Often times there are great potential mentors within your company.  Another option that is often overlooked is seeking out advisors that have deep expertise in your specific area.  Their years of great experience can turn out to be a wealth of knowledge as you progress along your career plan.  Focusing on key relationships and allocating time to them in a more quality vs quantity approach tends to yield the best results.

Most importantly, as you continue to progress successfully along your career path, don’t forget to pay it forward when you can — that means recruiting, cultivating and mentoring talent. Since it’s not always easy or second nature for folks to ask for help, try to extend your help or wisdom when you have the opportunity.  If you happen to be asked to be a reference for a company’s products or services, take the time to be thoughtful and add in a thorough level of detail about your experiences with that company.  You will be surprised how valuable your experience and feedback will be for someone who hasn’t been through that experience yet.

The best way to pay it forward is to be open to sharing your time with folks that you may meet at industry or customer specific events.  I’m often inclined to spend more time with folks that are passionate about their business and or their role and really want to further their career.  Those folks tend to be aggressive about seeking out mentors and will come prepared with specific topics that they are seeking input and feedback on.  If you can find a situation where there is great alignment, you can really help make an impact.

Managing a career path with upward mobility is like a fingerprint; the paths are all a little different. How you choose to get yourself from A to B in a SaaS startup depends on your function within the startups, what type of startup it is, and where you are in your career trajectory. There is no way to make 100 percent perfect choices in managing your career, but what I just covered will 100 percent help.

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