From tiny startups less than a year old to huge, well-established corporations, there is no doubt that working in the tech industry, you are spoiled for choice of companies to work for.

When you’re looking for that next step in your career it can be easy to focus on the job title and not the company. We have put together this guide on working for startups vs working for corporations to help you decide what’s best for you.

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What is a startup?

Generally speaking, a startup is an early-stage venture that’s in search of a profitable business model. One that can be scaled up rapidly as demand for the product grows.

When you hear the word startup, images of two people writing long lines of code in a spare room may spring to mind. Alternatively, you may immediately think of fancy Silicon Valley offices with ping pong tables and people riding scooters down the corridors. However, startups in the UK cover a very diverse range of companies. Most startups have fewer than around 80 employees.

What is different about working at a startup?

You will have a greater variety of responsibilities

At a large corporation, you might do the same set of tasks for several years. At a startup, your role and responsibilities will evolve frequently, even multiple times a year. Within six months, you might be doing something significantly different from the role you were hired to do. That means your skill set has to evolve in line with this.

The type of work you perform will change based on the organisation’s challenges. As there are fewer people working for the company, if no one knows how to do a certain task, you may have to pitch in and have a go, or quickly learn the skills to allow you to do it.

Generally speaking, the smaller the startup, the more frequently you’ll be picking up new responsibilities. Because there are simply fewer people to tackle any given challenge. At a startup with 40 or 50 employees, you might have a fairly well-defined role. At a startup with 4 or 5 or even 15 people, your role will most likely vary a lot day-to-day.

There is really no better training for a young person than working at a startup because you have to literally do everything. As you grow in your career you can specialize. Early on doing everything is excellent training, especially for senior management roles down the line.

If you are up for the challenge of learning new skills and would like the opportunity to try out lots of different areas of business then a startup may be right for you.

You will have to solve problems by yourself

At a startup—especially a very small one—nearly every problem is an opportunity for you to step in and add value. Your coworkers are more likely to appreciate an action-oriented, problem-solving approach.

You’ll have the opportunity to experiment

Identifying and solving problems has one major professional upside: it allows you to grow your skillset and try new things.

If you technically work in marketing but want to gain experience as a programmer or designer, jumping in where you see the need can be a great way to learn and grow (as long as you keep up on your core responsibilities).

The people will be passionate

Most people working for a startup want to grow something big and be part of something special. There is nothing like the bonds you can build through this creative process and the intrinsic ownership created.

You probably won’t be managed super closely

At a small company, it’s likely that your manager will be too busy tackling their own projects to spend a lot of time managing you. You’ll have a lot of autonomy. If you want to succeed, you’ll have to learn how to manage yourself. This means: setting deadlines for yourself, Googling your way to victory, and asking for help when you need it.

There are limited opportunities for mentorship

Having fewer experienced people at the company will most likely mean that there are fewer opportunities to be mentored. If you are willing to look outside your business then you can still find mentorship opportunities. However it may not be standard at the company.

Startups are less financially secure

Even if a startup is doing really well, they are (most likely) not as financially stable as a large corporation. Not yet having an established brand name may mean that the board and the investors are more of a mixed bag. This could also impact things like limited benefits and salaries.

How will working for a startup impact my career?

One of the great things about the rapid pace of startup life is that you’ll have the opportunity to learn a variety of transferable skills.

In every business, there are customers, there is a product, there is data, and there are operational challenges. By working at a startup you’ll learn how these pieces fit together. You will be ready to apply that knowledge anywhere. This is a really key skills that employers look for.

Experience working at a growth-stage company is intrinsically valuable to other growth-stage companies (and to larger ones with an entrepreneurial bend or experimental wing). Regardless of what you’re working on day-to-day, you’ll be constantly interacting with folks who have other functional roles. These skills will rub off on you and make you better-rounded, with a deeper understanding of how businesses are built.

