Your First Job: Choosing Between Startup vs Corporate

bank office buildings and samsung tablet with google home screen

Startup vs Corporate? Lately, it has become a major conundrum for graduates and undergraduates from across the region. The proliferation of unicorns has very much impacted the life choices made by the new generations. Working for major corporations is no longer seen as the ultimatum for many young talents today. Although the difference between the worklife at startups vs corporate is obvious enough, one might still wonder – how does this affect your career prospects?

Previously, I have had the opportunity to work in both large corporations and startups, through internships and part-time roles. Being exposed to both environments have helped me to gain a better perspective of two environments. Here are 5 key elements that you should consider before choosing your first job.

1) Learning Curve (Breadth vs Depth)

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The fact is that, both organisations offer a steep learning curve, irrespective of the department you are in. However, I would say that the content of what you learn differ very much.

In corporations, you tend to get better opportunities in learning more specialised knowledge and higher degree of technicalities. This is further improved with professional qualifications that are supported by a lot of major corporations. For example, if you work in an accounting or audit firm, your company will most probably sponsor you to study qualifications like the ICAEW ACA qualification, to empower your career prospects.

Relative to a startup, the knowledge you gain may not be as in-depth. However, a startup experience generally provides a broader range of knowledge due to cross-department job functions. Furthermore, working in a startup environment familiarises you with an overview of running a business, which is useful if you’re looking to run your own business in the future. Moreover, as an employee in a startup, you will be exposed to a wider variety of tasks across the business.

Related: Goldman Sachs or McKinsey? Neither 

2) Flexibility of Work Arrangement

flexibility clock on table

There has been a lot of misconceptions with regards to flexibility when working in a corporation. Working in corporation does not necessarily mean the death of flexibility. Many companies are already working towards improving flexibility in the workplace. For example, big companies such as the Big Four now allow their employees to work from home, provided there are no meetings or clientele work at the office. More companies today are more result-driven, and do not encourage their managers to micro-manage and scrutinize the working hours of their employees.

That said, it is still a common knowledge that flexibility in a startup is unrivalled. Working in startup entails a lot of flexibility concerning time, location, and attire. In other words, you have a lot more ownership vis-a-vis the way you go about with your life by working with a startup.

3) The Bureaucracy Factor

bureaucracy staircase

The truth is that working in corporates involves a lot of bureaucracy. There are always hurdles in terms of communications with the upper management and ideas might not necessarily be well received given the bureaucratic structure of most organisations. It is true that a lot of companies have tried to improve this, however it still one of the main reasons why people tend to move from corporates to startups.

Startups or smaller companies such as boutique advisory firms tend to have a flatter structure. You can easily approach the senior management team to discuss about your ideas and give feedback without having to go through multiple layers of hierarchy and approvals. This helps employees to be more aligned to the vision of the company and feel fulfilled as they are contributing to the decision-making process.

4) Measuring Financial Compensation

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That said, working with a corporation entails a higher degree of security, a privilege that not many startups are able to provide. Additionally, it should be noted that corporates usually offer better financial compensation packages earlier in your career. For example, big corporates usually offer company trips, free insurance

The huge workload in early-stage startups is not always matched with a sizeable financial compensation package. Unless your startup already has a large capital or a steady revenue stream, don’t expect much. Therefore, if you are planning to work for a startup, be sure to be ready to make a lot of sacrifice in terms of your spending habits and lifestyle. However, there is the long-term prospects and opportunity there if your company eventually scales and grows into a successful organization. Some startups even give its stock to the employees.

5) Gauging Exit Opportunities

A typical route for those working in corporates would be to move forward with their career by building their own business. Hence, you would see a lot of those working in large corporations build their own business or work with a startup. Such a move is understandable given the level of knowledge and skills that you have garnered through your works. However, it is not entirely common for someone who has already worked in a startup to move into corporations.

Needless to say, if you have worked with a successful startup, moving into a new one might not be hard. Another exit opportunity for a lot of employees in a startup is to become venture capitalists themselves. Given the experience that they had and their knowledge of what makes a successful business, a venture capitalist is a great way to utilise their skills.

Related: My Internship Experience in PWC 

Final Verdict

The late Steve Jobs of Apple states, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

Ultimately, when deciding to work for a corporate or a startup, it boils down to your personality and what you seek to gain down the road. Both paths have their pros and cons, and these are very much subjective to each person. So, the best way to decide is to experiment and see which best fits your character and career aspiration. Hope this article helps in one way or another in helping you decide. Good luck in your future endeavours!


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in December 2017 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Feature Image is CC0 Licensed: Free for Commercial Use, No Attribution Needed


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