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Size matters – comparing corporate vs. startup life

(BUSINESS) There are tremendous differences between working at a corporation and working at a startup. Let’s discuss them in depth so you know if you’re on the right boat!

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large company vs. startup (image of two ships)

Where do you work? Take a second and answer that.

Did you feel that spark? Was your first emotion positive or negative?

I’ve been on both sides of the coin.

On one hand, it can be a delicate feeling that illuminates your life, where you just know you’re on the right path.

On the other, it could be a marathon with no end in sight. You could describe what you do, and be proud of your accomplishments, but you couldn’t very well explain why you do it (besides the money, we all knew that).

If you’re not on either end of the extreme, then you fall somewhere in the middle.

Our profession is a key part of our life. Its an identity or a person we become, and we spend over a third of our lives as this person.

Isn’t it worth it to evaluate how you feel about work? How to recognize what makes a good job good? How to work towards something we love?

It’s time to be honest about what work means to you. There is no reason to be apathetic about your place of employment.

You’ve heard the adage, “Mondays aren’t so bad, its your job that sucks.”

In this multi-part series, I’ll discuss the factors that can make a job invigorating, and provide you real ways to predict and measure satisfaction.

In this article, I’ll give you the hidden pros and cons of working at large corporations versus small companies and startups – using boats as a metaphor.

Size matters.

When joining a new company, a huge factor to your happiness will be company size and the organizational structure.

How large companies are different.

Large companies are like a capital ship cruising through the ocean. Outfitted with the a vast amount of resources and crew, the voyage is easy. A ship that large moves slowly, and life on board is not overly exciting. Each crew member has a specific, well-defined job, orders are followed to a T, and it becomes difficult to stand out. Crew members are regularly replaced.

large ship

Let’s talk about systems at large companies.

Despite outward displays of a flat hierarchy and fair company structure, it is the nature of large organizations to be bureaucratic. There are too many moving pieces to handle things case by case. In these organizations, there will be systems in place which serve the company at large rather than specific people or projects within.

This results in decisions you might find unfair or rules that seem to have no good reason behind them.

For instance, at large companies, you could be hired three days after a promotion eligibility cycle and be ineligible for promotion that year, even if you exceed all other performance criteria.

In the same vein, large companies inevitably have tremendous internal competition. There will be thousands (yes, thousands) of new hires like yourself looking to get a raise or promotion. It becomes hard to stand out, and politics can become a factor in your career trajectory, which is the norm for large companies.

Lastly, there is a lot of luck at play. It is common for the hiring managers and department heads to pick from the new stack of people. There is usually no hiring group that optimizes placement based on merit and skills, the first year of career can be dictated by your entry point into the company, a decision made by a stranger.

Its inevitable for large groups to develop power structures.

These structures often control the trajectory of the individuals underneath them – which can be very limiting to your career.

Unfortunately, you can be put in a position to pick people and alliances over the correct course of action; it is simply the nature of the game at a large company, and even this can be enjoyable for some.

As you move higher up the food chain, you will need to play this game in order to survive. The competition is simply too high, and the needs and wants of those within said power structures will always overshadow those not within a group.

You can tell I personally value career advancement from the negatives I perceived at larger companies. There are still a lot of positives, too.

One major upside is career stability.

It’s unlikely you will be laid off without knowing in advance at a large company. You can depend on a large company to employ you for several years, even when markets change and layoffs begin, you often get plenty of notice and can plan your exit.

Another (serious) upside is benefits.

The benefits are usually quite good, you receive nice equipment and can get reimbursed for extras. Health insurance and retirement savings options are seamless and setup quickly. Most companies also emphasize continuing education; there is no better way to keep your skills sharp at work, so take advantage of any resources you receive.

Networking is very different at large companies.

Any large company with a healthy culture has great internal communication. There are often groups based around each functional group (technologies, financials, design), and you are free to reach out to anyone.

You would be surprised at the people that would respond to an interesting email. Managers, even directors will typically make time to hear what employees think, even if its just to gather intelligence.

There is great ease in this environment.

