Why Graduates Should Consider Working for a Startup

For the last couple of decades, the most sought after jobs upon graduation have been ‘prestigious’ graduate schemes/jobs with banks, law firms and large corporates. With 2015 being a record year for startup formation in the UK, here is why young people really ought to consider joining a startup rather than that traditional and well-known corporate:

  • Greater job responsibility

Even at the entry-level, you are given more to do right from the beginning. As the teams are smaller, you have more of a part to play – and are much less the ‘small cog in a large’ wheel. Therefore, you will feel as if what you are doing is genuinely adding value. Yes, the learning curve is steeper, the challenge is probably greater, but it is all the more worthwhile and the opportunity for you is huge. Corporate comparison: At entry-level you are looking at a defined ‘analyst’ job or similar, where you might be doing tasks of some value, but generally speaking you will have to ‘earn your stripes’ by carrying out the more mundane and administrative office tasks, before working your way up the corporate ladder to the more interesting stuff. This can sometimes take years.

  • More job variety

You will be tasked with more responsibilities and your day-to-day work is likely to be more varied in a startup. Chances are, if your position is in Marketing for example, your work extends beyond the marketing world and crosses over with other areas. This gives you an opportunity to learn more about what you enjoy doing and are good at.   Corporate comparison: Much less variety in a typically narrow and defined role.

  • More control over your role & career

It is easier to get close to a particular part of the business that you are interested in, and to some extent ‘build out a role’ within that space. If you are hard-working and a good fit for the company, they will want to keep you and utilise you in the best way possible, and where you are happy with what you are doing. Corporate comparison: If you find yourself in a finance role, for example, it is extremely difficult to A) get wider experience in another field and B) manoeuvre yourself into another role. This is partly due to the specific nature of your role, and partly due to the sheer size of the firm and the politics and bureaucracy that often comes with it.

  • Less of a hierarchy, more holarchy

 In startups, like in any organisation, there is a mix of experience within the teams. However, there is generally less of a hierarchical structure, and everyone tends to be taken seriously and have a say – both in the team itself as well as in the overall direction and mission of the company. Some startups have even more actively removed themselves from the hierarchy model, and have implemented holarchy – e.g. Zappos. Corporate comparison: A rigid corporate hierarchy, with typically at least 2-3 years between each title promotion, and certainly 10-15 years (minimum) before you can reach anywhere near “the top” (e.g. Director, Head of Department, etc.)

  • Age matters less

Generally speaking, startups have younger workforces on average (for better or for worse). More crucially, with less of a ‘seniority’ focus, your age is less relevant and less looked-at-between-the-lines at a startup. Your age is therefore less of a barrier. For this reason, if you join a startup after school or university and ace it, you can find yourself in a pretty significant role – much faster than would be possible within a corporate.  The rules are less defined and there is less bureaucracy – this can work to your advantage and you can find yourself way ahead of your investment-banking peers. Corporate comparison: Frustratingly, your manager might either be someone a couple of years ahead of you (in age and experience), or someone who got the managerial role simply by ‘doing the time’ and being with the company for so many years and ‘earning’ the promotion through tenure. 

  • Greater exposure to impressive individuals

Smaller teams with more responsibility and less hierarchy means that you can learn from some really impressive people, both in your team and across the company as a whole. Chances are, the founder(s) will sit near you – possibly even a few desks away. This also gives greater rise to horizontal variance in your network (as opposed to vertical), which Zak Slayback (Top LinkedIn Influencer on Education & Business Development Director at Praxis) talks about here). Corporate comparison: Most of your interactions will be with your immediate team, which will likely consist of fellow analysts/senior analysts with the manager possibly being a level up from that. And less opportunity for network variance.

  • Startups are doing exciting things

Funding Circle is revolutionising the outdated banking system. Pact Coffee is changing the coffee industry for the better. DrEd is transforming healthcare. This list goes on. Startups are innovative and disruptive, in some way trying to shake up the way things are currently done in their respective industries. The founders risked it all by leaving safe and secure jobs (often corporate jobs!) to put themselves on the line for something they really believed in. Is that not something you’d want to be part of, given the choice?

  • You are close to the overall mission of the company

And you feel it. Not only is your company trying to do something exciting, but this can be felt in what you are doing every day. Your work is more likely to be fun and fulfilling, and you are more likely to see what you are doing as more than just a job, as you can feel that you are tangibly and meaningfully contributing to the lives of others. Corporate comparison: The ‘company values’ were probably something you were given on induction day, never to be seen again (except when you browse the company website every once in a while). The overall mission is more difficult to determine and even if you do understand it, it probably isn’t felt whilst sat at the bottom of the chain.

  • You get to see the bigger picture

Do you want to start your own business one day? (If so, you’re not alone – nearly 2/3 of millennials do). Within a startup, you are much closer to Sales, Marketing, Operations, Finance, etc. You get to see how the departments interact with one another, and gain insights which could be invaluable for when it comes to starting your own business. This effect is even greater within a smaller startup (e.g. 10-50 people in size). You may even get to join an early-stage startup, and experience it as it grows in size. Corporate comparison: In your role and team, you might feel removed from the rest of the department let alone the rest of the business. Such a bigger-picture view isn’t possible. Not unless you reach the uppermost echelons after 20-40 years with the firm.

  • You get to bring (more of) yourself to work

Startups tend to be more human and accepting of who you really are, and not just focused on “work”. Often, you get to wear normal clothes(!) – not suits – and express who you really are. Take this page for example, introducing the team at BEAR Nibbles. Yes, it is a company, there is work to be done, but this is clearly a group of people who are treated like people, openly expressing their interests and sides away from work. Corporate comparison: often suited-and-booted. You certainly won’t see employees talking about their love of early-morning raves on the company website…

  • You actually get to know the people in the company

With a company just 10-100(ish – it varies) in size, you actually get to know who the people are. Need to speak to Jack in Finance? He’s not just a stranger on the phone – you actually saw him at the gym last week… It feels more like a community as a result, even with a family-feel to it, with a sense of camaraderie. Corporate comparison: Jack in Finance could well be far away, possibly in another time-zone. In fact, it can feel like you are speaking to people who aren’t working for the same company. Though a close team-bond can be fostered, a community-like feel on a larger, company-wide scale is much more difficult to achieve.   So there you have it. Working for a startup really has its advantages, and especially so if you are a young person about to embark on a career. Working for a startup is no easy ride. It is just as much hard work as it is working for a corporate (if not harder), and probably with a lower salary at the start, compared to a corporate job – if status and money are your thing, you’re probably better off in a corporate. However, there are a whole host of benefits. Perhaps most of all, you can choose to work for a company with a purpose and mission that you can relate to and are passionate about, and can feel in the work that you are doing. About the author: Jas Hothi, founder of HeadStart. HeadStart is a programme launching in January 2017, giving you 6 months working for a startup alongside an innovative curriculum for your personal and professional development. You can register your interest and be kept updated here. Follow him on Twitter at: @jasrajhothi.

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