Expert opinions, STARTUPS

How does a financier build a career in a startup?

Working in a booming young business can be a career turnaround or a catalyst for rapid growth.

Startups attract specialists for many reasons:

  • autonomy and the ability to show independence, leadership qualities,
  • responsibility,
  • adaptability to new conditions,
  • flexibility of the schedule,
  • variety of tasks,
  • the ability to play a fundamental role in making important decisions and business success.

Nevertheless, some financiers are convinced that the experience of working in a large company looks more convincing in the resume, and are not ready to change the prestige of the corporation to a little-known startup. Also, this is not the best option for those whose priority number one is stability. After all, it is known that 20% of new firms close within the first year and only about 50% of startups exist for more than 5 years.

Although working in a startup implies certain risks, let’s see who it is great for and how to develop a career in a developing company.

Financier and start-ups: career paths

First, the concept of “startup” nowadays covers more than information technology in the usual sense. New ideas appear in all spheres of life and industries: from agriculture and healthcare to education and the fashion industry. It turns out that the financier has something to choose from – you can join a project that is truly interesting and motivating, as well as develop a unique expertise in a certain area: healthtech finance, legal tech finance, and so on.

Secondly, many financiers consider not only generally accepted “financial” positions. A specialist with a background in finance can take a position in business development, sales, marketing, data analytics, and so on.

In general, the role of the financier has been greatly modified in recent years – for example, 50% of financial directors in a recent study said they felt responsible for the strategy of the entire business.

Finally, another possible path is not entering an existing startup, but creating your own business. As Warren Buffett put it, “accounting is the language of business.” Therefore, experience in the financial sector will be very useful for novice entrepreneurs.

The role of a financier in a startup compared to a corporate one

Work in a startup is different from work in a corporation, where certain highly specialized tasks are included in the area of ​ ​ responsibility. There is no concentration on one thing in the startup, and every new day an employee may have completely different responsibilities.

For example, my former colleague decided to leave the financial company and get a job in a small startup in the field of fashion. The startup was based on the idea of ​ ​ conscious consumption and the concept of renting clothes instead of buying them. My colleague analyzed the behavior of customers and engaged in their further involvement, developed a collaboration with brands providing clothing for rent, was responsible for the system of payment for services on the company’s website. As before, she analyzed the financial statements, but this became only one of her tasks.

As the firm grows and develops, its employees also need to develop and learn new things. Thus, working in a startup, many financiers:

  • reveal the managerial and organizational qualities,
  • participate in determining the vector of enterprise development,
  • make strategic decisions,
  • manage several projects simultaneously.

How can a financier get a job in a startup? What to consider when selecting?

From the experience of my familiar managers, you can get into a small innovative company without experience in the specifics of a startup. The main thing is the motivation of the candidate and his desire to contribute to the development of the firm.

In the cover letter, it is important to indicate why this particular company and this position attracted attention. It will be great if the applicant can demonstrate exactly how his experience can be applied in this business.

In all the diversity of startups, in my opinion, one thing is invariable: startups are interested in recruiting people with analytical abilities, strategic thinking, who know how to turn ideas into a specific result. These are precisely the professional skills that financiers have.

The following personal qualities are also appreciated in startups:

  • multitasking and clear execution of tasks on time,
  • ability to work in a team,
  • initiative and creativity.

The skill of collaboration with other departments, as well as the experience of getting investments and building financial processes from scratch – all this will also be valuable for the financier when passing the selection to a startup.

Therefore, during the interview, you can give examples from your previous activities that would reveal these qualities most clearly. It is desirable in the following sequence: what task was set, what was undertaken to achieve it and what result was achieved.


Both in Russia and in many countries of Europe and the world there is support for small and medium-sized businesses at the state level, and interest in hiring startups is also growing. Startups will create new jobs and develop the country’s economy, especially when heading for import substitution. Very often these are new developments or innovative ideas that can not only improve and modernize the processes at the enterprise, but also bring significant benefits to society. Therefore, employment in a startup will be most attractive for those specialists who seek to improve their level of expertise in the shortest possible way, as well as effect positive change in the world.

By Ekaterina Shevlyuga, career consultant at EP Advisory, PhD candidate at Norwegian business school, former KPMG and Bloomberg employee

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