Startup or Corporate: Where Do You Fit In?

Startup or Corporate: Where Do You Fit In?


Sick of your 9-5 job? Or not sure where to kickstart your career? The question that a lot of people are asking these days is whether they should take the stable job at corporate or take the leap towards the exciting adventure that is a startup.

If that’s something you’ve been thinking about, let’s break down some of the most important factors you have to consider to help you make a decision.

Roles, Responsibilities, and Basic Expectations

Generally, the smaller the company, the more responsibilities you need to take on. This is because in a startup, there are fewer members on the team, so you'll have to assume multiple roles. Today, you could be a graphic designer, but then tomorrow you're needed in events, and the next week doing admin work.

This means that if you don't know what to do yet, startups can help you figure that out. But it also means that you're on call and need to be ready to pitch in and help anywhere and any way you can.

On the other hand, if you already know the direction you are going in terms of your career, the corporate life would be good for you since roles are narrow and specified. You will be able to focus and specialize in what you want to do since most of the time you will only be wearing one "hat".

Ask yourself: Can I seamlessly jump from role to role, or do I prefer focusing on one specific thing.


Learning and Developing Your Skills

The way you develop your skills is also different between the two. Startups will allow you to learn multiple skills – a lot of which you will have to learn on your own. You'll come to find that Google will become your next best friend, along with online classes, and even the classic textbook.

You can, and will, learn a lot, but you need to have a proactive, almost street-smart approach not only to your work but to how you develop your skills as well since it can be difficult for you to receive traditional classroom training when working with a startup.

Working in corporate will offer you the chance to master and hone in on your skills and learn from multiple people who have a lot more knowledge and experience than you. You are also likely to find a mentor, which can do wonders for your learning and development. Your company will also most likely be able to afford training and seminars so you have that advantage in a corporation.

But if you’re lucky, you can also have a mentor in a startup – the CEO. This is because as organizations, startups tend to be more flat (meaning fewer levels or superiors) compared to corporate. What's guaranteed is that you’ll definitely learn in both organizations – just in different ways.

Ask yourself: Am I willing to put in extra hours to study and develop my skills mostly on my own, or would I learn better being surrounded by numerous individuals who are more knowledgeable than me and through traditional classroom training.


Career Growth

Growth in a startup is somewhat tricky. Technically, you can reach higher-level positions faster, but if the position above you is CEO, that's not likely to open up – ever. You'll have to find other ways to expand your role.

Though it may not always seem like it, there is a wide room for growth in startups, and if you were there from the beginning, you’re bound to reap the rewards for believing in the venture and helping to make it a success. The great thing is that your contributions to a startup will weigh far more in significance than your contributions to a huge corporation with a thousand employees.

We all know that the climb up the corporate ladder is slow. But the recognition you get for working for a well-known corporation could be very useful for future career opportunities simply because it looks good on your resume. If you don't get promoted in your current company, you will most likely be able to apply to a higher one in your next company.

Ask yourself: Am I all right with the possibility of remaining in the same position and having to find different ways of expanding my position, or am I willing to slowly but surely climb up in the ranks.


Influence and Decision Making

One of the best things about a startup is your influence and power to make decisions. In fact, you'll have a lot of freedom to make decisions and the ability to voice your opinion. In a lean team, your opinions and decisions matter and will make a big impact towards your company.

But in the same way, your successes and failures make a huge impact. If an employee fails, everyone will feel it – greatly. But of course, if one succeeds, everyone benefits as well. This is why it is important that when working for a startup, everyone needs to lift each other up.

In corporations, you'll have very little influence and decision-making power, especially if you're sitting in an entry-level position. That usually only comes once you've gained a mid-level or managerial position, and that may take a long time. So you'll have to be patient.

Ask yourself: Do I want to make decisions, make my own calls, and initiate work without being told what to do, or do I prefer instructions being given to me and executing them to the best of my abilities.


Work Environment

You have probably already heard about the startup work environment – well-decorated "homey" offices, free food or beer, flexitime, work from home days, game consoles, Netflix Nights, etc. In fact, it's become so popular that a number of corporations have begun to adopt this type of environment to some degree – maybe due to the fact that it attracts more of the younger generation.

It's true – most startups have a lot of cool features like that, but it is also a crazy work environment where you almost get no breaks. Again, due to the fact that there are few members on the team and everyone is highly dependent on each other to work on multiple things. A lot of surprises and unexpected situations come up regularly that isn't usually present in corporate offices.

The environment of corporate is usually more stable, ordered, and structured. You have the same time in and the same time out. But to compensate for what usually feels like a drab routine, there are bigger perks like life insurance, gym memberships, transportation reimbursements, budget to attend conferences and trips, etc.

Ask yourself: Do I prefer a steady stream of predictable work, or does being on my toes make me more productive and creative?


Risk Factors

Lastly, let's talk about the risk factors because this is quite significant. The truth is, the risk factor for startups is high. As a team, you are trying to operate a business and scale up as fast as possible with very limited resources. Your ability to continue operations will depend highly on funding and income and without that, it will be difficult to continue. A lot of data shows that most startups fail within a year, so it's a big risk. Not to mention a lower salary than corporate.

But the tradeoff for all the risk is the potential for great success. Grab, Airbnb, Dropbox, Snapchat, were all startups. Even Apple was a startup many years ago. But look at where they are now. Startups are high risk, but they are potentially also high-rewards.

Corporate does not have as many risks as a startup, simply because they are already established and most likely have a lot of money already. It would take a lot to knock out a big corporation, so it’s a lot safer. You just need to do your job well and not worry about whether it is making enough money to pay for operations.

Ask yourself: Am I willing to take a high risk but with a chance of success in the future, or do I need job security and stability.


Having the right attitude for success

Once you've chosen whether the startup life suits you better than the corporate life, the last piece of the puzzle is having the right attitude in order to succeed.

Startups require a proactive, "can do" attitude where you are able to adapt to unexpected situations and manage them successfully. Creative and critical thinking is vital and a high-level of autonomy is required. Your boss is most likely busy doing a million other things too that they won't be able to manage you as well, so you'll need to take initiative. That's why startups are best for people who are initiators and who enjoy thinking on their feet, staying on their toes, and some level of risk.

Corporate is more suited to individuals who thrive on solving problems and meeting goals and targets that have already been set. It is a more structured and methodical way of working so it fits people with that type of personality. You need to have a willingness to continue doing consistent work and do it well in order to get promoted (or keep your job!)

The Verdict?

The truth is that neither is better than the other – they're just different. Startups can help you figure out who you are, what you're good at, and what you want to do, while corporate can offer you the chance to specialize and master your skills in a specific industry.

Ask yourself the important questions and try to assess what you feel is a better fit for your personality, your current (and future) needs, the way you work, and the things you believe in.