Within the last months I have realized that it is getting harder and harder to make a decision on where to start your career. Being an aspiring entrepreneur I can understand that towards the end of their studies high potentials get attracted to the startup world and consider an internship or a graduate position in a young company.
On the other hand, there are popular and prestigious global players that provide striking possibilities for a strong and long-lasting career development. In our world that is dynamic and abundant in options nowadays graduates usually do not need to fear not getting a job anymore but making the wrong decision of what to do and which type of company to join.
I believe that it is most important for the start of your career to focus on how you can learn and develop your professional skills the most. This means knowing where you can acquire different types of valuable know-how is essential. In this post I will share the greatest lessons and skills I have learned working in both — startups and corporate enterprises.
Why do people usually join a startup? Normally it is the internal motivation for creation, ownership and the dream to become an entrepreneur yourself one day. Elli Sharef posted an article in Venturebeat about what you need to know before working at one. These are the things I have learned working for 2 successful German startups:
1. How to create opportunities by being “different” in work quality and personality
As an extroverted and lively person I attracted most attention by being the loudest at the foosball table (Kicker) or generally being optimistic and positive at work. At the same time, the results of my work were of high quality and — taking ownership of my responsibilities — I always tried to go the extra mile to deliver not only what was expected but more than that. As a result, I received high appraisal and even a request of becoming a Co-Founder with a private contact of our CEO. Looking back, I can certainly say that I have learned how to positively stick out of the crowd
2. How to boost your networking ability
Working in Berlin — which is one of the major startup centers in Europe — I was able to participate in a lot of startup events and get in touch with interesting people. Among them were for example AngelList´s European spearhead Philipp Moehring, the founder of Deloitte Digital Andreas Harting, the founder of 500 Startups Dave McClure and other successful founders and inspirational people. Networking is not a character trait but a skill that you can learn. Working in the startup environment and exposing yourself to a lot of situations where you need to make the first move to go and talk with people will prepare you for the moment in life when you need to impress a certain someone by your abilities. Eventually your hesitations of approaching people will disappear, resulting in way more self-confidence and success in life.
3. How to apply flexibility and adaptability correctly
In startups you need to get used to adapt and dispose of non-working execution plans all the time which can be really frustrating. In big companies, adaptability means how well you can adapt to fit into the team and take over their working principles. Adaptability in a startup means reacting to internal and external input in order to make something work. You will need to actively listen to the ideas of the team as well as customer feedback and incorporate the aspects into your concepts. You must create new plans, test them and learn from them while getting rid of non-working methods or products. And you need to do it fast. In time, I have developed great flexibility and agility that helped me not focusingtoo much on what I have already “wasted” time on but instead on what will drive success for the business.
Why do people usually decide to join a big company? Global Players have resources and possibilities to drive your personal development much more due to their size and network. Graduate programs attract with job rotation and international experience which startups world not be able to offer. Except for the reasons mentioned in John Rampton´s article on Entrepreneur there are also big differences in what you can in the end learn from a corporate enterprise that you would not learn in such a scale in startups:
1. How to structure your work and do business professionally
Startups do not have the time and resources to give you basic training in how to structure your work, working methods, MS Office best practices, frameworks and generally how to behave as a professional doing business. I was able to learn all these basics as well as develop my structured way of working while being in a corporate enterprise because they can afford mentoring and personal development. Most importantly, basics of communication and appearance to a potential business partner are best taught by companies that have been successful for a long time. Even with the goal of becoming an entrepreneur one day you will need to do business with VCs, suppliers, customers and other stakeholders that will mainly be used to the more traditional ways of doing business (Yes, I mean wearing suits and not hoodies). Starting in a big company and developing your basic skill setas well as your professionalism will help you for future success no matter which type of company you will be in.
2. How to maximize efficiency by working as a team
There is always someone who knows the answer to your problems in a corporate environment. Working for global players taught me how to achieve my goals by including the help of others and how to work together in a team which benefits from combining everyone´s strengths. Although modern work approaches especially in startups try to get rid of the concept of meetings, very often, the solution to a problem can better be found by cooperation. Cooperation is people business. I have learned how to deal with opposing opinions, how to focus on the capabilities of the team (literally Human Resources) and how to manage teamwork in order to achieve maximum efficiency for everyone. You should do the same before joining a startup where the right combination of individual abilities matters even more.
3. How to manage time and multiple projects
In a startup you need to be fast in execution. Very fast. But most of the time due to the small team size the effect of delays mainly affect your own business area and just a few connected people. In big companies delaying your part of a project will cause serious problems because the entire project team will need to wait for your input before they can continue their work. This will put up pressure on yourtime and project management. Through this pressure though, I have learned how to efficiently manage my multiple responsibilities by setting priorities and keeping an eye on the big picture of projects. In every demanding job position later on in life you will need the ability to prioritize and focus on the most influential factors. Gaining this experience enabled me to be productive and to achieve my goals in time in all my future engagements.
Of course, working in both types of companies will teach you way more than what I have mentioned so far. Also, talking from personal experience these aspects will be quite subjective and not represent everyone´s opinions. In the end they should give you a small insight in what to expect from both options. In summary, working for a big company will build up basic skills that you will need for any kind of job. Startups will enable you to use your skills and try to make an impact by direct confrontation with the customer world. I would say start your career in a big enterprise before gaining more specialized know-how in the startup environment. Now it is time for you to decide which would appeal more to you.
Please share your own experiences and lessons learned here or drop me a comment if and how this article was able to help.