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Startup vs Corporate: Which is Better for Career Switchers?

Steve Safarowic
May 22, 2020
Last updated on
June 13, 2024


Career switchers and graduates have a lot to factor in before selecting their first job: the industry, role, salary, compensation, etc. Another important factor has been added to this list in the last few years: Join a startup or a corporate MNC? The work culture, role and growth opportunities, benefits, etc. are different between a big company vs startup, and you will need to consider all these aspects before making a decision.

But how do these ‘aspects’ differ between a startup and a corporate? This article will explain how your experience will be at a startup and a corporate, and how different factors that impact your career will unfold.

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The working environment at a startup is often relaxed.

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The working environment at a corporate is often formal.

The experience you gain at a startup and an MNC are different yet invaluable. If you have to choose between startup vs big company, these are the deciding factors:

1. Diverse Roles vs A Niche Role

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More responsibilities and work at a startup, but also a sense of accomplishment.

Your roles and responsibilities at a startup will be diverse

Startups hire lean, resulting in a small team working closely together. This often means employees perform more than one role within the company. Employees within a startup don’t have a fixed responsibility, but rather take up whatever they can do in addition to what they were hired to do. Startups don’t have a fixed working process or hierarchy, which is something that is established over time with experience. They also work on a tight budget. Because of this, a startup won’t hire based on a role but rather based on your skills and expect you to adapt to the responsibilities that the job throws your way.

Here’s what this means for you - Working on multiple business areas will help you acquire new skills and also figure out which particular domain you are interested in pursuing. A startup will expose you to a wide range of work experiences. But this also means you will be expected to learn a lot, learn quickly, and also put in extra effort daily. While giving you a platform to learn, it can also burn you out. Consider this point when deciding between a startup vs established company.

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You will have a fixed routine at a corporate which will lead to a better work-life balance.

Within an established corporate you will have a fixed role with defined responsibilities

The roles and responsibilities you will be assigned will be different in a big company vs startup. A well-established company has a defined business process and organizational hierarchy. The employees needed to execute a project, and the skills needed are already defined. Because of this, a corporate hires someone with the specific skill set to fill a particular role, and this will be the only responsibility expected of you.

Here’s what this means for you - Unlike a startup, you will not get to explore different roles within the business. You will be expected to only focus on the responsibilities assigned to you. This does not mean you won’t have the opportunity to diversify your portfolio, but the opportunity will come only once you have acquired experience. Because of the fixed responsibilities, you will be able to enjoy a better work-life balance, and you will also be expected to work only during working hours. You will also become a master of your domain rather than a jack of all trades.

Also Read:Role of Software Engineers in Startups

2. Passion vs Compensation

Your work at a startup will make a major impact leading to more passion at work

Startups consist of a small team of employees, each of whom is responsible for multiple tasks. Every employee makes a big impact on the project’s result. At startups, you will often find everyone from founders to interns brainstorming ideas with everyone getting an equal say on the matter. If you have a great idea, you can volunteer to lead it, and you will be given the opportunity to do so.

Here’s what this means for you - Being the owner of a part of the project will create a sense of pride and boost your confidence. The accountability will help you grow as an individual. Employees at a startup are very passionate about their work since each of them feels responsible for its success. This also means that you are accountable for any issues or failures in the project, and this can be quite stressful. Also, while you will be expected to (or you may volunteer to) take up more responsibilities, your pay and compensation will not necessarily increase to accommodate the increased workload.

You might find work to be monotonous at an MNC, but you will be fairly compensated

Since your daily responsibilities are well defined and fixed, you will be performing the same activities every day. This could make work monotonic. Because you will be a part of a large team, your contribution and impact of the project will be diluted.

Here’s what this means for you - You may find yourself not being very passionate about work because of the repetitive nature of jobs at MNCs. This, however, does not mean that you won’t have the opportunity to take up more responsibilities, and when you do perform extra work or take on added responsibility, you will be fairly compensated. The fixed work schedule will also allow you to plan for activities outside of the office.

