Working for a Startup vs Working for a Big Company

Choosing where to work is complex and challenging: You’ll be spending most of your waking hours there, so it’s important to make the right choice. But how can you be sure you’re working (or applying) for the right place?
One key signifier is whether you’ll be working for a startup or an established, bigger company. Both situations have advantages and disadvantages, and they suit different kinds of people.

Here are some of the key differences:

1- Startups often have looser job descriptions
In a company with fewer than 20 employees, you’ll almost certainly have a loose job description. This works as both an advantage and disadvantage. The benefit is that you might have more variety in your job and possibly more autonomy (more on that later). The disadvantage is that it can create uncertain boundaries where your duties begin and end.
“Generalists” tend to thrive in startups, while established companies tend to suit specialists.

2- In a startup, you probably have more autonomy
In companies with a smaller staff, employees are often expected to make major decisions on their own. This is wonderful if you enjoy using your initiative, but for some, it’s an added layer of pressure. Many employees prefer a clear chain of command and list of duties.

3- Established companies have a set culture
With a young company, every aspect is changing and evolving; and that includes the office environment and culture. And as an employee, you can help shape this culture. This would include how colleagues communicate, whether the workplace is informal or not, and maybe even how major business decisions are made.

Established companies, on the other hand, should have their rules and practices already set in stone.

4- Established companies offer more secure jobs
If a company is less than two years old, there’s a good chance it hasn’t reached profitability yet. In fact, a company turning a profit instantly is sometimes seen as a red flag!

Working for an established company is generally more secure. There are no guarantees in any job, but a company with a big war chest is unlikely to go out of business soon, even after a couple of bad years.

5- High-level promotion is more likely in a startup
In business, greater risks often offer greater rewards. So working for a startup is riskier than working for an established firm, but you’re more likely to climb to the top of a startup. For example, Mark Zuckerberg was CEO of Facebook shortly after college. He would not have secured that job had he applied for it in a multinational!

6- Transparency
Generally speaking, you’ll have a better idea of what a startup is doing than if you work for a bigger company. Indeed, the CEO’s desk might be just a few feet away from yours! So your employers’ deals, intentions and general news will travel faster in a smaller firm.

In a larger firm, the company’s actions become further removed from the employees, so inevitably communication can be trickier.

7- Stocks vs Salary
Your salary will probably be lower in a startup, but you will have a greater stake in the company (stocks, options or shares). Obviously, this would work out beautifully if you’re on the ground floor for the next Google or Microsoft, but that’s a prediction that’s hard to call…

Choosing your next workplace can be a challenge, but it helps to know how startups and bigger firms operate. Having a think about what you want from your employer will help you make the right decision in the long run. 

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