There’s no doubt about it – working at large companies can be a lot more relaxed. All performance is measured proportionally to the group.

This is a double edged sword, it means you can coast or put in little effort and survive for quite some time. It also means it’s much harder to be promoted based on achievements.

There are 6 questions to ask yourself about working at a large company.

1. Is performance measured with respect to your experience level? Is there a quota or limit on the number of people that can be promoted?

2. Are there any rules or regulations regarding career advancement?

3. How easy is it to get transferred to another department, role, or project?

4. What are additional benefits aside from healthcare and retirement? What are the best ways to take advantage of them?

5. How open is the company to internal communication? Are there knowledge groups for your particular area? What extracurriculars can you get involved in?

6. How long do people typically work at this company? How long does it take them to get promoted from each level?

How working at a small company or startup is different.

Small companies are like a small warship. Agile and maneuverable, they avoid stormy weather. Each member of the small crew is invaluable, their job functions are crucial, and they often have multiple responsibilities. The ship moves a lot faster and consumes less resources, but could face peril in a storm.

speedboat

At smaller companies, we figure everything out together.

Depending on what stage the small company or startup is in, rules and regulations will be in development, or even non-existent.

This means although there aren’t as many resources for you to follow, and you could be the one to define your company’s processes.

If you’re a resourceful person, or you enjoy improving existing structures – you would enjoy the opportunities faced at a startup.

If you work better under well-defined and directive leadership, then you might fare better in a corporate role.

This means there are less obstacles between you and your work. There is a smaller hierarchy for you to consider when making decisions, and you will most likely complete work faster and can accomplish more.

You will have a better chance to take lead on projects, which often leads to quicker promotions as the startup grows.

However this also potentially means that things are being mismanaged by the lack of different perspectives. Beware of small companies in bad situations due to their past decisions.

It’s definitely more flexible.

On par with less regulations, there are less employee standards you have to live up to – this means you may be able to get flexible working arrangements.

But of course, there are sacrifices.

During intense periods at a startup, you cannot hide behind the accomplishments of your team – it simply isn’t big enough for that.

Everyone must do their part, and everybody’s part is crucial to the company as a whole. No coasting allowed – you will need to put in the hours to get the job done, no matter what, or risk consequences for the entire company.

This could be perceived as a negative to some people, or a learning and growth experience to others.

There may be a time where you will need to make sacrifices to ensure the company’s well being. This may mean staying late, putting off friends and family, etc.

Your life may revolve around work for more than 40 hours a week. At large corporations, you can get away with doing the bare minimum for quite some time.

I’m not trying to scare you, and a lot of this depends on the startup, but you need to be aware of the trying times that every startup goes through – when it’s make or break.

Within a small company, you will always be around the same group of people.

This makes the relationships between you and others paramount.

Negative sentiments between team members lead to a loss of trust and a failure of the business. This is why small companies will always hire culture-fit over experience.

I urge you to build one on one relationships with everyone at your small company – you will need this trust later on. At a larger company, you should definitely make friends, but know that you might not end up friends with everyone, and that’s alright. At a larger company, you can may end up being transferred or assigned to a new project.

One major advantage is the opportunity for growth.

You have tremendous opportunities, as most individuals in a startup are wearing several hats, especially pitching to partners or potential customers.

You will have the opportunity to pivot or take charge of the role you want, as long as you take initiative. Enjoy this freedom, and your help in these other areas will be appreciated.

If you take advantage of the opportunity, and become a valued and reliable part of the team, then there is no doubt your satisfaction will grow along with the company.

I would recommend you go above and beyond within the area for your role, establishing expertise and consulting for the rest of the group. You can eventually identify other areas that the startup needs help with and repeat the process there.

The elephant in the room is the risks involved.

Unlike large corporations, startups usually face formidable threats to their existence. There will be work that will be crucial for the company to become profitable, and failure isn’t an option.

This means if you show signs of being unable to handle it, you may be let go sooner rather than later. Even worse, if you end up flubbing a major project, everyone may be in jeopardy. That’s a lot of pressure.

There are 6 questions to ask yourself about working at a small company or startup.

