fork in the road

Startup vs. Big Company: Which is Better for Your Career?

Landing your first job can be both exciting and a bit nerve-wracking. While the benefits, stability and structure a corporate job offers may be ideal for new graduates, more and more startups are competing for your attention these days. They realize you might not be attracted to the stuffy corporate culture.

With lucrative opportunities for the newbie job seeker, you now have a chance to learn more skills in a shorter period of time. Especially with tech startups, hiring is on the rise, as 87 percent plan to hire this year—up 73 percent since 2009.

But will landing a job at a startup be the right decision for you? Discovering what type of environment you work best in is just as important as which company you want to work for. Here’s how to look past the free catered lunches and in-office gaming consoles to decide which path is right for you:

Determine your ultimate career goal

Think about where you see yourself in 20 years.

Are you hoping to one day become a VP, CEO or other top-level executive at a big company? Or do you have an entrepreneurial spirit with a passion for starting your own company?

A larger, more established company will likely offer you better pay and health benefits. But, it may be five or 10 years before you see a significant salary increase or position in the company.  Startups typically have a flat organizational structure, offering the opportunity to make a significant impact in a shorter time span. But, since three out of four startups fail, job security isn’t the industry’s biggest asset.

Discover your personal work style and passion

Do you thrive in tight-knit teams, frequent collaboration opportunities and a more relaxed company culture? Or do you work best in a more structured corporate environment that provides more of a work-life balance?

Take time to explore how you prefer to work to avoid landing in a frustrating job that stunts your personal and professional growth. Unique tools like can help you discover your ultimate workplace happiness, including your strengths (and, ahem, weaknesses), your natural role in a team and best-fitting careers for you.

Choose the business model that supports your career path

So, what type of positions are companies looking to fill? The highest-paying, non-tech-related startup positions are in business development, sales, marketing, design and editorial. The demand for engineers is increasing, so those with solid technical skills are hot commodities in the startup space.

Several of the top-paid corporate positions are in merchandise planning, accounting, pharmaceutical sales, software development and investment banking.

Know what to expect

What should you expect to gain from both a corporate and startup work environment?

In a more established company, you’ll likely work a set schedule—somewhere between the hours of 8:00 to 5:00 or 9:00 to 6:00. There are typically many layers of managers, directors and top-level executives, so expect to climb the rungs of the corporate ladder to earn more pay and notoriety. Large companies are required to adhere to legal compliance, so there may be tasks employees must do—no questions asked.

In a startup environment, expect to work long hours and in small teams across departments. Startups tend to be more transparent, so you will likely know how the company is performing from week to week. You will be required to wear a lot of different hats and take the reigns on a project you may know little about. Startups typically offer paid lunches, in-office activities and a high-energy office culture.

Keep things in perspective

Whether you decide to work for a hot new startup or a larger, more established company, entering the workforce will have its ups and downs. Just remember what your ultimate goal is and what you want to accomplish in your career. It will keep you focused and help you make sound decisions with every opportunity.

Christina Jones is a Florida-based freelance writer and digital marketing professional who is passionate about the startup space. Follow her musings on Twitter @christinajon3s.


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  3. Good.Co

    Thanks so much for the Good.Co mention, Christina! If any of your readers are interested in taking Good.Co for a spin, they can bypass the beta wait list by using access code “goodcoblogs” without the quotes.


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  6. jrandom421

    Here’s a radical idea: Start at a large company, learn all you can and then start your own business. Some one called it “spinning off”.
    As a couple of bright young engineers found out, you can achieve a great deal of success doing that.
    Does the company name of General Electric ring a bell?
    How about those two bright young engineers, William Hewlett and David Packard?
    If it worked for them, I don’t see why it won’t work for anyone with an entrepreneurial focus.

  7. Thee Slave

    If you are not the founding member of a Start-up then working there is absolutely useless. You are overworked with no benefits which kills your personal life and health. No job security, the company might close doors the next day. You have to wear multiple hats which eventually makes you an expert in none.
    Only the founding members of the start-up reap any benefit even if the company fails. They have something to show on their resume and you dont.

  8. Personally, I think it’s better to do the corporate career before going into a start-up. I think you get more respect, and you learn professionalism well and less stressful. But if your instincts are telling you to go with the start-up, you may not be able to perform as well in the corporate job. You will probably develop skills more quickly in the start-up, if you already know how to get things done.

  9. godmatrix

    Both path are equally rewarding and dangerous. Corporate structure, i.e., enterprise vs on-the-fly agile philosophy. It is always good seek out a mentor before deciding.

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  17. Vidya Nair

    Thank you for the blog. It’s really helpful! Working at a startup has its perks even if you aren’t on the founding team. That’s because you get involved into work in all departments, thus expanding your skill set. You stand a better chance at holding key positions in the future if the startup does well. Even if it doesn’t, the varied experience hones your resume and gives you lots to talk about at your next interview. It also gives you more respect, for it is known that at a startup you are constantly fire fighting and testing your persistence. To know what the work culture at a startup is like, check this out:

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