Startup vs Corporate: Where do you fit?


Jobseekers often go about their search with a general idea of what they’re looking for in their next role -- whether that’s an increase in pay, change in industry, or even location. But there’s another important question they should ask themselves before anything else: what kind of workplace fits me best? Even more specifically, corporate world, or startup?

Maybe you’ve been in the startup scene for a while and are wondering what the corporate world has to offer; maybe you’ve read one too many articles about the crazy “perks” of working at a startup (free snacks, anyone?) and are wondering if it really lives up to the hype. Or, maybe you’re still unsure about what the differences between these two concepts even are.

Throughout my career so far, I’ve been lucky enough to see the best of both worlds, and though I may be a little biased (after all, I left the corporate world for a chance to embed myself within some of NYC’s best startups as a sourcer), I’ve been able to get a pretty clear picture of the pros and cons of both. What’s good for me may not be good for you, so here are a few things to keep in mind when deciding between the corporate and startup environments.


The Culture

Depending on the size of the startup, it’s likely you’ll be able to get to know most people that you work with pretty well. The professional can often blur into the personal, because you’ll probably be a part of a really tight-knit, highly collaborative team, working long hours and essentially helping to build a company. For this reason, most startups are very selective about who they bring on--they need to make sure everyone is a cultural fit as they grow and evolve as a team.

By contrast, in the corporate world, it’s entirely possible to go years without knowing every single person who works there--whether that’s because they work on a different floor, or your department’s functions don’t necessarily intersect with theirs. You become much more accustomed to working only within your own department, and there may be less room for cross-functional collaboration. That being said, big corporations may often have the resources to throw large, company-wide events to make it easier to network internally.

In startup cultures, there's also usually a difference in the way people approach their work. You have a bit more autonomy in how you’re going to meet goals and complete projects. In fact, you’re often encouraged to be creative and present new ideas on how to make a process more efficient or to produce better results. You can work at your own pace, as opposed to the rigidity of a corporate environment, where things may be a bit more bureaucratic when trying to enact change.

Most startups nowadays are also fairly flexible about dress codes, vacation time, and can offer interesting perks like flex hours or the ability to work from home -- but don’t mistake a casual culture for a lazy one -- you may actually have more responsibilities because you’re required to wear many hats. That means you should be highly amenable to change, re-prioritize at a moment’s notice, and adapt quickly. And because you have more autonomy, you’ll have to be good at setting your own deadlines and managing yourself -- which definitely isn’t easy for everyone.


Career Growth Path

There’s a reason they call it the corporate ladder. In most corporate industries, there is usually a clear-cut way to get to roles of progressive seniority. You can actually see a definitive path to becoming VP/Director, because others have done it before you. There’s a sense of safety in knowing that if you put in the time, you’ll reach your ultimate goal. Plenty of people value the certainty and stability that comes with that.

In the startup world, however, since roles and career ladders are not as clearly defined, there’s a mentality that everyone pitches in, and there’s no such thing as “not my job”. While this means you can gain experience in a wide variety of roles, and can think about your career on a broader level, it could also add some uncertainty about career path, timing for promotions, pay increases, etc. For someone making the switch from a large organization to a startup this can be the biggest culture change of all.


Recognition and Transparency

Since I began working at a startup, I’ve really gotten a sense that my success is the company’s success. It’s great to feel the satisfaction of knowing that your impact is visible and valuable. On the same note, if you are unhappy about a decision that was made by leadership, you are encouraged to voice your opinion in a productive way, and offer ideas on how to make it better.

In the corporate world, while your success may be recognized by your immediate supervisor and may even help to move you up the org chart, you may be unaware of how your work is impacting the company as a whole. In fact, you may not even have a say in the decisions that are affecting you on a daily basis and there’s a tendency to feel like another cog in a wheel. For some, that’s motivation enough to aspire to leadership positions.

All in all, this decision really depends on the kind of person you are, and the kinds of skills you want to develop. Some may value the structure and resources of a corporate job, while others thrive in a more collaborative or casual space. I should also make the disclaimer that there are always exceptions to the rules, and it’s entirely possible for aspects of each environment to intersect. But generally, you should keep these points in mind if you’re looking to make a career change in the future.


written by Angelica Martinez, Sourcing Consultant