Risk And Reward

By Catherine McNulty

July 27, 2016 5 min read

Startups sing a seductive song. It's easy to be enticed by the success stories, the urban legends of the 21st century. Everyone knows a cousin's friend's sister's best friend who made millions before her 23rd birthday by working for a startup. That's what everyone focuses on -- millions of dollars in payout, retirement before 35 and world travel. But with great reward comes great risk. No one talks about the hundreds of startups that sputter and the employees who are out of jobs with little to no compensation. Is it worth it to work for a startup? Or is it better to work for a more established company?

Choosing a job is not a decision to be taken lightly. Your job affects every aspect of your life. If you have the time and the ability, really think about the kind of life you want before choosing a job. How many hours are you willing to work? Do you want to be able to completely disconnect when you take time off or do you want to stay in the loop and still be answering emails? There tends to be a huge difference between working for a startup and working for an established company when it comes to work/life balance.

Let's assume the best-case scenario and you've been offered opportunities at both. How do you decide?

One of the biggest differences between a startup and an established company is in company culture. With an established company, everything is in place already. You'll know your salary, the hours you will have to work, your benefits and the vacation time policies. With a startup, everything will be in flux. A lot of work at a startup is putting in time for a payoff later. You may have to spend several years working 80-plus hours a week, with little to no time off, on the promise of big reward when the company goes public.

With an established company, you will most likely be hired for a particular skill or to fulfill one job. On the plus side, you know what you will be doing. On the minus side, you will be doing that everyday.

With a startup, you maybe hired to do one thing but end up doing nine different things. This can be an excellent way to build skills on your resume. It can also mean you feel constantly inundated with different tasks and that work never stops. You'll be given more responsibility and there will be more opportunity to move up. Generally, the people who were there in the beginning of the startup quickly ascend to management roles.

But that can mean disorganization. If you're someone who prefers having everything in its place and structured job differentiation, then a startup is most likely not for you. If you want to get in and do the dirty work of helping to build a company, then a startup could be perfect.

With an established company, especially a more corporate environment, you will have reviews at predetermined intervals, with only a certain percentage available for raises. Your promotions will be more limited, too. With a startup, the sky is the limit. But you may have to work several years for paltry pay before getting a raise. And how well the company does will determine how well you do.

What it really comes down to is this: Do you want to be a big fish in a small pond (a startup) or a small fish in the ocean (corporate)? If you're still trying to figure out where you want to go in your career and what you want to do, a startup can offer a wealth of experience you won't get at a typical corporate job.

With all the focus on success, few talk about what happens when a startup collapses. How easy is it to get hired after working for a failed company? How much collateral damage will you sustain? If you have an in-demand skill, finding another job shouldn't be a problem. However, in certain industries there can be a stigma that comes with working for something that failed. Be prepared for it to be addressed in future interviews.

Ultimately, there a pluses and minuses for working for either type of company. Only you can decide what fits. Don't discount a job because it's not an environment you're used to. Ask around and see what other people think. Who knows? You might thrive.

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