1. How are you getting along with others?

2. What rules and regulations exist for your job function?

3. Can you recommend company practices; are they open to change?

4. How have the responsibilities of other people on your team changed over time?

5. What critical tasks does your team handle?

6. What happens if someone fails at their task?

7. What other areas of the company do they need help with?

No matter what ship you board, know that you always have the freedom to board another.

Do not settle for a trip in the wrong direction, at the wrong speed, or where you are not the captain – if that’s what you want.

Explore your available options, and you’ll then have the perspective to say: I have a great job.

Sarim Q, known as the tech.romantic, is a professional & creative coach for the tech, art, and entrepreneurial spaces. He shares personal strategy with ambitious readers, giving advice on productivity, networking, marketing/branding, technology, and startup strategy. After working with global consulting firms, startups, and running his own digital agency, he now offers his professional approach to personal pursuits. He is the Co-Founder of Socio, an experimental new social education platform, where you learn secrets of self, how to gracefully navigate social groups, and the process of building a legacy of your own.

Business News

You should apply to be on a board – why and how

(BUSINESS NEWS) What do you need to think about and explore if you want to apply for a Board of Directors? Here’s a quick rundown of what, why, and when.

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board of directors

What?
What does a Board of Directors do? Investopedia explains “A board of directors (B of D) is an elected group of individuals that represent shareholders. The board is a governing body that typically meets at regular intervals to set policies for corporate management and oversight. Every public company must have a board of directors. Some private and nonprofit organizations also have a board of directors.”

Why?
It is time to have a diverse representation of thoughts, values and insights from intelligently minded people that can give you the intel you need to move forward – as they don’t have quite the same vested interests as you.

We have become the nation that works like a machine. Day in and day out we are consumed by our work (and have easy access to it with our smartphones). We do volunteer and participate in extra-curricular activities, but it’s possible that many of us have never understood or considered joining a Board of Directors. There’s a new wave of Gen Xers and Millennials that have plenty of years of life and work experience + insights that this might be the time to resurrect (or invigorate) interest.

Harvard Business Review shared a great article about identifying the FIVE key areas you would want to consider growing your knowledge if you want to join a board:

1. Financial – You need to be able to speak in numbers.
2. Strategic – You want to be able to speak to how to be strategic even if you know the numbers.
3. Relational – This is where communication is key – understanding what you want to share with others and what they are sharing with you. This is very different than being on the Operational side of things.
4. Role – You must be able to be clear and add value in your time allotted – and know where you especially add value from your skills, experiences and strengths.
5. Cultural – You must contribute the feeling that Executives can come forward to seek advice even if things aren’t going well and create that culture of collaboration.

As Charlotte Valeur, a Danish-born former investment banker who has chaired three international companies and now leads the UK’s Institute of Directors, says, “We need to help new participants from under-represented groups to develop the confidence of working on boards and to come to know that” – while boardroom capital does take effort to build – “this is not rocket science.

When?
NOW! The time is now for all of us to get involved in helping to create a brighter future for organizations and businesses that we care about (including if they are our own business – you may want to create a Board of Directors).

The Harvard Business Review gave great explanations of the need to diversify those that have been on the Boards to continue to strive to better represent our population as a whole. Are you ready to take on this challenge? We need you.

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Business News

Everyone should have an interview escape plan

(BUSINESS NEWS) A job interview should be a place to ask about qualifications but sometimes things can go south – here’s how to escape when they do.

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interview from hell

“So, why did you move from Utah to Austin?” the interviewer asked over the phone.

The question felt a little out of place in the job interview, but I gave my standard answer about wanting a fresh scene. I’d just graduated college and was looking to break into the Austin market. But the interviewer wasn’t done.

“But why Austin?” he insisted, “There can’t be that many Mormons here.”

My stomach curled. This was a job interview – I’d expected to discuss my qualifications for the position and express my interest in the company. Instead, I began to answer more and more invasive questions about my personal life and religion. The whole ordeal left me very uncomfortable, but because I was young and desperate, I put up with it. In fact, I even went back for a second interview!

