3 ways MBAs screw up their startup job search

Today I’m pleased to have Brian Malkerson, VP of Business Development at TapCommerce, as a guest. Below he shares some common challenges MBA students face when looking for a startup job during business school, plus he’ll tell you how he landed his startup job.

What is the biggest mistake you see MBA students make when they are trying to find a job at a startup?

I see a few mistakes that MBA students tend to make, mostly because I made a few of them myself!

  • Unrealistic expectations – A quick glance at the average salaries at the top MBA programs (or a conversation with one of your classmates who just took a job in finance/consulting) can create unrealistic expectations around compensation. Startups compensate people with a mix of cash and equity, often because they are not at a stage where they can pay someone the same amount of cash compensation they’d receive at a bigger company.
  • Trying to be too “strategic” – Many MBA students go to grad school so they can advance to a more senior role in their career, perhaps where they are focused more on the big picture and not so much on the details or execution.  This is very different than what they’d experience at an early stage startup, where everyone has to be a “doer”.
  • Doing too many things at once – While in school, It is easy to find oneself on the boards of 2-3 clubs and working on 1-2 internships while also recruiting, going to class, traveling and networking.  Some of my friends who were most successful getting a startup job started working at a startup while in school.  They often spent 30+ hours a week working at a startup and minimized any involvement in other commitments (including class!).

How did you find your current job and what was the most important factor or tactic you used to find it?

My job search was somewhat unique in that I had attended grad school with two of the three founders at NYU Stern. However, while at school I worked at AOL Ventures and when I graduated I worked at NYC Seed. Both of those opportunities came through my network and active involvement at InSITE, a non-profit fellowship that works with startups and venture funds.

In general, I think it helps to be active in the tech scene and opportunistic when a good opportunity comes up. Many of the best jobs never make it to the job boards!

If you are new to the NY Tech Scene, I highly recommend checking out Steve Schlafman’s Guide to NYC Tech.

What was your pre startup career and what skills from that career have proven to be the most applicable to the startup world?

I interned for 3 summers at a B2B startup during the Web 1.0 days.  When our customers weren’t able to pay their bills in 2001 we were forced to fold.  It definitely left a bad taste in my mouth.

Out of college I worked at a Management Consulting firm and then I worked in Private Equity.  During and after grad school I worked with a few early stage VC firms and an enterprise focused accelerator (NYCSeed).  While none of my previous careers would be considered prerequisites to getting a startup job, I would say they gave me a good background of analytical and communication skills. Also, working at an accelerator definitely gives you an appreciation of the day-to-day challenges that a startup faces and helps you build a good network in the startup community.

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Brian Malkerson
Brian Malkerson
Brian Malkerson

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