Post-Postgraduate Life: Startups or Big Corporates?

Illustration of workspace. (Photo from Pexels)

Now that you’re out of school, you must be thinking about what your next step is. If you’re looking to go back to work, you might be faced with these two options: working at a startup or a big corporate. Which one to choose? That’s up to you. But, our contributor, Dewa, is here to share his experience working at both institutions and what things you should consider before making the big decision.

Graduating from university and entering the job market is an interesting time. Nevertheless, it could also be a stressful moment for graduates as they look to secure their first post-grad job and begin paying back the debt they’ve accrued along the way or even also if you are a scholarship holder.

When it occurs to the classic job-search fight between startup and corporate after you graduated, you probably have to know first the basics of each nature of workplace: large enterprises have set hours, but startups are more flexible. Large companies offer benefits; startups mostly give free food and free travel.

Let’s talk about whether a startup or corporate life is more suitable for your career in the long run. Think about it: a startup may give more flexible hours now, but the question is whether will it give you the opportunity to move up into a senior management position in the long run? A corporate job may be the appropriate place to get structured on-the-job level, but will it give you the creative thinking abilities you need to your own business in a few years?

Working in big corporates is different than in a smaller startup. Which one do you prefer? (Photo by author)
Working in big corporates is different than in a smaller startup. Which one do you prefer? (Photo by author)

After working in both environments, I’ve been faced with the benefits and disadvantages of each option. Thus, if you’re confused about which one to choose, think about these questions to help you get the most of your career—both now and in the future.

Do you have any idea what your dream would be?

The moment I worked at a startup, I had lots of roles: I led a team and interviewed the clients regarding research (and that’s only the beginning!). We merely had a few people on the team, and we were all expected to pitch in wherever needed. And at the moment, that was cool because I did not know what I wanted in a long-term career path.

When I moved to a corporate position, I did have a better idea of my talents and the things I liked doing—and so, I was able to take a more focused role having to wear all those other “hats.”

In general, corporate positions indeed have narrower roles: If you’re a business analyst, you create reports, if you’re a manager, you manage. And so, if you already understand the role you want or the direction you want to go in, this type of environment can help you grow and hone those skills—without having to focus on a bunch of other responsibilities.

I noticed that I have many more resources at my disposal: My co-workers had a treasure of knowledge, my bosses (and their bosses) had more years of experience, and there were guides and guidebooks for everything.

Now, this is where the big difference comes in: what do you need to succeed? If you thrive on taking the initiative and taking risks to get the resources you need, and learning from failure, you may not need the resources of a corporate position to attain your career goals.

On the other side, you’re not sure what kind of gig you want to end up, a startup role can help you obtain skills and insight into various positions. (And, you may only decide that’s precisely what do you want in the long run — a roller coaster job with different of responsibilities.)

Two years, Two Master's Degrees. I survived Sorbonne. (Photo by author)
Business school might prepare you for work, but the best way to see which world fits you better is by trying it both. (Photo by author)

What sort of influence do you want—and how fast do you want to get it?

I admit, I was naive when I joined corporate life. I didn’t expect to get so frustrated with my lack of influence—but the reality was, I had no voice when it came to decisions that were made about my team and me. This was, undoubtedly, after I had left behind a position at a startup, where I had more authority over and clarity into business decisions.

In general, you will have a lot less influence in a big corporate office than you would in a startup. And if you have a C-level position ambition in your mind, it’ll presumably take you much longer to get there.

On the other hand, you will probably have much more insight into the fundamental workings of a startup, as well as the ability to voice your opinion heard. Nevertheless, jumping up in rank may look a lot different. If the position above yours is C levels, it may not open up—ever. So, you may have to grow your role in other paths, making the route a lot less straight to get to your ultimate career purpose.

Learn from the visionaries and build your resume

Founders and entrepreneurs, in common, tend to have a different makeup than those outside of the startup jungle. They are highly passionate people driven by difficulties, finding ways to defeat problems and identify solutions. Solutions that others may have never thought possible.

According to the Future Workplace “Multiple Generations @ Work” survey, 91% of millennials examined expect to stay in a job for less than three years. That means that more than likely your first job will end up being a stepping stone to the next.

What environment will help you succeed?

Generally, you must consider which determinants are basic to help you work toward your goals. Will you do better with an always developing, “think outside the box”-type mentality, or a structured atmosphere that allows you to work toward your goals methodically? Neither is better than the other—just different. And it ultimately depends on your work style, unique and personality needs to determine which one will be the best for your career path.

The reality is, both startups and corporations do have their sets of pros and cons. We all have our colleagues who have left corporations for startups, criticizing corporations for being too bureaucratic, slow or dull. We also have our colleagues who have left startups for corporations, seeking more structure, guidelines, and processes.

So, if you’re struggling to decide between working at a startup or a corporation, here’s my advice: you have to experience them by yourself, just choose both!


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I Dewa Made Agung Kertha Nugraha (Dewa) is a strategic planner at PT Serasi Autoraya, a transportation and logistics solution subsidiary of the Astra Group. He previously worked as a Research Coordinator at a Social Enterprise named RUMA, which has won the award of the “pitch for change” in the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference with its mission is to increase access, dignity and income for low income communities through technology. Prior to joining the RUMA, He was involved in World Bank Project called The National Program for Community Empowerment (PNPM Mandiri) in charge of the rural and urban areas of DI Yogyakarta and East Nusa Tenggara. He finished his undergraduate from the Indonesia Banking School with the Cum Laude and the Most Outstanding Graduate Student status by the scholarship from The Indonesian Banking Development Foundation (LPPI) Scholarship. He also gained his M.Sc in Economics from the Université Paris 1 Panthéon - Sorbonne and MBA from the École Nationale Supérieure de Techniques Avancées Paris with honors.


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