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Should In-Demand Tech Professionals Choose Start-Ups or Mature Companies? 

3 min read | By: Christine Wright, Senior Vice President, Hays U.S. on March 31st, 2020

You’re a software engineer, product manager, or other tech professional looking for your next role. Now you’re wondering, “Do I want to work for a start-up or a large company?” Before making your decision, ask yourself the following questions.

Do you want a structured environment or an entrepreneurial environment?

In a mature business, everyone has a clearly defined role and new ideas go through layers of approvals. On the other hand, startups have an “all hands on deck” mentality. If a team member wants to take on a new project like a specific marketing campaign or product improvement, all the better.

That said, don’t discount the value of culture. While the hustle mentality of startups has been glorified, it’s important to check reviews, ensure there isn’t an exploitative work culture, and assess the managerial experience of business leaders.

While a big company can sometimes feel stifling, enterprises that prioritize innovation may offer more support for your ideas. Companies like HP, Oracle, and Autodesk have created innovation labs and incubators, so their employees can help them stay ahead of the curve.

If your priority is getting paid to solve interesting problems, doing research with an open mind is important.

Are you banking on a successful exit for a massive payday?

Are your motivations for working at a start-up to get rich in the next couple of years? That’s understandable when you hear stories of soon-to-be IPO millionaires being wooed by private jet companies and wealth managers. But just because success stories are flashy, doesn’t mean everyone who works at a start-up gets rich.

In the U.S. only half of start-ups make it to their fifth birthday and even fewer make it to their teens. And even if you pick a promising start-up you have to be one of the earlier employees and hang in long enough for your equity to vest. Oftentimes, employers put limitations on employee stock options like expiry dates. Plus, funding rounds can dilute early employees’ equity.

On the other hand, a role at a larger company offers a clear career path with opportunities for advancement and higher compensation. Even if your career path continues at another large firm, you acquire the organizational experience and skill set needed to take on greater responsibilities.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work for a startup. Rather, you should make the decision based on whether you care about the company and the work, not on the possibility of making a lump of cash.

Are you confusing the desire for flexible work arrangements with the desire to work at a start-up?

Are you interested in working for a start-up because you want more flexibility? This shouldn’t rule out applying to mature companies. Legacy enterprises are eager to attract talented workers, and they are offering the perks these individuals want like remote working and flexible hours. If you have the credentials and perks, asking for this flexibility shouldn’t jeopardize your chances of landing the role.

This way, you get the structure of a mature company where roles and strategy are clearly defined while enjoying the flexibility of a start-up environment.

Ultimately, it’s important to dive deep when choosing between a start-up and a mature company. You want to work at a company that values its employees, compensates you fairly, and lets you work on interesting problems.

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