Tips for jumping from finance to tech

20 May 2014

Having made a transition from finance to a tech startup, I get asked for tips on making the same transition. I always find this a bit humbling, because it reminds me of how unprepared I was in making this jump.

Now having been on both sides of the job hunt process, I have a better sense of how to go about finding a job at a startup, especially for somebody coming from finance or business. Based on conversations I've had, here are some of the most common points that come up.

Key questions to ask yourself as a job seeker

1. What role?

This is the most important question to have an answer to, and the answer should not just be "a business role". Your job hunt will be much more likely to succeed if you approach a company with a more coherent applicaiton targeted for a specific kind of business role.

Saying that you're looking for a "business" role does give the startup a sense of your background and skills, but a few different roles fall under that umbrella.

For example, business development is a common startup role. The responsibilities vary by company, but in general BD helps develop and manage monetization opportunities with external parties. These opportunities might be working partnerships with other companies, or they might be one-off events which may come closer to marketing.

Some startups also need individuals on the business side running analytics. These roles can vary in title, from "Business Analyst" to "Data Scientist" (though in some companies data science is closer to the product side). These roles will need more quantitative horsepower and possibly some technical background with databases or scripting.

Other business-side roles are more traditional in nature, like marketing, sales, account management, finance, etc. If you're going for a business-side role, you should understand what the different roles and decide what skills you want to develop going forward.

(If you have some technical background and want to work on the product side, chances are you're interested in product management. In that case, you still want to have a coherent story about your background and your interest in product development, but you'll also have to deal with more technical interviews.)

2. Which city?

This is an important question only insofar as it helps you narrow down your search faster. The biggest cities right now for startups are SF and NYC, but there are a few other rising startup centers in the country. After you decide which city (or cities) you're interested in, you can then try to find ties to that city in your network.

3. What kind of startup (industry, size, etc.)?

This question is very important, but you're allowed to have a wider range of answers to what you're looking for here.

There are lots of pros and cons to different sizes of companies. Bigger companies have more structure and are more likely to need people with business backgrounds; they can sometimes lack the scrappy culture of startups, and you might get siloed off without much flexibility to learn and grow. Smaller companies will give you lots of room to stretch and are even more exciting environments, but they probably will have less need for a business person, and might not be able to compensate you as well.

The industry you join should be one that you're interested in; it doesn't have to be your absolute life passion, but you don't want to get bored or annoyed with it too quickly. Different cities tend to have advantages in certain industries; NYC, for example, is big into marketing and to some degree finance, while SF has a lot more consumer tech options. Consider also whether you want to do a B2B or B2C company; the kinds of roles required can be fairly different between the two.

4. What is my story?

Stories are important and can really make the difference in an application. Since you'll be switching industries (from finance into tech, or whatever industry the startup is in), your story should explain why you want that change. In what way are you experienced (or not) in this new industry? How do you think your skills from your old job will be helpful for the new industry and role?

A startup will also be interested to hear about why you're interested in joining a startup at all. "Joining a startup" is currently a hot thing to do, so you'll have to assure your target company that you're not just doing it because all your friends are. Rather, you see a lot of value and learning in working at a startup (or whatever your reasoning may be).

The rest of your application should tie into your story, and you want to make sure you communicate your story to the company from the get-go. Your story may not be a hit with every company, but it will definitely help with your overall chances.

Tips for finding startups to apply to

If you're looking to apply to a larger tech company, you probably know which ones you're interested in, and each will have its own process and jobs page, etc.

If you're interested in a startup role, you might wonder how you even go about finding startups to consider. Here are some places to look:

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