Career

What Skills and Traits do Indian Startups Look for While Hiring?

How do you get a job in the competitive Indian startup landscape? This article will identify some of the top skills and traits needed.

Despite economic challenges in the last few years, India’s startup sector is one of the world’s most prominent. According to a recent government report, over 41,000 officially recognized startups were responsible for adding 4.7 lakh jobs. While startups are extremely valuable for the broader economy, on an individual level, they can do wonders for your career. Working for a startup is not only valuable for learning and making connections, it can help open doors for future advancement.

Before you can land a coveted role at a top startup, you need the skills that are most in demand. These skills typically fall into three broad categories: marketing, development, and accounting. We’ll give a high-level overview of each category, mention some specific skills, and then offer general tips for getting hired by a startup.

Marketing skills

Marketing has changed dramatically in recent years, with the massive growth of social media and other digital platforms both in India and around the world. Even if the startup you are interested in working for is targeting a more traditional audience, you’ll still need to have some digital marketing aptitude in a few key areas.

Social media

People all over the world are now using social media, but use in India is particularly widespread. For example, India has more Facebook users than anywhere else, and Hindi is the third-most spoken language among all Facebook users.

While it’s not necessary to be an expert in every single social media network and technique, you still should have a good grasp on basic skills like coming up with ideas for posts, restraints on character and words allowed on each of the major networks, and simple hashtag strategies. Before you get hired, you can put these techniques into action by posting valuable content on your personal social media profiles. This also will help you get noticed by founders and recruiters.

User behaviour research

Today’s startups place a great value on being able to connect with a specific community of customers and prospects. If you have spent any time studying the demographics of a customer base, make sure to emphasize that on your social profiles and resume. Check out resources related to buyer personas if you’re looking for a good place to start developing your user behaviour research skills.

Graphic design

Thanks to the increasingly widespread penetration of high-speed internet, the web has become a visual place. From videos to pictures to infographics to animations, companies that don’t speak the visual language put themselves at a significant disadvantage.

You don’t need to be a master artist, but understanding basic elements like how to crop an image, visual filters, and some of the essential principles of spacing will enhance your value to prospective employers. On today’s internet, attention is a currency. Visuals are better at communicating ideas and pulling attention than words, particularly in India, where a majority of people aren’t well-versed in English.

Writing

While visual design is important on the internet, there are still plenty of places where written content is needed. Emails, social media posts, press releases, and blog articles are ways that startups communicate, both internally and externally. Many of these mediums feature the written word heavily – sometimes exclusively. Again, there’s no need for you to be an expert wordsmith, but previous writing experience in any capacity can help you get considered for a job at a startup. For a good place to start, check out our public writing and communication workshops.

Developer skills

According to LinkedIn, in 2020 three of the top five fastest-growing jobs in India have “developer” directly in the job title: Blockchain developer, JavaScript developer, and Back-end developer. The other two – Robotic Process Automation Consultant and Artificial Intelligence Specialist – still require programming abilities. Knowing how to code may not be a necessity for getting hired, but it’s a valuable skill to have that can give you an edge on the competition.

There are a few particular languages that will help you the most in the current startup environment.

JavaScript

JavaScript is one of the most important languages because it’s the foundation for much of the internet. From web browsers to games to animations, JavaScript is used for many different applications online. Now that many startups are using a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, knowing how to work with JavaScript is extremely valuable. It’s also one of the easier programming languages to learn, compared to others including its predecessor, Java.

PHP

When it comes to web development, there are fewer more prominent coding languages than PHP, a recursive acronym for PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor. PHP is the foundation for lots of extremely popular website content management systems (CMS) including WordPress, which is currently being used on nearly four in ten websites on the whole internet.

C++

C++ is one of the more versatile programming languages that has many different applications, from games to databases to desktop software. In the startup world, C++ is particularly desirable as it is one of the foundational languages for development in AndroidOS, the foundation for the Android mobile operating system.

Project management skills

Project managers are the ones who facilitate the completion of a project from start to finish. They work with developers, creatives, stakeholders, and anyone else involved with a project. As a project manager, you’ll need to stay organized, adhere to a schedule, and communicate effectively with several different groups. The best project manager candidates will have certification or even experience in popular project methodologies including Scrum and Scaled Agile. PMs also need to have initiative and leadership skills, since they are ultimately responsible for driving projects forward.

The intangibles

Up to this point we have listed very specific skills and brief reasons why they’re important. In this section, we want to share some of the more “intangible” skills. These are things that are harder to define than technical knowledge but still, matter as much as technical abilities.

In fact, many people who have great intangibles are looked upon more favourably by employers than those who are more technically skilled but don’t have the soft skills needed to work at an early-stage startup.

Bias for action

By their nature, startups require things to move at a high speed. If a startup venture wants to be successful, they have to get to market quickly, improve their features quickly, and respond to customer requests quickly. In its earlier days, Facebook’s unofficial motto was “Move fast and break things.”

This requirement trickles down to startup employees as well. People who find success at startups aren’t the type who sit around and plan, analyze, or wait for permission from a superior. Instead, their first instinct is to take action to solve any challenge they are presented with – even if that action isn’t necessarily the best solution.

Adaptability

One of the main requirements for working at a startup is being flexible. There may be times when you are asked to do something that is outside of your main area of technical ability, or when you have to help out on a project that you don’t have much background information on. To be a successful startup employee, you need to embrace these situations and be okay jumping into them – even if you aren’t confident internally.

Desire for learning

Having a natural desire to learn new skills and educate yourself – even outside of formal education settings – is key for being successful at any startup. Research published in the Harvard Business Review suggests that curiosity leads to fewer errors in decision-making, reduced conflict among groups, and better team performance.

The T-Shaped Skill Set: Putting it all together

Understandably, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed by these different skills. Which should you focus on? How do you rank them in order of importance? Is it worth working on skills that you don’t feel confident about?

As a framework to help you make these decisions, we suggest using the “T-shaped” skills model. The premise of this concept is that while you have surface-level, generalized knowledge in many different fields – represented by the top part of the “T” – there is one area where you have deep knowledge, which is represented by the bottom part of the T.  For example, you might be very skilled at graphic design, while also having some general knowledge of SEO principles, copywriting, and social media. These areas are the top part of your T.

Pick your own area of expertise by reviewing some of the technical abilities mentioned in the first section and choosing the one that you are most interested in or skilled at. Ideally, those two areas will overlap. By making yourself more well-rounded, learning current in-demand skills, and understanding how the best startup employees think, you can give yourself a better chance at getting a great role at a premier, fast-growing company. With consistency and effort, putting your work on the internet can help get you in front of the right opportunities.

By 
Raj Kunkolienkar
December 7, 2021

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