Startup vs. Corporate: Which culture suits you best?

Choosing the right workplace culture can make a world of difference to the work your deliver.

Work is work, and all workplaces are pretty much the same, right? Wrong! There is a vast difference between working for an early-stage, buzzy startup and working for an established, longstanding corporation. Of course, there are similarities between the two, and in recent years large companies have been adopting some of the traits that originated in startup culture. But behind the veneer of table tennis tables and free drinks, corporations still have some core differences. 

If you're at the start of your career and wondering what company culture is the best fit, here are some key features and benefits of each to help you decide on your path.

You'll fit into startup culture if...

1. You thrive in a fast-paced, ever-changing work environment

In startups, the work can differ from day-to-day, and your role and tasks can change entirely from one week to the next. The reason is that startups, especially early-stage startups, don't have fixed processes in place yet, and many things are being done for the first time. This fast-paced, dynamic environment can be extremely exciting and gives you plenty of opportunities to learn and challenge yourself. 

2. You run towards responsibility with open arms

At startups, you're encouraged to work independently and to manage your own time and tasks. In the early stages, startup team sizes are small, which means that you will have full responsibility for getting tasks finished and for deciding how they get done. If you perform well on your tasks, you can expect to be given even more responsibility and climb the ladder faster than you would in a corporate setting. If you love getting stuff done and are always ready to take more on, then you'll feel right at home in the startup culture.

3. Being proactive and committed is your default mode

If you're the kind of person who doesn't just wait to be told what to do, but instead uses your initiative to work out what needs to be done and then goes for it, then you'd prefer the startup culture. Startups are entrepreneurial at their core, and you should be proactive in the way that you solve problems and willing to do whatever it takes to meet deadlines and complete tasks, even if it means some extra hours at the office.

You'll feel at home in a corporate company if…

1. You value clear structures and responsibilities

There is a lot to be said for knowing exactly what the expectations are for your role and if you're meeting them. In a corporate company, you are usually filling a pre-existing role, meaning that the tasks and responsibilities are defined and set. You will know what you have to do and the timeframe you are expected to do it in. For many people, this predictability and structure can help to greatly minimize the stress that comes with workplace ambiguity, which is why they prefer working for big companies.

2. You like tangible compensation

At a corporate company, the perks can be more concrete than at a startup. Benefits like paid holidays and pension packages are standard, and the working hours will be more stable and reliable. You might be able to wear whatever you want when working in a startup, and the Friday office parties might be legendary, but the security of a pension plan and being able to take time off when you need it is hard to pass on.

3. You want to feel the impact of brand value

If you're at the early stages of your career, then the added value of having a well-known corporate name on your CV will be of great benefit. The reputation of the companies you have worked for matters, and when the names are recognizable, they will open doors and help your career in the future. Startups have a high failure rate, so very often, working at one will not add any brand value to your CV, and if they crash and burn, it can even have a detrimental effect.

As with any list, this one isn't definitive, and there are many exceptions to these rules. A lot of corporates have teams and divisions within them that operate more like startups, and some later-stage startups can offer more stability and structure while retaining their startup ethos. Both of these options are good compromises. As with any big decisions, do your research to understand the environment you are entering and see if it is one you feel you will fit into 

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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