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Working for a start-up vs working for a big company: which is better?

Job-hunting - the bane of almost every professional's life, and a stressful experience in itself, without the vast range of choices available in company characteristics. But selecting the best company type for you is key to launching a fulfilling career. Discovering your perfect work environment is just as important as finding the best company to work for.
What are the differences?

Large companies often have set hours and many layers of management, with strict career paths and tasks that must be done, no questions asked. Start-ups tend to have less clearly defined hours, and employees may be needed to work long hours and take on flexible roles.

Start-ups

Pros:
Start-ups are great environments for generalists (people with general skills who do not specialise in a specific area) and specialists. The more widespread your skillset, the more valuable you will be. Career paths in start-ups are accelerated; rather than waiting years for your chance to lead, you will be given more chances to shine sooner. All employees in start-ups are given the opportunity to help define the company culture, which is impossible in large corporations. And at a start-up, you'll have the opportunity to be part of something much bigger than you.

Cons:
Everyone is responsible and accountable for their actions, and mistakes have huge impacts. Bad work affects everyone, from colleagues to customers. The upside of this is that excellent work also has far reaching impacts that everyone can benefit from. Start-ups are also riskier than big companies. The amount of money available to a start-up at the outset is low, something that will only change if the company is a success.

Big companies

Pros:
Unlike start-ups, responsibility is more diffuse in big companies - if you make a mistake, it may well be absorbed without serious ramifications. Generally speaking, salaries are higher at big companies than at small start-ups as they have the resources available to remunerate staff.

Cons:
Generalists are less likely to thrive at big companies. While start-ups can utilise multi-skilled individuals, big companies want you to be good at that one specific, refined area. Big companies lack the transparency that can be found in start-ups and employees are frequently kept in the dark about important decisions. Big companies are plagued by politics, something that is simply not an issue in start-ups.

Which is the best choice for you?

Keeping these pros and cons in mind, the following steps will help you select the right work environment for you:
  • Decide where you want your career to go. If you plan to become a VP or CEO, this will be easier to achieve in a big company, while start-ups offer less job security.
  • Experiment and identify your working style. Knowing things about yourself, such as whether or not you work well in teams and respond well to authority, will help you choose between the hierarchical structures of big companies and the flat structures of start-ups.
  • Learn what to expect from the two different environments. If you know what you are getting into, you will be in a better position to make an informed decision.
  • Keep both feet on the ground. Remember that even your ideal environment will not always be perfect, and getting started in any job will have its ups and downs.
Choosing between start-ups and big companies is part personal preference and part considering what the most sensible choice would be, given your industry, goals and ambitions. Your job search will be that much easier to get through when you decide on the right working environment for you.

Want to brush up on your industry skills before you decide? Take a look at our full short course portfolio here.

    
 

GetSmarter's press office

GetSmarter
GetSmarter is a premier online education company that partners with prestigious universities and leading organisations to offer continuing education short courses to working professionals throughout South Africa.
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