Working for a Corporate vs a Startup


For many of us, the job market offers two very distinct streams of opportunity. While working for some of the big name brand companies comes with a windfall of positives, there are plenty of smaller, newer startup opportunities that shouldn’t be over-looked.

Working for a startup may not be everyone’s cup of tea; it’s certainly not one for the faint hearted. If you think you’re up for the challenge, weigh up some of the pros and cons to help make the best decision in your career right now.

Procedural vs Ad Hoc

Big corporates are used to dealing with big numbers, ergo there is a system in place for just about everything. Need a vacation? Fill out this form. Dealing with an office conflict? Fill out this form. Want to implement any kind of change in the work place? Fill out this form.

Things might work a little different at a startup. Need a vacation? Depends on the next release. Dealing with office conflict? Get over it and get back to work, we’re too busy changing the world to fight. Want to implement any kind of change? Go for it, as long as it gets results. It’s not to say that at a startup you’re any less valued, quite the contrary in fact. It’s simply that in the greater scheme of things, administration and HR and procedural systems are much less of a priority when trying to launch a new product. In the quest for hyper growth, things fall at the wayside and, more often than not, it’s the admin!

Defined Role vs. Developing Role

When you interview at a startup, you might notice the questions veer a little from your resume. Employers will be sniffing out any transferable skills that could plug a few holes in the interim. Marketing? PR? Strategy? HR? Operations? Roles that might in the short term be considered a luxury at a startup often fall within the remit of existing staff. These might be areas that the employer is currently handling but looking desperately to delegate out.

While it may mean more work for employees, it is a great opportunity to broaden your experience, resume and skill set. No two days are the same at a startup, and for some this is the pinnacle of work place enjoyment. For others, it might be too stressful or unpredictable. Bigger corporates are obliged to list out designated tasks in a job description that is signed by the employee. If startups tried to implement something like this, employees would be signing a new form every other week.

Small Fish, Big Pond vs. More Important Fish, Small Pond

A face in the crowd or a seat at the table? It might be intimidating at first to think that right off the bat, day one, your voice matters at a startup. You might be one of a handful of people and everyone’s opinion has a place. Its pretty easy to be heard sitting at a weekly staff meeting of seven. Whilst a little daunting, it’s extremely rewarding to see your impact first hand, right in front of your eyes, playing out. Changes you’re making, influences you’re having, affects you’re imparting, all at your doing. And all immediate and impactful.

At a bigger corporate, being one of many, many, many cogs in a system means your impact, while relevant, might not be as noticeable. And certainly not before you’ve filled out a form and had it read and received by all the right eyes overhead.

Stable Resources vs. Stretched Resources

With lots of cogs in place at a big institution, there is a defined strategy to keep things going in the right direction. Any losses will be absorbed and maybe a few things will shift. Some of it might be felt in one or two departments but for the most part things will go on as usual provided someone’s pulling the right puppet strings from overhead.

In a startup, however, any losses could mean real stress. Stress that ripples through the building and is felt by everyone for weeks on end as the bosses scramble to rectify whatever’s been undone. This could mean remortgaging their homes to put up funds to keep the office open. It could mean a few staff members are let go because one wage actually does make a difference in a startup. The pressure will be on until the status quo is resolved. Those situations give real opportunity for employees to step up and pitch in, in whatever way they can.

Perks vs. “Perks”

There’s no softening the blow here. Startups tend to be more cautious with their cash flow. So there might not be a gym membership and breakfast buffet on offer. There will, however, be real celebrations when the time is right. And knowing your contribution made a difference will make that long awaited celebration that much sweeter! Startups may not splash out as readily as the big guys but there might be other perks on offer that could be appealing. Maybe a casual work environment means your dog can come to work? You can wear jeans most days? Maybe there’s flexibility to your hours, if you work late you can come in late.

All Mapped Out vs. Unknown

Big corporates like to have their staff on a career development programme. It structures the growth and progression of the company as well as its invested employees and maps out key career milestones and achievements that the individual can earmark and tick off over the course of the year.

This very efficient and attentive system falls woefully into the admin bucket at a startup. Career development is wholly reliant on company development and while that is in limbo there are simply no guarantees. When employers are asking the world of you but can offer little up front there may be options on the table for company equity. Should the company strike gold with some windfall opportunity or deal or buy out, there may be a watershed success for those that helped get it there. Big risks yield incomprehensible reward.

Bottom line

The startup way of working is not suitable to everyone. The erratic nature of highs and lows may scar a newbie graduate for life. But it might bring out a whole different understanding to your working way of life, one that a predictable corporate job just can’t compete with. Bearing witness to another persons’ passion that with your help they are bringing to fruition. Seeing it all first hand and being a part of it offers so much more than just the day to day of a 9-5.

Sueanne Parker

Writer, Production specialist, Creative enthusiast.

4 min read

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