The 5 Soft Skills You Need to Succeed in a Startup Environment

When you think of a startup environment, there are a few images that might come to mind: A tiny basement with boxes as desks, a group of friends gathered around a kitchen counter, or laptops crammed around a small table at a coffee shop.

The reality of startup environments is that the “startup” stage can last three to five years, long past the early days of Jeff Bezos in his garage, or Steve Jobs in his parents’ home.

Joining an organization at the startup stage requires a unique set of skills that are what we consider “soft”: non-technical skills that describe how you work and interact with others.

So, if you are considering applying at a startup and you meet all the hard skill requirements, take a look at these five soft skills and consider if you’ve got what it takes to succeed.

1. You need the confidence to take risks.

Contrary to larger corporations or more well-established organizations, you will rarely find a set of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) when you join a startup. This is because not enough time has gone by to determine what should be standard in the operation—your job will be to help figure that out.

Part of figuring that out will require some risk-taking. Under good leadership, you will be given the freedom to try out new ways of doing things. Eventually, you’ll be part of building out those SOPs for future hires.

The only way to truly know what should be standardized is to take a few scary leaps so you can see what really works.

2. You need a growth mindset.

According to Joseph Garvey, people with a growth mindset believe that intelligence, skills, learning, and creativity can all grow with time and experience.

This mindset is in direct contradiction with a fixed mindset, which says that qualities and skills are fixed, and therefore cannot change.

Why is one better than the other in a startup environment? Here are two reasons:

In a startup environment, you will receive lots of feedback.

If you struggle to separate feedback from criticism, you may take a defensive approach to leadership, and impede progress. A growth mindset sees feedback as something positive—an opportunity for a better sense of self-awareness and an opportunity to improve.

In a startup environment, you will wear many hats.

The role you are hired for vs. the roles you take on might vary in a startup environment. It’s normal and to be expected—it’s not always clear what roles are needed and how work should be delegated in the early stages of a team’s growth.

Having a growth mindset will allow you to open yourself up to expanding your repertoire of skills, even those that feel far outside your area of expertise.

3. You need resilience.

As we went over earlier, startups are constantly experimenting with new approaches to their operations. This is a necessity. Along with experimentation, however, comes failure. Things won’t always work, because they are not supposed to always work.

As a result of this cycle of experimentation and failure, resilience becomes a key skill that startup employees must have. You’ll need the ability to see failure as redirection in order to find eventual success.

4. You need the ability to over-communicate.

Startup environments are notoriously fast paced, and often the “office” environment takes on many different forms and contexts. Communication follows suit.

While you’ll need the ability to master self-directed and proactive work, you’ll also learn how important it is to over-communicate. Don’t assume your team knows your motives, outcomes, or expectations for the projects you take on. Make room for transparency in your work so that your colleagues can easily jump in where needed, as well as learn from the results of your decision-making and execution.

5. You’ll need curiosity over judgment.

Have you ever heard the saying, “Be curious, not judgmental?”

You’ll find this mantra to be especially useful in a startup environment. In the early stages of an organization, it’s difficult to say what best practices are, or to make judgment calls on how a particular campaign or project will turn out. Instead, approach your day-to-day with a healthy sense of curiosity about what might work best, even if it’s contrary to what has worked for you in the past.

Every industry, buyer, or prospect is different. The ability to ask questions rather than make assumptions will separate successful startup employees from the rest.


The startup world is certainly not for the faint of heart, but it can be extremely rewarding to build something from the ground up alongside a team. If this type of environment sounds like something you’re up for, browse startup jobs here.

This blog was written by Viaduct Senior Account Executive Roger Naglewski.

Explore More Blogs

Explore all Blogs

Should You Hire Fractional Executives at Your Startup?

Should You Hire Fractional Executives at Your Startup?

In the startup arena, limited resources combined with dwindling capital can make it challenging to gain a competitive...

Learn More

How to Create a Recession-Ready Talent Strategy

How to Create a Recession-Ready Talent Strategy

Economists put the chance of a recession in 2023 at 63 percent. In response, 72 percent of leaders...

Learn More

3 Interview Questions to Ask Chief Growth Officer (CGO) Candidates

3 Interview Questions to Ask Chief Growth Officer (CGO) Candidates

A C-suite interview has a much different dynamic than a standard mid-level management interview. The stakes are higher...

Learn More

10 Interview Questions to Ask Sales Executive Candidates

10 Interview Questions to Ask Sales Executive Candidates

Hiring a dedicated sales executive is a big step for a startup. Choosing the wrong candidate can keep...

Learn More

Join Us For One of Our Upcoming Events