Should graduates opt to work for a start-up or corporate?

Should graduates opt to work for a start-up or corporate?

Going to work at a start-up has perks but there are also downsides to be mindful of


A new survey shows 44 per cent of US graduates want work in a start-up or other small enterprise compared with 14 per cent who want to work at a large firm. Photograph: Getty Images

A new cohort of college graduates is charging out into the workforce. Some will hunt for jobs at start-ups instead of big companies. In fact, according to a 2016 survey by Accenture, only 14 per cent of US graduates want to work at a large firm, while 44 per cent want to work in a start-up or other small enterprise.

Going to work at a start-up has perks, but there are downsides, too. Before you assume a start-up is going to be your dream job, make sure you know what you’re getting into. There are a number of challenges young workers often don’t expect.

1. No standard salary and no benefits
If you are walking into a well-funded start-up, the salary could be quite large for your position. But if you are walking into a bootstrap operation, that number could be quite small. And a lot of start-ups don’t offer benefits like dental or health insurance or a retirement plan; they’re just not in a financial place where they can offer them yet. You’ll have to look beyond things like benefits and salary to decide if you really want to work there.

2. The culture is constantly evolving
If you’re one of the first 20 employees at a start-up you’ll be directly involved in creating the culture. This can be disorienting for anyone, but even more so if it’s your first job. And if the company has a high turnover rate – as a lot of start-ups do – it can be even harder to establish any sort of culture.

3. Lack of structure – or even a boss
New graduates are entering jobs at start-ups where the goals are unclear, constantly changing or both, and they have to muddle through with no supervision or feedback. This is a tough scenario to handle. In some cases, you may not even have a boss.

4. Pressure to always work
Most start-ups don’t have slow days. The 24/7 environment of a start-up can feel like finals week, week after week. If you don’t want to be “always on”, you might prefer to look elsewhere for work. In a larger, more established company, schedules are more predictable and weekends often more sacrosanct.

5. Lack of resources
Go work for a big company and you’ll have plenty of resources: a human resources department, a tech department, a marketing team. Work at a start-up and you are the department. You do the hiring, the marketing, the strategic planning, the social media – everything. And if you don’t know how to do it, you teach yourself. Many young people initially enjoy the creativity needed to do all this but eventually hit a wall.

6. Financial uncertainty
Even at stable start-ups, if you’re not moving the needle, you could be laid off. It’s not personal; it’s just that there isn’t money or time to waste. Be prepared to figure out ways to make a difference if you choose the start-up path. – Copyright Harvard Business Review 2017

Lauren Berger is CEO and founder of and

Previously published in The Irish Times.


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