Startup vs. Corporate: What is better for your career?

Both startup and corporate jobs have their benefits, it all boils down to your personality and what you're looking for.

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For previous generations, the answer to the question of whether to work for a corporation or a new startup-style company was an easy one – pick the corporation, all day every day. Security and stability were the main goals of any career. For millennials and Generation Z, the answer to this question is no longer as straightforward. 

Being part of a successful startup can impact your career in ways that a traditional corporate is unable to, and they offer a very different lifestyle and approach to work. On the other hand, corporations still have some distinct career advantages. Here, we look at some factors that you should take into account when making your decision.

1. Brand recognition and the glow of external validation

Working at an established and prestigious corporation is a big plus for your CV, especially in the early stages of your career. Just getting a job in a big company or respected consultancy will be seen as an accomplishment that is worthy of respect, and a good name will open new doors for you in the future. However, as with many things, the reality can be very different from the perception. If you’re not working on something you have a passion for, then the external validation might not be enough compensation. Being part of an up-and-coming startup might not hold the same brand value, but the satisfaction and enjoyment of creating something new often more than make up for it.

2. Those seductive job titles

Both startups and corporates make their job titles sound as important and fancy as they can. However, the reality of a role can often differ quite drastically from what it says on the tin. Whether you’re going for a job in a startup or a corporate, you should be looking closely at the job description itself to see if fits in with your expectations. Yes, a fancy title will look good on your CV, but if you’re not developing the skills to reflect it, then it’s not worth as much. This is especially true in startups, where roles are very flexible and changeable. 

3. The salary you earn

We won’t say money isn’t important, but it definitely isn’t everything. Of course, you will have invested time and money in your education and would like to make a return on it; you might want to own a house in the future or build a family, both of which are difficult without a good salary. However, if you opt for a job with a high paying salary when you know that you won’t enjoy the work, then there is a chance you’ll regret it later in life. Choose a job that you are passionate about, and then try to negotiate a higher salary if you need it. This way, you’ll be much happier and more engaged at work, and feelings like that are much harder to come by.

4. The impact you want to have

If it’s important to you that the work you do has a clear and noticeable impact, then being part of a startup is probably your best choice. In early-stage startups, many processes do not exist yet, allowing you to create and implement them. As a result, the work you do can have a massive impact on the overall company and set the stage for its continued success. If you choose to work at a more mature corporate company, the difference is that your role will most likely be much more defined, hence limiting the extent of the impact you can have.

5. A sense of responsibility and ownership

In a startup, you often bear sole responsibility for your part in a project. At times this can be a little overwhelming and make you feel lost, but when it works out, it gives you a great sense of responsibility and ownership. You get the opportunity to learn how to effectively manage a project and own it, even when you make mistakes. In a more corporate setting, this type of learning is less likely as teams are bigger, responsibilities and ownership are diffused, and hierarchies are more prevalent.

Marco Eylert
Co-Founder | TalentSpace

Marco's a co-founder at TalentSpace, and he previously worked at McKinsey & Company, Roland Berger and Credit Suisse. He graduated from Bocconi University and Johns Hopkins SAIS, where he was a scholar of the Haniel Foundation and the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes.

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