Career Advice

Startup or large corporate – which is best for you?

Everyone has an opinion of whether you should work for big companies or small, startup or corporate, but the answer is very personal. I was coaching a group earlier this week and the question came up as “I am working for a startup but everyone is telling me I should go work for a big corporate now for my resume – what do you think?”

I believe there is no right way, no right answer. But there are dimensions to consider as you map out your next step.

  • Are you working for good, experienced managers? Do you respect them, and will they invest in you? If so, stay with them as long as you are growing and learning – whether you are in a small or a large company. It is so much more efficient to learn from good managers than from bad. There are a thousand ways to do a job badly and a handful of ways to do it well so learn as much as you can from people you respect for as long as you can.
  • Are you working for a winning startup? I have found many employees are very loyal to their company, even when in their hearts they know it is failing, and yet if the company is not winning you may not grow. It could be that you get more experience because you get a battlefield promotion, but more likely if the company is not growing your responsibilities and span of control will not grow. Remember 9 out of 10 startups fail. So if you are early in your career and want to advance fast try to find a startup (if you chose to do one) that is growing.
  • Do you long for more formal training, If so then it’s probably time to go to a larger company and grow your large company skillsets. These may be larger team management, scale, working with international teams, and probably politics. Larger companies will typically either having training programs internally, or have the budget to send you out on courses. I was fortunate enough to be sent to the Stanford Executive MBA program, all expenses paid (while I was pregnant) because the company wanted to invest in me. It was a fantastic experience for me, a math major with no business training, to learn the basics of finance, marketing, management and organizational development in a crash course. A startup would not have been able to invest in me that way.
  • Do you want to manage lots of people? Again, a large company stint may make sense for you. It is certainly a great experience to manage a large team of people or a large P&L at some point in your career. But with that will come both good and bad politics. Good – the art of influencing people in a constructive way; Bad – the art of backroom lobbying and selfish decisions. So prepare yourself for both.
  • Do you need stability? There are times in all our lives when stability is very attractive, such as when we are caring for an ill family member, and times when it doesn’t seem important. Be aware of what you need right now.
  • Do you need to make a high end salary for the level/job you are in? Larger, established companies will typically pay more, especially if you are in a very competitive job category. Startups will typically want to conserve cash. Make sure you know what you are worth in the market at large and then consciously make the decision that works for you and your financial plans.
  • Do you enjoy risk and want to have fun? Well then, a startup is probably for you.

And when you are all done, looking back on your career from a beach or with grandchildren on your knee, what’s important is that you have lived to your highest potential (whatever that means to you) – and that you have worked for and with great people in fun companies. Life is too short to work in low quality companies, with and for bozos, when there are so many terrific companies and people to work with.

Photo:  Sheep in the Roman ruins of Baelo Claudia on the south coast of Spain. Penny Herscher June 2018