Working at Startup vs Big Company (Comparison)

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Have you ever wondered what’s better between working at startup vs big company?

In your career, have you only worked for big companies and you’re considering whether to take the leap to the startup world?

Or, on the contrary, have you been working for startups for quite a while, and are considering whether seeking opportunities in big companies is the right next move?

Or, are you a young graduate who’s unsure which path will align with career and life expectations?

Or do you simply want to know further about both worlds?

Well, this is just the right post for you!

Constantly, I see people struggling with this matter. It’s usually a big interrogation whether to pursue opportunities in one or another. Certainly, it’s not a decision that you should take lightly.

Working at startup vs big company are very different experiences, each with their respective pros and cons. It’s a matter of understanding those well and adapting in accordance with preferences and expectations.

Throughout my various professional acquaintances, I’ve experienced firsthand what working in different types of structures is actually like. It’s certainly no exaggeration when people say that startups and big companies are two different worlds.

With that, my aim here is to give you an objective insight on the most common questions that arise when thinking of working at startup vs big company: Growth opportunities; responsibilities; salary and benefits; and budget.

Very often, a startup leads us to think immediately of Silicon Valley and its stereotypes. It seems to have a very open, innovative and pioneering organizational culture – An utopic, solution-oriented, agile, balanced and cool attitude.

Surely enough, its organizational agility allows us to transcend more easily than in big companies. The informality rate is undoubtedly higher.

But let’s face the truth: A growing start-up will require as much investment from you as a big company. Just because your boss is wearing sneakers and a t-shirt, it does not mean that their demands will differ!!

Thus what is the reality behind clichés on working at startup vs big company?

Learning and growth opportunities

Big company

😊 In a big company, opportunities are often greater as they have defined career paths with international opportunities, as well as vertical or horizontal evolvement.

The internal training allows for continuous improvement of skills, moreover, you will be working within an experienced team or at least an experienced manager in your field. They will help you grow professionally.

😕 It is sometimes difficult to bring your ideas to realization and have an immediate impact on the rigid corporate framework. Seniority is sometimes more valued than skills.

A large company is much more political and your evolution will not only depend on your performance but also on the benevolence of your manager (and their relationship with people upper in the ladder).

Startup

In a startup, you mostly learn on your own and on the go.

😊 You must be proactive and if you are a multitasker you will be served! Indeed, you will perform tasks that are not initially in the job description. Just as a startup is agile, you have to be flexible and adapt to those dynamics.

😕In a startup, you can quickly reach your own limits. Mentoring and training can be limited because it’ll mostly depend on your manager. You very likely will not have teams or programs dedicated to your professional formation. Google might be your best friend for some time but not forever.

Your learning curve will, in its majority, depend on your ability to push the boundaries of your own knowledge, which can bring you a long way if you succeed, or can be a great source of frustration if you don’t.

Your growth within a startup will largely depend on two factors: Your performance and the company’s growth. Most likely, your manager will be a senior executive or the company’s founder. That means that “climbing the ladder” will be impossible because there’s no ladder to climb.

Instead, your role will gain relevance as the company’s growth and your performance throughout the process bring along projects and team members within your responsibility.

Responsibilities

Big company

😊 In a big company, you know what you’re getting into. The positions are specialized and your role is clearly defined. Furthermore, internal processes are often already in place. That leaves you more time for strategy and operations, rather than how things are or should be done.

😕The organization is often less agile because it is more process-oriented and therefore they make decisions more slowly. On top of that, the hierarchy dominates. Your manager will make the decisions, and you will have less impact on them.

With that, your responsibility will be dictated by your specific role and the relevance level that comes with it. It won’t be you, it will be your position.

Startup

😊As mentioned above, if a startup grows, you can gain high responsibility very quickly. Decisions are made quickly because there’s little or no bureaucracy in place. Things move fast.

If you have an idea that resonates within your manager, it’ll soon become a reality. You’ll be responsible for its implementation and results.

Your potential for having a significant impact is high. You will not be constrained by the tasks and responsibility level stipulated in your job description.

😕Big responsibility means big pressure and everything goes fast. Thus, your decisions correspond with such dynamics.

😊As a result, you will inevitably become good at handling pressure and tight deadlines.