If you’re unsure of what job you would like to end up in, a startup role can help you gain skills and insight into multiple positions. (And, you may just decide that’s exactly what you want in the long run—a dynamic job with a variety of responsibilities.)

The startup scene in Bristol

The startup scene in Bristol is absolutely thriving. It is one of the best in the UK outside of London. This is down to a number of factors: great education; lots of cool hubs (Ignite is in the middle of the Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone); it’s in a great location; the Bristol tech scene has a great attitude.

We regularly have jobs working for truly innovative and pioneering startups here in Bristol. See our jobs page for more.

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Working for a large corporation

What are corporations?

Corporations are large companies or groups of companies authorized to act as a single entity. In this context, a corporation (or large company) has a well-established brand name, multiple offices and employs many people.

What is different about working for corporations or large companies?

There is someone to help you with your problems

When a problem occurs at large corporations, there are normally teams dedicated to helping solve it. Or in worst-case scenarios, they have a company they outsource the work to.

You will have a dedicated role

Whereas in a small startup you will have to carry out a variety of tasks, in corporations your role will be much narrower. If you thrive on knowing exactly what you need to do day-to-day and enjoy having fixed responsibilities, then this is perfect. If you prefer a more varied role where you get the opportunity to try lots of different things then you may find this a little restraining.

You will be managed more closely

At most large companies, being a manager means keeping a close eye on the people beneath you. It means fairly rigid expectations, a well-defined breakdown of responsibilities, and a good amount of time spent teaching new hires how to do their job.

There are opportunities for mentorship

Working for large corporations means that there is a much wider variety of people at the company. Including a lot more operating at a higher level. This means that there is a much higher chance that you will find someone who will mentor you. It could be great for your career to have this support and guidance.

You will also have a much wider range of resources available to you. At a startup you may be responsible for your own learning. However, at a corporation your co-workers will have a wealth of knowledge, your bosses (and their bosses) will have years of experience, and there will be guides and manuals for most things.

Corporations have a clear direction or roadmap

At large corporations, plans for the business are meticulously drawn up and clearly mapped out. Depending on how the business is doing this can have positive or negative effects. If the company does really well and sticks to these then the rewards can be huge. Conversely, if the company doesn’t hit these targets then teams may feel the consequences of this.

Corporations are well established

It is much easier to sell and market stuff when people have an idea of who you are. That brand recognition comes from being part of a larger company and it can make your life easier. Being a well-established and successful corporation comes with many other positives. Having a strong brand reputation means that the board and the investors are more mature. This will also most likely mean the salaries and benefits at the company are better.

We weigh up working for startups vs working for corporations - a man stands at a board giving a presentation in a corporate office

Things may move slower

If you are working in a startup of 10 people and need something done urgently, chances are you can just have a quick chat to the person in charge and get it sorted. In a large corporation, things have to go through systems and follow processes. This may mean that they take a long time to get looked at or approved, which some people find frustrating.

You won’t have as much influence

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.

On the other hand, you’ll probably have much more insight into the inner workings of a startup office. Additionally, you will have the ability to voice your opinion—and actually have it heard. However, moving up in rank may look very different. If the position above yours is CEO, it may not open up—ever. And so, you may have to expand your role in other ways, making the route a lot less straightforward to get to your eventual career goal.

What impact will working for corporations have on my career?

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.

When future potential employers recognise a brand name and know it has a good reputation, that automatically brings up positive associations about the company and the type of people they employ. This is a big positive for you. It can also b a great stepping stone to move to other very well established brands.

The corporate scene in Bristol

Being a large city, Bristol is home to many fantastic corporations offering exciting careers in tech. We regularly have jobs at some of Bristol’s best corporations. See our jobs page for more.

Which should you go for?

Startups and corporations both have lots of pros and cons.

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 to determine which will be the best for you and your career.

What do you personally need to succeed? 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.


About the author: I manage the recruitment for a range of digital roles for my clients on both a retained and contingency basis. I specialise in senior and confidential appointments, always giving a first class representation of a client’s employer brand.

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