Want to work at a start-up? How to prepare for a career in a finance start-up

22 June, 2016

Working at a start-up in the financial sector is a popular way to get into the financial services industry. But applying for a start-up job is different to finding work at a big finance company and they may not abide by the same rules.

Exams are finally over and if you haven’t already started, now is the time to focus on your career. Many students will consider applying for a role with a start-up, but it's important to be aware that start-ups don’t always abide by the same rules as other organisations. The very nature of a start-up company is based on flexibility and this is also one of the key reasons that they are so enticing for new graduates.

Start-ups in financial services are very popular at present, especially companies that are within the fintech sector. These companies are experiencing rapid growth with significant private investment and the people who run these companies have limited time to recruit potential graduates, which means that you have to work harder to get on their radar.

1. Research, research, research! 

Founders of start ups are totally invested in and passionate about their company; they will no doubt work long hours and invest not only their own capital but their time and energy to making it a success. They will expect their employees to have the same level of dedication, so it is imperative that you thoroughly research the start up you wish to apply for, understand the vision of the founder and be aligned with their goals.

Consume everything you can about the industry, the business and the founder to get a sense if the start-up will be the right fit for you! This podcast series is a great place to start!

2. Love the product/service 

You need to become intimately familiar with the new service or product that is being sold or launched. What is the service/produce, why are they bringing it to market and, most importantly, do you believe in it? This passion needs to be demonstrated very early on in the application and interview process. If it is a product or an app for example, make sure you try it out before you apply for a role, and understand how it works. Make notes from a user perspective on how it can be improved, what works well and what doesn’t, and use this information during the interview process. 

3. Align yourself with the leadership 

Start-ups are typically smaller organisations (at first) than traditional companies, particularly in finance. There are very few layers between the CEO and a junior person; therefore relationships are often less formal. You need to research their founder, understand their personality and align yourself with his/her expectations and work ethics.

4.  Be ready to implement your ideas 

If you’re lucky to get hired, it is because the founder sees value in your new ideas. You will be expected to produce quick results, so it is really important for you to prepare your ideas and be able to communicate them during the interview process. The great thing about start-ups is that you will be recognised very quickly for making a contribution, but this also means that you will be recognised for your failures. You need to have the confidence to make calculated risks but also take minor failures on the chin! A good sense of humor is essential.

5. Be comfortable economising

Working in a start-up environment can mean that money is tight and you may be paid a relatively basic salary. You need to be comfortable being frugal and learn to budget appropriately. However, if the product/service ends up being successful, you may get a chance to buy early shares in the company, so it's important that you believe in the company, and see your work as an investment in the future of the company that will hopefully benefit you in the long run.

Want career guidance, help with job applications or more information about applying for a start-up? Contact our Careers & Employability team to see how they can help you get ahead in your career.

Nadim Choudhury is the head of Careers & Employability at ifs.