Salary and benefits

Big company

😊 In big companies, hiring salaries are generally higher and they are accompanied by other financial benefits: Dividends, performance bonuses, free or subsidized food, etc.

Big companies also offer access to many social benefits such as holiday vouchers, entertaining vouchers or even concierge service.

😕But you will often be stuck in a defined salary grid depending on your degree level and school you come from, which can be really frustrating. It’s not rare to hear about cases in which someone is paid $5k or $10k more only based on the school they graduated from.

Startup

😊 Startups can offer you shares or stock options to acquire a stake in the company, and it is a way for you to be more involved in and motivated for the company’s success.

😕But let’s be clear: Hiring salaries are less attractive, benefits are few or non-existent and yet you work as much as in a big company.

The atmosphere at work

Big company

😊You will have the opportunity to interact with a very wide range of employees, often with extensive experience in the company and the business. Furthermore, in a big company, there are so many people beyond your team to exchange with that you will have higher chances of engaging with people with similar preferences as yours.

😕But the hierarchy is visible and marked, you are expected to stay in your level and interact on a personal level only with your equals. The codes are more rigid and you cannot go talk with the CEO easily, sometimes you are not even allowed to do so.

Startup

😊 In a startup, you can even play ping pong with the CEO if you want! You are part of a collective adventure. The atmosphere of a startup is informal and non-hierarchical. The dress code is more relaxed.

😊 A startup is clearly less formally structured than a big company. In my personal experience, my manager in the startup in which I was working was simply the company’s director. In parallel, the director of the international group in which I was working was 4 positions above me!

The organization is, therefore, less hierarchical, the relationships simple and more direct. When I had a question or suggestion, I had three steps to walk and I talked about it easily with the director.

The atmosphere is often more informal and family-oriented because we know everyone.

😕But when your colleagues become your friends, it can be difficult to make a differentiation between professional and personal life.

😕Furthermore, due to the closeness among your team members, the stability of the working environment is very fragile. You should get along with everyone in order to preserve the good vibes at work. A conflict between two people has the potential of affecting the overall atmosphere (even if you have nothing to do with the conflict).

The budget

Certainly, both startups and big companies control, measure and analyze the budget. However, in a startup, resources are rather limited and $20,000, for instance, represents a considerable amount and is treated with high relevance and carefulness.

On a big company, on the other hand, their budget is usually quite abundant and they make decisions in regards to it with a lower degree of cautiousness.

This does not mean that a big company will throw money at you to do whatever you want! It means that should a single project fail, its potential for compromising the integrity of the whole company is lower. The margin of error is, therefore, wider.

Big company

😊A big company will undoubtedly assign a more significant budget for you to achieve your goals.

For instance, I remember that I had more than $20,000 in a recruitment budget.

😕As you have the budget though, you might not get out your comfort zone to achieve your goal and you, therefore, miss on opportunities of improving existing processes or challenge yourself and grow professionally.

Startup

😊 In a startup, you will definitely have to be resourceful all the time to achieve your goals, and the results will be clearly more rewarding as your effort put into achieving them will have been much higher.

😕But it also can quickly cause frustration for some people, because they may feel that they do not have the means to perform well.

Thus if you want to work in a startup and perhaps are wondering what traits they value most, you have to relate to experiences that show evidence of the qualities below:

  • Autonomy
  • Flexibility
  • Proactivity
  • Curiosity

You can also check the posts on Job Searching and Interview Preparation for overall tips.

Conclusion

So, who’s the winner? Do you prefer working at startup vs big company? Or the other way around?

There is no right answer. It totally depends on what you’re looking for, your aspirations, your personal and professional traits. Knowing yourself will help you take a side.

The most important thing is to think about the ideal environment to help you achieve your goals, to what aligns with a personal sense of fulfillment.

Do you want to be in constant evolution, in high uncertainty, flexible environment?

Or do you want to make progress in a structured environment that allows you to grow methodically?

The answer must be based on your way of working and your desires.

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Marie Zorayan
Marie Zorayan
3 years ago

Est-ce qu’il est difficile de passer de l’un à l’autre ? Par exemple, si je commence ma carrière en poste dans un grand groupe est-ce que les startups seront moins enclintes à m’embaucher ? Ou inversement.