How to Join a Saner Startup

by Pamela Kruger

From the articleStop the Insanity! To read more click here

One way to work at a saner startup is to start one yourself. But most of us choose to work for Internet companies, rather than launch them on our own. Which raises a related set of questions: How do you know a saner startup when you see one? How do you differentiate between companies that talk a good game when it comes to building organizations that work for the people in them and those that actually get the job done? Here are some suggestions.

Be up-front about what you want.

When Jody Kramer, 31, director of communications at, began job-hunting soon after she gave birth to her son, she told interviewers that she had a new baby and that work-life balance was important to her. If an interviewer reacted coldly or uncomfortably, Kramer considered it a warning sign. If an interviewer asked her what it was like to be a new mom, she was impressed. "I wanted a company that would consider a baby a wonderful thing, not a liability," says Kramer, who met with about 15 startups before joining

What you see is what you get.

Instead of having all meetings with company executives at outside locations, make sure that you have at least one on-site meeting, so that you can look around. Trust your eyes: Is the office empty at 7 PM, or is it still bustling with activity? The CEO may say that you can leave at 7 PM, but how comfortable would you feel doing that if everyone else was working until 9 PM or 10 PM? Kramer, for instance, took it as a positive sign when Justin Kitch,'s CEO, left the interview at 6 PM to do volunteer work. "That told me that he respects people's outside commitments," she says.

Pay close attention to the interviewer's behavior.

Does the interviewer seem organized and focused, or scattered and indecisive? You can tell a lot about people's work styles just by watching how they conduct themselves during a meeting. Sunny Bates, founder and CEO of the eponymous New York-based recruitment firm, recalls meeting with one hyperactive executive who was "choosing carpeting and paint color, talking on the phone, and talking to me — all at the same time." It was clear, Bates says, "that this was her style and that no one who worked for her would have a life."

Work the grapevine.

Most job-hunters know enough to talk to current employees. But if you want a full picture of your prospective employer's work style, cast a wider net. Talk to investors and advisory-board members, if possible, as well as to ex-colleagues of your boss-to-be. Don't put too much weight on what any one person says. By the end of the process, you'll be able to determine whether the startup can give you a job and let you have a life.