What I Learned Working at a Startup and Large Corporation
Since graduating college back in 2018, I have had the opportunity to experience what it’s like working at two startups and two large corporations.
Many recruiters and older folks have told me with much more wisdom, that having so many jobs in such a short time is not good for your career. My wife even told me that I should be concerned about it.
But you know what, I wasn’t.
I am proud of the experiences I have accumulated over these past few years at each job I have worked at. It has helped me make business decisions that have led me to the excellent job that I have now, and I have my experiences to thank for that.
Now that I have earned these experiences, I learned quite a bit working at different sized companies. There were things I liked, as there were things I didn’t as goes for any job.
If you are new in the job market and can’t decide if you want to go work for a startup or a large corporation, or if you are looking to make a change in your career but don’t know what decision to make; I hope my experiences can make your job decision process a little bit less stressful.
“The only source of knowledge is experience.”
Working at a Startup
I’ve had the opportunity of working at two start companies: one being very early in the startup stage with around 20 employees, and the other beginning to establish themselves with about 100 employees. Both shall remain un-named. Here’s what I learned:
The Interview Process Even though I dressed up in a dress shirt, tie, and slacks, I was way overdressed for the interview. But I thought being overdressed rather than underdressed would be the smartest decision, which it was.
The interview was very relaxed. It was a one on one conversation with the CEO. I will admit that I was not expecting to have a sitdown, face-to-face chat with the CEO during my first round interview, but that was their process. They were very tight-knit.
He asked me questions on topics like collaboration, teamwork, and coachability. All topics I was familiar with being a former collegiate athlete; our conversations sparked immediately.
What I enjoyed most about this process that I never got at the more prominent companies was they wanted to get to know me. More on a personal level rather than professional. They wanted to see what type of person I was outside of work, and that meant a lot to me.
Professional & Personal Growth I knew that I would have a better chance of learning different topics and wear many different hats than the original position I was applying for, and I was okay with that. I have always been big on learning and discovering new things.
I was given a ton of responsibility when I started to get my feet wet in the company. Some I enjoyed while some were too much of a headache. But I knew that as the company grew, so will my opportunities for career advancement. However, be mindful that you may not always be doing the job functions that were written out on the job description.
You may have been hired to be an Administrative Assistant, but you have to get your hands dirty in operations or customer support.
You have two options at that point: you can be frustrated about not doing what you were hired to do, or you can see it as a valuable experience that will be appreciated by your management team. This is also an experience you can take to your next job or business venture.
I also learned how to communicate in a business environment. I was 2 feet away from pretty much all of my colleagues, so I had no choice but to communicate with them. I learned how to work as a team in a business sense and develop better social skills.
On a personal level, I grew tremendously. As the responsibilities piled, I had to learn to make critical decisions like time management or how to hold a proper conversation with a C-level executive. I grew as a businessman, being forced to learn and adapt quickly.
Learn From the Boss
I had so many conversations with my CEO that I will never forget. I still have a notepad full of notes of our discussions. Some were on a personal level, while others were professional.
This is something to cherish working at a startup company. At a larger corporation, there’s a good chance where you will never meet your CEO, let alone pick his brain. I got to learn the whole business operations, and learn how to run a business inside and out. These are lessons I will never forget.
The Pay Before accepting this job, I was told: “startups don’t pay that well to newly grads.” Yeah, right. This was my highest paying job up to date. Granted, I have two degrees, but I did not have all of the experience to back it up. I sold myself in the interview process and made it clear on what I thought I deserved to make.
Now I have buddies that have told me the startups they work for do not pay very well. It all depends on the company and how you sell yourself.
Your Voice Matters Since there were only 20 employees in the office, my voice mattered. If I had a great idea, I had the freedom to share it with my manager and even pitch it to my CEO. My opinion mattered, whether it was in an important meeting or what we had for lunch that day.
Company Culture I have worked at two startups, the smaller one I have addressed above with 20 employees, and another with about 100 employees. Both cultures were equally great and entertaining. It was a good transition coming from a college atmosphere.
No suit and ties. Other than the management team, all of my colleagues were millennials like me, and I felt comfortable being myself. I had the opportunity to create bonds and friendships with a couple of people that I am still close with today. It was like being part of a close-knit family.
Working at a Large Corporation
My experience working at both of the large corporations was utterly different than the ones working at the startups. It was like night and day for me. There were positives and negatives; both were good for my career. Here’s what I learned:
The Interview Process Much more professional and formal than the startups. The majority of the questions were more professional than personal. They wanted to know what I brought to the table — education and job experience-wise.
The length of the interview process was much greater than the startups as well. I believe one took up to two months before finally receiving an offer.
Resources and Training At the startup companies, I didn’t receive much training about the job. I learned mostly from having conversations with my executives and doing further research on my own.
When I entered a corporation position, I had many more resources at my disposal. I went through weeks of training and shadowed colleagues that have been at the company for years and had a knowledge of wealth to share.
I was given study guides, manuals, and e-learnings that I could look over at home. This was very helpful and motivating when first starting compared to working at the startups.
Influence Was Non-Existent Now I knew that I would be the new puppy on the block stepping into the corporate world, but I didn’t realize that my voice wouldn’t be heard at all. The influence that I had at startups stayed at the startups. I had no say so on my work and the work with my colleagues.
Along with influence, it is tough to gain visibility into business decisions and operations. I was far from being able to receive this type of access.
I cherished the conversations I had with my executives because I didn’t have the option to have them working in large corporations. I couldn’t even remember their names.
Company Culture It is a different vibe in the office. I wasn’t surrounded by people my age anymore. There were a few millennials, but there were a lot of people twice my age.
Now that’s not a problem for me, because I see it as more wisdom. But this is something you should take into account when making a decision. If you are looking for more of a laid back office and college environment, large corporations may not be the place for you at the moment.
Went From Juggling Different Hats to Wearing One No longer was I getting my hands dirty in operations, business development, communications, and customer support. I was solely working on the job details that were listed in my job description.
This took some time to get used to, but I had no complaints. I had the time to spend all my energy and focus on improving where I was at. This was also good for my career development and allowed me to gain expertise in my business subject.
The Pay I took a pretty big pay cut transitioning from a startup to a corporation. Now I’m not sure if that is normal, but I did feel underpaid and undervalued at the time. For some corporations to harp on the importance of having a degree, it was much harder to sell myself.
Now with what I have learned and experienced, I will never again take such a significant pay cut and lose sight of my value and what I am worth to any company that I decide to work for.
Although startups and large corporations offer very different things, they are both valuable to your career development.
Be sure to consider all factors that are essential to help you achieve your long term career goals.
Most importantly, deploy self-awareness.
You know yourself better than anyone. Do you thrive in structured and more professional and established environments? Or will you do best in a situation where you don’t mind wearing multiple hats and have the ability to be more creative while taking on more risk?
When you know the answers to those questions, you will know which decision will be the best for you and your career.