First Job Out of College: Startup or Corporate?

Congratulations, you’ve finally graduated college, and all the hard work that you’ve put in will now pay off in the form of a professional job. It’s time to enter the workforce and become an “adult,” but where do you start? While this can be one of the most exciting times in your life, it’s also the first time that many people have to make a serious decision about their career.

Many graduates are left with two choices. Either gain employment with a startup company or go with a more established, corporate job. Personally, I’ve seen both worlds, working for one of the largest IT companies in the United States, as well as working with small sole proprietorship and nonprofits. There are drawbacks and benefits to both, but different people will prefer different environments.

Here’s how you know if your first job out of college should be a startup or corporation.

Stability or Opportunity

Corporate jobs are great because of the inherent job security that goes along with them. That’s not to say layoffs don’t happen, but what you can expect from corporate jobs are regular reviews and raises. The vast majority of salaried jobs with Fortune 500 companies also come with a benefits package and most, if not all processes are fully developed with extensive training programs. What this means for you is that if you thrive in a structured environment where you complete tasks that are assigned to you, a corporate job will be great. Unless you work as a creative, there’s also a good chance that your assignments will be fully fleshed out before they are assigned, leaving little room for error as long as you can follow directions.

On the other hand, if you get bored easily, want to work on a strategic picture, or think you have great ideas that need to be implemented, corporate can drain you and can become incredibly boring and frustrating. Sometimes the time that it takes to be put into a position where you can make strategic decisions takes years. This means that you will likely be reporting to a superior who can easily override your opinion until you get the experience to be put in a managerial or directorial position.

Startups usually don’t have a lot of job security, as they go out of business 50 percent of the time in the first five years. There’s also a good likelihood that the pay may be lower in the initial stages of a startup and you may never see benefits like paid time off or health insurance. The good thing about startups is that there is an immense opportunity for growth within a company. Because there are less employees than traditional corporations, it means that there are more chances that you’ll be assigned something significant. If you can perform, it will expand your role at the startup and you can expect to see a significant raise in position and pay. Also, because the staff is small and intimate, the ability to have your strategic input implemented is much greater than it would be in a corporation.

Work Ethic

You might have the impression that working in a corporate job is the most brutal, agonizing, and difficult thing ever, but you’d be mistaken. Because corporations typically make so much revenue and their departments are large and consist of hundreds if not thousands of people, each task has been broken down and most departments have undergone some level of efficiency evaluation and alteration. That means that you’ll likely only have a couple of tasks to do for your specific department, and if you complete all of them there is usually not much more you have to do. This will differ depending on your industry, as jobs in the financial sector are incredibly intense and fast paced right out of the gate. For the most part however, you’ll probably have extra time in your day to check personal e-mails or surf social media, especially if you are working in an entry level position.

Conversely, if you work at a startup your work will be more scrutinized and depended upon for the overall success of the business. This means that you’ll likely be working long hours regardless of the pay in order to complete projects on time. There will be very little time to do anything but work, and if you finish something you’ll likely be put on something else, which will develop your versatility. For a startup, mistakes matter more, and can affect other branches of the business very easily. If you are lazy, working at a startup is not for you.

Structured or Laid Back Environment

Corporations have existing procedures that you’ll be expected to follow precisely. While they have relaxed in the last decade, most corporations also still adhere to a strict dress code and you should look presentable everyday. Communicating to others in a corporation is also different, as you’ll be expected to maintain a good level of tact, especially when working with clients or customers.

Most startups have a more laid-back environment and most employees have the opportunity to get to know one another more intimately. Depending on the industry, the dress code can be much more casual than would be required at a corporation. Because of the comradery that can exist in small startups, communication is usually more open and honest.

Choosing if you want to work at a startup or a corporation really comes down to your personality. If you are the type of person who wants a fast track to doing important and meaningful things, and don’t mind the stress and pressure to perform, than working at a startup is your ideal place to go. If you’d rather do the more reliable grind to the top however, corporations offer stability and guidance all the way through. My suggestion is to intern in both environments to see what truly fits you the best.