At the time, I thought I had to put up with that sort of treatment. Only recently have I realized that the interview was extremely unprofessional and it wasn’t something I should have felt obligated to endure.

And I’m not the only one with a bad interview story. Slate ran an article sharing others’ terrible experiences, which ranged from having their purse inspected to being trapped in a 45 minute presentation! No doubt, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mistreatment by potential employers.

So, why do we put up with it?

Well, sometimes people just don’t know better. Maybe, like I was, they’re young or inexperienced. In these cases, these sorts of situations seem like they could just be the norm. There’s also the obvious power dynamic: you might need a job, but the potential employers probably don’t need you.

While there might be times you have to grit your teeth and bear it, it’s also worth remembering that a bad interview scenario often means bad working conditions later on down the line. After all, if your employers don’t respect you during the interview stage, it’s likely the disrespect will continue when you’re hired.

Once you’ve identified an interview is bad news, though, how do you walk out? Politely. As tempting as it is to make a scene, you probably don’t want to go burning bridges. Instead, excuse yourself by thanking your interviewers, wishing them well and asserting that you have realized the business wouldn’t be a good fit.

Your time, as well as your comfort, are important! If your gut is telling you something is wrong, it probably is. It isn’t easy, but if a job interview is crossing the line, you’re well within your rights to leave. Better to cut your losses early.

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Business News

Australia vs Facebook: A conflict of news distribution

(BUSINESS NEWS) Following a contentious battle for news aggregation, Australia works to find agreement with Facebook.

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News open on laptop, which Australia argues Facebook is taking away from.

Australia has been locked in a legal war against technology giants Google and Facebook with regard to how news content can be consumed by either entity’s platforms.

At its core, the law states that news content being posted on social media is – in effect – stealing away the ability for news outlets to monetize their delivery and aggregate systems. A news organization may see their content shared on Facebook, which means users no longer have to visit their site to access that information. This harms the ability for news production companies – especially smaller ones – from being able to maintain revenue and profit, while also giving power to corporations such as Facebook by allowing them to capitalize on their substantial infrastructure.

This is a complex subject that can be viewed from a number of angles, but it essentially asks the question of who should be in control of information on a potentially global scale, and how the ability to share such data should be handled when it passes through a variety of mediums and avenues. Put shortly: Australia thinks royalties should be paid to those who supply the news.

Australia has maintained that under the proposed laws, corporations must reach content distribution deals in order to allow news to be spread through – as one example – posts on Facebook. In retaliation, Facebook completely removed the ability for users to post news articles and stories. This in turn led to a proliferation of false and misleading information to fill the void, magnifying the considerable confusion that Australian citizens were confronted with once the change had been made.

“In just a few days, we saw the damage that taking news out can cause,” said Sree Sreenivasan, a professor at the Stony Brook School of Communication and Journalism. “Misinformation and disinformation, already a problem on the platform, rushed to fill the vacuum.”

Facebook’s stance is that it provides value to the publishers because shared news content will drive users to their sites, thereby allowing them to provide advertising and thus leading to revenue.

Australia has been working on this bill since last year, and has said that it is meant to equalize the potential imbalance of content and who can display and benefit from it. This is meant to try and create conditions between publishers and the large technology platforms so that there is a clearer understanding of how payment should be done in exchange for news and information.

Google was initially defiant (threatening to go as far as to shut off their service entirely), but began to make deals recently in order to restore its own access. Facebook has been the strongest holdout, and has shown that it can leverage its considerable audience and reach to force a more amenable deal. Australia has since provided some amendments to give Facebook time to seek similar deals obtained by Google.

One large portion of the law is that Australia is reserving the right to allow final arbitration, which it says would allow a mediator to set prices if no deal could be reached. This might be considered the strongest piece of the law, as it means that Facebook cannot freely exercise its considerable weight with impunity. Facebook’s position is that this allows government interference between private companies.

In the last week – with the new agreements on the table – it’s difficult to say who blinked first. There is also the question of how this might have a ripple effect through the tech industry and between governments who might try to follow suit.

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