How to choose work in a startup or corporate company?

When it comes to the classic job-search duel between startup and corporate, you probably know the basics of each type of workplace. Large companies have set hours, but startups are more flexible. Large companies offer benefits; startups offer free food. (And free travel, free concierge services, office pets.) But what’s not talked about quite as often is whether a startup or corporate job is better for your career in the long run. Think about it. A startup may provide more flexible hours now, but will it give you the ability to move up into a senior management position in the future? A corporate job may be the perfect place to get structured on-the-job training, but will it give you the creative thinking skills you need to open your own business in a few years?

Putting aside for a moment industry preferences and how you feel about the products the company is building (both of which are very important!). Most of the differences between a startup and a mature company are pretty obvious. In a mature company, you will likely have more role models to learn from. Also you have stronger teams to collaborate with, a clear direction, and a mature board. The role you consider may have a narrow scope, but could offer deeper learning and of course great benefits, compensation, and the like. You’ll also receive exposure to what good (or bad) looks like at scale and possibly a nice brand for your resume.

Startups can offer a chance to do all the things.

That can be either a blessing or a curse depending on your interests. You may miss out on having peers to collaborate with. Or it will force you to look outside your company for mentors and role models. Maybe even have a limited budget to get work done.

After working in both environments, you will know more about the benefits and shortcomings of each option. So, if you’re undecided about which path to take, consider these questions to help you make the most of your career—both now and in the future.


Do You Know What Your Dream Career Would Be, or Are You Still Deciding?

Overall, corporate positions tend to have narrower roles. If you’re a manager, you manage. If you’re a business analyst, you create reports. And so, if you already know the role you want or the direction you want to go in, this type of environment can really help you grow. And hone those skills—without having to focus on a bunch of other responsibilities. If, on the other hand, you’re not quite sure what kind of gig you want to end up in, a startup role can help you gain skills and insight into multiple positions.

What Resources Do You Need to Reach Your Goals?

If you thrive on taking risks, taking initiative to get the resources you need, and learning from trial and error, you may not need the resources of a corporate position to reach your eventual career goals. But if you prefer that readily available vault of knowledge and experience—and need it to advance to the position you want in the time frame you expect—you might find a corporate position more helpful.

What Kind of Influence Do You Want—and How Quickly?

In general, you’re going to have a lot less influence in a big corporate office than you would in a small company. And if you have a C-level position in your sights, it’ll probably take you a lot longer to get there.

What Environment Will Really Help You Succeed?

Overall, you have to consider which factors are essential to help you work toward your goals. Will you do better with an always evolving, “think outside the box”-type mentality, or a structured environment? That allows you to methodically work toward your goals? Neither is better than the other—just different. And it completely depends on your personality, work style, and unique needs. In order to determine which will be the best for you and your career.

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