Career Paths

A Startup or Corporate Job - Which is Better for My Career?

min read
Mikaela Thompson

The easy answer is neither inherently. Do you fancy yourself as a creative, risk-taking entrepreneur? Or are you more at home working in a secure, big-name corporation within a well-established hierarchy? Which is better comes down to what type of career or career path you want and which you’re best equipped to succeed in. Neither of these options is necessarily mutually exclusive. One may suit you better than the other at different stages of your career. Why? They’re vastly different types of work environments which require different employee characteristics. However, both offer opportunities to learn new skills and grow your career in your industry. To make your choice, research both thoroughly to get a taste of each and see where you’d best fit at this, or any given stage, of your career.

Corporate Jobs.


1) A corporation has a recognizable name that speaks for itself.

2) Corporations are typified by predictability, consistency, stability, and security underpinned by a structure that ensures these features across a wide group of employees e.g., product releases are orchestrated, quarterly reviews are on schedule, internal messaging is formalized, promotions are based on tenure. They have set hours and offer salary packages with good benefits e.g., private healthcare, childcare, pensions, corporate discounts etc.

3) Have bigger budgets and more resources at their disposal. Have a problem? No, worries, Specialized roles and teams are the go-to which makes problem-solving a breeze.

4) Roles and expectations are clearly demarcated, particularly in situations where there’s a bit of history and product legacy. You can rely on the existing processes, structures, business model, strategy, and teams to get things done. You can also focus on a specific project, job or domain and rely on a team to execute these. Having a direct role means you can specialize and hone your skills in a particular area.

5) Large corporation structures veil accountability. It’s easier to shift blame.

6) Stock options are usually on offer to employees. But these are capped for financial efficacy.


1) You’ll have next to no influence. It’ll be tougher to get ideas adopted.

2) You’ll have less job satisfaction as a bit player in an epic production. It’ll be harder to see the results of your efforts.

3) Large corporations are risk averse for fear of spooking shareholders. You’ll be working to grow the existing business model, even if you have a cool idea to make them more money.

4) Its bureaucratic environment means people often get credit for work they didn’t do.  

Startups Gigs.


1) You’ll have more freedom in risk-taking, creativity and innovation. In fact, startups rely on these to deliver results with fresh designs and new concepts that their competition can’t. No effective CEO will hold you back. The risks are exciting and potentially very rewarding, even with financial payoffs ultimately. You’ll be able to explore visions, take up new challenges, and be a participant in creating something for the future.

2) Equity compensation is offered to off-set the lower pay rates.

3) Startups provide the chance to learn lots quickly e.g., how to build a team, how to market and sell, how to get investors, good accounting, and finance practices etc., and for quicker career advancement based on the results you’ve achieved.

4) You won’t need to deal with lots of stakeholders or corporate bureaucracy.

5) If you’re a founder, the money you make is yours and you’re not answerable to a boss…except for your investors and clients.

6) Startups can offer free food, free travel, free concierge services and allow office pets.


1) Capitalization and lack of infrastructure are the biggest challenges for startups. You’ll have to be open to being a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ within the scope of the business e.g., putting out the rubbish, taking calls from clients, making sales calls, getting stuck into an important project etc. This flexibility will be required of you day in and day out if you want to make it in this work environment.

2)  Typically, they’re workload heavy to keep pace with the bigger companies – there’s no 9-5. You’ll need to keep stress and burnout in check. Startups lack job stability and security. You may love your job, but you won’t know how long it’ll exist for. If the money dries up, you may be next to get cut.

3) You’ll need to be prepared to fix problems yourself, often struggling in silence. There will be no teams to defer to, you’ll face a tiny budget and limited resources. Any setbacks in the startup journey is likely to floor you.

4) If you’re moving from a corporate job, it’s a complete lifestyle change. Your salary may not be guaranteed in the early stages, and you should assume it’ll take 3-4 years to get anywhere near a normal salary. You won’t get the same type of benefits, if any.

5) Most startup equity never pays off. There’s a 90% chance that the startup won’t survive in its first 3 years. (

Attributes of a corporate employee.

In Short, this work environment will suit employees who are:

1) Dependable

2) Ambitious e.g., willing to go the extra mile, no shirking.

3) Fit the Culture. Able to conform to the existing corporate hierarchal structure, practices, and values.

4) Are strong team players and have a positive team spirit. Corporations want people who eat, sleep, and breathe their company.

Best fit startup employees.

1) Have grit e.g., innovation is typically created during a startup’s grimmer moments; struggle gives rise to evolution. A star player won’t be discouraged by failure.

2) Are effective communicators. They know what information to give to whom at the right time and in a manner which is easy to take on board.

3) Have a ‘can do’ attitude and get stuff done.

4) Are curious which is a prerequisite for ‘magic’ happening. Curiosity is a part of the passion and drive that epitomize startup employees. Their push to learn more and improve breeds success.

5) Are able to effectively ‘wear many hats’ and juggle roles e.g., the chairperson may also be the cleaner.

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