3. Adaptability vs Stability

Your role at a startup will be volatile, and you will need to adapt quickly.

Life at a startup is fast-paced. The lack of a well-defined process will mean you will always need to be on your toes. Startups accept projects and tasks on the fly, depending on the customer and/or market needs. This results in a diverse level of work coming in, and you will have to be adept at adapting to change. There also is a level of dependency on clients and the market, and this leaves startups and employees vulnerable to failure.

Here’s what this means for you - Your day-to-day work will not always be fixed, and your tasks will change based on client and market demands. This means you need to be ready to quickly adapt, and it also means you will be exposed to diverse work leading to more learning and experience. The lack of strict rules and legalities will, however, make your job less stable than at an MNC.

Work and finances at an established corporate will be stable.

Contrary to startups, your work and your job within an MNC will be quite stable. Tech jobs do have occasional demands that may not be a part of your daily tasks, but they will be much less frequent than it is at a startup. Established corporations also have strong legal contracts making your job within the company much more secure.

Here’s what this means for you - Barring some cases your job at a corporate will entail regular tasks which will be far less taxing. You will not be required to take up tasks on the fly. You will also find a sense of job security within an established organization.

4. Learning vs Security

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More learning and growth but also the risk of being laid off.

You will learn more at a startup and grow your portfolio, but it comes with a risk of low job security

Since the team size is small, employees working at a startup are involved in every process of a project, right from idea conceptualization and design to development and release. This creates a lot of opportunities for learning and exploring different domains, giving you a great portfolio to advance your career. That being said, your career growth within the startup will be much less stable since startups have a 50-50 chance of becoming successful. Startups rely heavily on clients/customers, and this business instability is extended to your job.

Here’s what this means for you - Startups are a great place to work if you’re looking to figure out your domain of interest, and you want to learn different technologies and acquire skills. Your portfolio will grow, and this will help you progress your career. You may not enjoy 100% job security, but that’s the price you pay for the opportunity to be completely involved in projects.

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The structure of a corporate and additional support systems like legal and HR makes your job more secure.

You will master one technology or niche, have a sense of job security and also have the chance to grow internally at an MNC

An established corporate will hire you to fit into a specific role within a project. You will have a set of tasks to perform and will be involved only in one technology or area of technology. Over time you will have the option to explore, but during the initial few years, your work will revolve around the same set of responsibilities. This can be monotonous, but it will also make you an expert within your domain. This will make it much easier to grow your career within the niche. Working at an established MNC will automatically add weight to your CV, making career growth easier. Also, MNCs have multiple lateral and vertical growth opportunities that you can explore.

Here’s what this means for you - Corporates usually have a role decided for you, and you won't have the option to select what technology or area of business you want to work in. That being said, working only on a niche technology will make you an expert. You will also have growth options open to you within the same company or outside, but the area of work may be limited since you have experience working only within a niche.

Also Read:Tech Skills That Are Valuable In Any Industry

Startups vs Corporates, Which One is Right For You?

While there is no general answer to which one is better - working for a startup vs big company, you can figure out which one is better for you. Now that you know how they differ in terms of work culture, compensation, security, growth, etc., you can decide which one best suits you.

If there is an area of technology that you prefer to work on, you can look for corporate hiring for that role and get the benefits of an MNC while working in a role you like. If you’re not sure about the direction of your career, working in a startup that suits your interest and exploring the different job roles will help you decide.

Whether you prefer a startup or a corporate, it’s important to learn about the company and understand the job description in detail before you join. Also, make sure to discuss salary and compensation with the HR and get all your questions answered. At the end of the day, go in the direction that is lucrative for a long career.

Also Read:How to Switch to a Career in Data Science

Need more advice?

If you are at a choice point in your career and need someone to help you navigate professional challenges. You can make an appointment to our free 1-on-1 Career Consultation and receive personalised career advice.