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The difference between working in a startup and a corporate

Ever wondered what is the difference between a startup and a corporate? Are you a recent graduate looking for job opportunities and do not know in which one to focus your searches on? Read more to learn about the key differences!
Joyce Schultz

Joyce Schultz

Recruitment Analyst
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Two people want to leave corporates and join startups

Are you already working in one of the two and looking for a change, but afraid of the culture shock and what to expect? If you think that culture and workplace are probably not that different: they sure are! But don’t you worry: there are several people who changed from corporate to the startup environment.

For example, Lisa-Marie Fassl shared with us in our interview, that she always wanted to be a management consultant in a big corporate but instead, decided to found her very own startup, called Female Founders. Quite the journey, right?! Changing from one company environment to the other can be challenging, but not if you’re prepared! Read below for more insights about the differences between startups and corporates.

What is a startup?

Let’s start with the definitions: a startup is a company in usually the first stages of its development that wants to scale up quickly. Startups are often young, innovative, collaborative, focused on growth, while corporations are often established, slow-moving, hierarchical and focused on productivity.

But there could be exceptions to the rules, of course! Some corporate companies operate more like startups and can offer more flexibility and influence on decisions, while some larger startups can provide more stability and structure. Make sure to do some research about the company culture and ask questions during the interview process to understand how they operate.


What are the characteristics of corporates and startups?

This is true for corporations

Brand recognition

Well-established companies will, very likely, have a well-known brand. It is great to tell people where you work and they know about the company. It also adds brand value to your CV and your cover letter! But don’t be fooled – there are also well-known startups, like Bitpanda or Tier and also others like Perfood, with an established employer branding.

Specific roles

Corporate positions usually have clear roles and well-defined tasks. You know what the expectations for the role are and when they need to be completed. If you think it can be stressful not having clear goals, tasks and a timeframe when tasks need to be completed, then this would be a perfect fit for you!

Established processes

Corporate organizations have usually well-defined processes, which makes it a lot more difficult to get things done or influence the big picture. They are put in place to create clarity and uniformity, but can also create quite a lot of bureaucracy.

Careful communication

There is less transparency in a large corporation when it comes to sharing information with the employees and the outside world. Often there is a specialized department supervising it. 

Risk-averse

Corporate or larger organizations are afraid to take risks. In big companies, there are often experts who help with decision-making. Many people are involved in the decisions and the decision process is often quite long and as logical as possible.

More job safety and stability

You are not depending on financial rounds and negotiations and short time success. As the corporate you’re working at is probably more established and is on the market for a longer time, you can feel safer in terms of whether the business itself is or will be successful enough. For startups, they’re on the market just for a couple of years and have to adjust their product in response to the market needs.

This is true for Startup

So why does suddenly it seems like everyone wants to work in a startup? Well, for some people, like Anna Alex, the founder of Planetly, seeing themselves working in a corporate is impossible… Let’s check it out, what could be some of the reasons!

Grow your skills and take more responsibility

you will gain skills that you never thought you could have across various departments, like marketing or IT. Generally speaking, the smaller the startup, the more frequently you will be picking up new responsibilities because there are fewer people to do the job. It can easily happen – just as it also happens frequently with the team of Bastian Kellhofer, the founder of Trending Topics – that you get hired and after a couple of months you and the team will recognize that you have abilities in other topics as well. This can be a great learning curve, you might not even be aware of full list of skills you possess! Exciting, right?!

Also, at startups, you are encouraged to manage your own time and tasks. With the flexibility of working in a startup in teams that are not hierarchical, you have the opportunity to advance quickly. Prepare to be part of the decision-making process when it comes to product development, strategies and best practices!

Fast-paced environment

When the founder of Shpock, Katharina Klausberger shared with us in our interview that the startup ecosystem is a very fast-changing environment, we couldn’t agree more! You need to be OK with this constant change.

The work can differ from day-to-day and your roles and tasks can change entirely from one week to the next. You are encouraged to manage your tasks and your time. The reason is that some processes are being done for the very first time. You will be given responsibility for getting tasks done and deciding on how they get done.

This fast-paced, dynamic environment can be extremely exciting and provides many opportunities to learn! The setting can also change: one day you have to work from home while the other from the office.

Transparency in communication and proactivity

Communication between the employees and the founders/management is open and transparent. Short and simple. Feedback is appreciated as a means to validate assumptions and understand the customers and improve processes. The biggest mistake you can do in the startup ecosystem is to avoid conflicts. As Oliver Holle, the founder of Speedinvest said in our founder interview, you have to go out of your comfort zone in order to give the startup something valuable. If you have a new idea or critical feedback, it is not only appreciated, but also considered an asset!

Also, if you are the person that just doesn’t wait to be told what to do, but instead uses your initiative to work what needs to be done, then a startup could be suitable for you!

If you’re still not sure whether this atmosphere is suitable, find out if the startup world fits for you!

Conclusion

As important as finding the right position for you in a company it is to make sure you fit into the company culture. Just like people, businesses have a personality, which is called the company culture. You are more likely to succeed if you believe in your company’s mission and share a similar approach to work as your colleagues.

To understand in which company you want to work for, you really need to ask yourself some questions:

  • Are you looking to get involved with all aspects of your job and build something?
  • Do you want to work for passion or routine?
  • Do you prefer to take a visible role with lots of responsibility or a less visible role with defined tasks?
  • Do you like to be part of the decision making process and take risks or do you prefer that people decide for you what to do?

A corporate job might give you more stability, it’s a great place to get structured and get on the job-training with a very structured onboarding process. A startup, which values communication and creativity, will give you more overall experience in how to build a company and embrace change and will give you the chance to grow your skills!

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