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Full Interview by Valle Dwight with ART's V.P.- Advanced Technologies

Q1: What trends have you seen among jobseekers with regard to startup firms?

A: "In localities or industries where startup firms are very common, fortunately, people are more sophisticated about startups and their risks. In a very good and tight labor market, they aren't automatically impressed by stock options. I've seen a lot of people turn down offers of big titles, salaries and stock options because they want jobs that would allow them to have dinner with their families at 6 p.m., rather than 9 p.m.. They don't want to be in their offices on weekends. Some people get tired of 'wearing a lot of hats' and they want jobs with greater corporate resources. Many of these people choose instead to join yesterday's garage startup firms, today's billion-dollar firms. Because workers tend to be more analytical, some startups simply do not succeed because they cannot make their old case that people should come to work for them simply because of the potential of stock options.

"Nowadays, before rushing in to join a startup, people are pausing to analyze the company's revenue, potential revenue, venture capital sources, and strategic marketing plans. We also encourage candidates to do what we do when we determine the viability and risk level of a startup: analyze the management team. We want to know if the executive team is capable of making the company a success, if there is evidence in their employment histories to suggest that they might work well in a startup environment.  In other areas of the U.S., and overwhelmingly in Europe and Asia, startups are still somewhat rare creatures and sadly, many people are duped by the lure of becoming millionaires on their stock options. In these areas it can be like setting your clocks back to Silicon Valley in 1989.

"The one thing that our firm finds most disturbing in 1999 is the preponderance of people who know that a certain startup probably will not produce a product, probably will never turn a profit, probably will never become a real company, but they will join that company nevertheless because the company has some kind of gimmick - either a 'dot-com' after its name or some unholy ties into the venture capital and public relations communities - and they believe as employee investors that they will strike it rich. There are too many of these companies, in many industries, and we don't want to have anything to do with any of them. But today, some of the brightest people are taking jobs with these operations. They are learning nothing but lying with straight faces, gaining no good skills, usually making nothing in the stock market, and usually, only wasting their time and the investors' money. It is almost as if all those people who ten years ago believed that their startup semiconductor company or startup biotech company, technological pathbreakers, should have been rewarded by the stock market for their brainpower but didn't, now are going to get revenge on the stock market. Some of yesterday's "believers" in startups as technological incubators seem tired of stock options not coming to much, and they have become so cynical about the nature of startups and their role in their careers and lives that they are willing to become virtual conspirators in legal stock swindles. It's disgusting, and quite common on both coasts, and it will lead to another stock market bubble bursting when enough investors get sick of the practice or when the government puts a stop to it."

Q2: Are more of your candidates looking to join startups?

A: "We have all different candidates across many different industries, and on six continents of the world. By and large, more candidates are looking to join startups because in many industries, such as the Internet field, software and IT service fields, startups are nearly the only companies with interesting opportunities. In those fields, for every IBM, AT&T, AOL and Microsoft, there are thousands of startups. As these industries have exploded with growth, so have the number of startups, and the number of opportunities for people in those fields, at the upper management, middle management and staff level ranks. We recruit and place people at all these levels, and startups form a good percentage of our client company base."

Q3: Have your candidates generally fared well at startups?

A: "Our candidates generally do exceptionally well at the startups where we place them. That is because of two main reasons. First, they are good at what they do. We seek them out because they have been recommended in their industry as being very good. Second, we work very hard to find the correct environment for them to do well in. For us, it is not enough that a client company of ours is a good or great company in its field. It is more important that our candidate would do well in that company. This means that, from time to time, in the course of an interview process, it might become apparent that our candidate's style or career goals would at some point diverge from our client's longer term needs, and if that happens, we encourage both parties to part as friends before making a decision that would eventually lead to disappointment. This is the difference between working with a headhunter and answering an advertisement in a newspaper or online job posting or hearing about a job from a friend. Our reputation with both the candidate and the client-company are on the line, and we would rather kill a bad case early than to place someone at a job where they would be unhappy later. With particular regard to startups, if the candidate is unfamiliar with startups and the potential risks, we will describe potential scenarios: long hours, weekend work, doing work that 4 people at your present company might do separately, etc. In short, we deliberately scare the daylights out of them. If they find the challenges and excitement worth the negatives, then we ask the candidate to interview the employer, to see that there is common ground."

Q4: What kind of candidate would you advise against jumping to a startup?

A: "First of all, nowadays, many of the negative characteristics of startups --long hours, stock options, understaffed ranks-- often are also characteristics of established medium-sized and large firms, which in their own way, might also offer some of the positives that startups are said to possess, such as greater opportunities, technological challenges, etc.  And since working for a large firm today doesn't guarantee job stability, taking a job at a multinational conglomerate could be just as unsettling with regard to job security as a job with a startup. So what candidates have to decide before signing with any new company, is what they want from an employer. They should not be swayed by claims of big bucks or even by friendly, good-hearted bosses. There is little room for 'wishful thinking' in making job choices. We encourage candidates to carefully lay out in their minds what they need from a company to do their job well. If their needs are in line with a company, then they might want to consider it.

"Generally speaking, people who might not do well at startups are those who have spent their whole lives working in large companies and who would require many people and departments as vertical and horizontal supports for them to do a good job. Over the years, we've gotten many calls from people like this at startup companies who want out because 'there's no support.'  Some managers at larger firms might be tempted to take a job as CEO at a startup because the title sounds like their dreams fulfilled, but they might not be happy if instead of managing 200, they found themselves for several years sitting in a room with only a CFO, a couple of programmers, a frustrated marketing person and a receptionist. If their firm isn't making any money and isn't making any headway, having P&L responsibility doesn't make much difference. Instead of being 'captain of his own ship' he might feel trapped, more like a 'captain of his own dinghy.'  Before sending them off to startups, we do our best to probe candidates about these and other matters. Our firm can offer many career options. We need people to tell us what they really want to do in their career, and then we try to find that dream job."



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