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The ultimate employment battle: Startup BS vs. corporate BS

Whether you work in a corporate or startup scene, there’s going to be challenges (read: BS) and each has a risk/reward factor. We explore a few scenarios, so you can weigh up the pros and cons.

by Catie McHugh
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When it comes to your career, where’s your head at right now? Perhaps you’re working in a corporate, staring enviously at the Inc. 5000 list and wanting to get in on one of those hot tech startups you’ve heard so much about (or maybe you have an idea to start one yourself).

Or, you might have played the startup game before, with lots of hours and a little uncertainty, and you’re thinking of heading back into the corporate jungle, guns blazing.

Whatever you decide, there’s still going to be challenges (read: BS) and each has a risk/reward factor. Let’s explore a few scenarios, so you can weigh up the pros and cons:

In a corporate environment, the buck can be passed to ‘the other guy’. In a startup, the ‘other guy’ is you.

If you’ve ever worked in a corporate, they’re usually sprawling, multi-department affairs with a seemingly endless hierarchy and politics. The vastness of them can provide a kind of safety net, but working on projects and achieving goals is made difficult by long approval processes and the inevitable ‘Not My Job’ blocker.

A startup is, by contrast, a small business. Especially in the early stages where you may find yourself part of a micro-sized founding team, your role is the department, and the buck stops with you. There isn’t a wide network of experienced people a couple of desk pods away that might be able to help when you get stuck. You have to take the work and any problems on board, and solve them with the limited resources you have.

In a corporate environment, proactivity is a hindrance. In a startup, it’s a necessity.

Working for a corporate means fitting into a well-oiled machine, where you are employed to fill a labor gap and take responsibility for certain elements of the business. Inevitably, unless you’re the CEO, there will be people above you and they are the ones that typically filter the work that needs doing to the relevant departments. If you’re one to go off on your own, finding and solving perceived issues or going outside the box, this is unlikely to gain you the high-fives you’re hoping for. More likely, this will work against established protocol and earn you a disapproving frown from the higher-ups. The trade-off is that it’s typically less demanding. Life is a little easier when work comes to you and fits into an established system with infrequent changes.

A startup, however, faces all sorts of different scenarios day-to-day, and someone who thinks and acts fast, takes responsibility for more than the narrow requirements of their role and keeps things moving is absolutely vital to operations. In fact, acting on your initiative is a crucial element of successful entrepreneurship. It’s a hugely demanding environment, requiring dedication and stress management at all times.

In a corporate environment, your main focus is individual job responsibility. In a startup, you must become the vision.

Eesh, sounds a bit scary, right? Let’s explain that.

In a corporate job, your focus is typically on one role that keeps the cogs turning on a (hopefully) already successful, established business. You may vy for customer attention from competitors, but the company is way past the stage where they’re fighting for every scrap of recognition and acquisition. Typically, you have a very narrow focus on delivering against your departmental responsibilities, and there's rarely a sense of how your contribution affects the bottom line.

In a startup, you’re probably sitting across from your CEO - the person whose idea you’re helping to fruition. It’s not an easy task to take responsibility for someone else’s dream, but when it works, the rewards are significant. At the very least, you will be recognized for your achievements far more than as a minnow in a corporate fishbowl. Understanding how your own contribution impacts the broader vision (and receiving gratitude for it!) is of huge mental benefit.

Heck, it might even lead to big promotions, shares and all that good stuff as the company grows.

In a corporate environment, your lunch will definitely be stolen out of the fridge. In a startup, it will still be stolen… but you’ll know who it was.

If you work in a building with a couple of thousand people, it’s inevitable that some (let’s face it, utter blights on humanity) people will be rather selfish and seize the opportunity to take things that don’t belong to them - namely the delicious paella you had in the fridge and have been thinking about eating since 10 am. This happens a lot if the volume of ‘who is the sadist that took my lunch?’ passive-aggressive notes are anything to go by.

In a startup, people might still do this - but they can’t hide from your wrath. Unless of course, you’re in a coworking space, in which case maybe you can forgive them and go stuff your face with the free coconut chia pods and forget about it.

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