10 Skills New Grads Must Have to Work at Startups

05/11/2011 03:33 pm ET | Updated Jul 11, 2011

Soon, another wave of eager college graduates will hit the shores of companies everywhere. The best and the brightest will find jobs at startups. Well, actually, I don't know if they are the best and the brightest, but when it comes to working at startups, you pretty much have to be.

That's because there is no orientation or formal mentorship programs or even direction. Startups are lean and fast and crazy. In my role as a startup founder and CEO, I've seen more than a few fresh college grads chewed up and spit out by them.

So here are my ten skills new grads must have before they show up to work at a startup. You may think they're obvious, but in my experience many recent college grads do not have them.

Key skills:

1. Excel: You should know how to execute basic functions in Excel like summing columns, how to organize data using pivot tables, and how to create graphs/charts of data; you should be able to use Excel even if you are in, say, marketing communications -- it's that important of a tool

2. PowerPoint: You should know how to animate parts of the presentation, import pictures and video, and embed data graphs; you should be able to do this even if you are in, say, engineering -- communication is a part of everyone's job

3. Basic analysis skills: If your boss gives you a spreadsheet with columns of data and says, "Make sense of this," you should be able to look at the data and at least be able to create charts and graphs that summarize the data or be capable of asking your boss, "What are you looking for, specifically?"

4. Write a business letter: This sounds like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised in this increasingly digital world how many forget that a lot of business still goes on offline; you should be able to format a business letter in Word and put it on letterhead

5. Make a cold call: Interestingly, many young people at work are afraid of the phone; yet there are too many instances to count when, to get something done in the time you need, it requires emailing AND calling. Know how to introduce yourself and get to the point quickly or leave a concise, action-inducing voicemail

6. Give a presentation: Even if it's just in front of your friends, make sure you've had experience getting up in front of a group and speaking -- ideally with a visual component like PowerPoint; this is a skill you'll use at company meetings and perhaps use the most; only experience and practice will help you to master it

7. Research things on Google: There is nothing more frustrating than requesting a bit of information from a junior person, hearing back they couldn't find the answer only to find it yourself after entering a query on Google; it's shocking how many people forget to start with this simple tool -- problem stumping you? Google it!

8. Basic algebra: Yep, you will use algebra -- even if you're a graphic designer; algebra, simply put, is solving for the unknown and there isn't a job that exists that doesn't encounter a situation where algebra could come in handy

9. Willingness to learn: In a startup, the business, and therefore the roles, change quickly; be ready to try on new things; learning doesn't stop when college does

10. Ability to say "I don't know": This is perhaps the most difficult skill on the list; our culture is so afraid of failure that we produce young people terrified of saying they don't know. But, if you don't know and you don't say you don't know you will miss opportunities to learn and grow. I believe it should never be a problem to say you don't know and if anyone gives you guff about it -- it's likely because they don't know either.

The economy is tough -- especially for new college grads, and startups can seem like a great way to jumpstart your career. But be warned. They really are only for the most assertive, resourceful and creative. Come prepared with all ten skills above and you'll hit the ground running.