Career Paths in Startups With Limited Visibility

Back in 2009, we made it our stated goal at Pardot to be one of the best places to work. Excitedly, we applied to be a best place to work with the local business newspaper, had employees fill out the anonymous surveys from the third-party administrators, and waited patiently for the results. After six weeks the results came back and we weren’t even considered to be a finalist. We had failed on several categories, with the most prominent being employees not understanding the future of the company, specifically their roles and career paths.

Startups are inherently unstable and have limited visibility. So, then, how do career paths fit in? Here are a few thoughts on career paths in startups:

  • While it’s difficult to predict the future, it’s possible to outline the company’s desired scale and size over time, assuming things go well, and to plan out potential roles and positions
  • Managers should meet with team members and talk about career interests at the quarterly check-ins such that potential career paths and timelines are well understood
  • Individual contributor roles and managerial roles should be treated with similar weight such that all the emphasis isn’t on becoming a manager (many companies have roles like Distinguished Engineer or Director of Strategic Accounts, which are individual contributor roles for high achievers with significant experience)
  • Multiple career options should be available whenever possible (e.g. as the company grows, there will be more specialization, and more opportunities to “own” certain areas)

While career paths aren’t fixed and perfect timelines aren’t available, entrepreneurs would do well to lay out an operational vision for the next three years and team members should be able to see an opportunity to progress within the company. Career paths are important and team members with better career path visibility enjoy greater satisfaction.

What else? What are some more thoughts on career paths in startups with limited visibility?

2 thoughts on “Career Paths in Startups With Limited Visibility

  1. This is an interesting thought experiment. I currently work for a startup in a technical role, but I’m not a founder and have no equity. While I greatly enjoy my work (I was dissatisfied with big-company-bureaucracy) it does sometimes leave me with a sense of “limbo”. If the founders are going M&A, what happens to me?

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