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Start Your Business Startup Basics

Startup or Corporate? Choosing the Right Company to Work For

Startup or Corporate? Choosing the Right Company to Work For
Credit: connel/Shutterstock

When you're starting a new career, choosing the industry where you want to work is only half the battle. The next step is figuring out what type of company within that industry best aligns with your professional goals. Do you want to ride the exciting roller coaster of startup life and effect tangible change at the company? Or perhaps you'd prefer to trade influence for stability at a larger firm?

These are the kinds of questions every job seeker needs to ask him or herself when choosing which companies to apply to. Here's what to consider about working for a startup, small business, corporation or nonprofit organization.

Startup

To many job seekers, especially those who are just entering the job market, working for a startup sounds like an exciting opportunity — and it is. You get to help build a company from the ground up, and you'll be able to see the impact of your contributions as the business grows. If you want to live and breathe your work, and have a real say in the company's future direction, you'll likely thrive in a startup setting. The risks are high, but if — and that's a big "if" — the company takes off, the rewards are even higher.

"You're going to want to be comfortable with self-direction, taking your own initiative and learning on the fly," said Adam Simpson, CEO of business phone service Easy Office Phone. "Progressive startups actively encourage an environment that encourages employees to explore and find their most productive and fulfilling 'zone,' and with that generally comes less rigid structure."

Job seekers "who have an entrepreneurial spirit are better suited for a job in the startup scene because they have the creativity and drive that's necessary in order to take a startup to the next level," added Dr. Katherine Cohen, a LinkedIn higher education expert and founder of education consulting firm IvyWise. However, "startup employees generally work longer hours and have more independence. That environment is not going to be a good fit for someone who has poor organizational skills and needs to be heavily managed in order to get work done."  

Ask yourself:

  • Does the idea of working in a nontraditional setting and solving new problems every day appeal to me?
  • Do I want a self-directed role that will constantly change and evolve as the company does?
  • Am I prepared to take on the risks and challenges of being involved with a new startup (i.e., business failure, low up-front compensation, long hours)?

Small or midsize business

Working for a small or midsize business affords you the opportunity to affect the company, but comes with far less risk than a startup. Smaller businesses tend to treat their employees like family, and though you may not be a key decision maker, the people in charge will hear your voice. According to a recent survey by accounting software company Xero, 63 percent of small business owners describe their leadership style as democratic. When small businesses are hiring, they look for individuals who are honest (29 percent) and dependable (33 percent).

Promotions and raises won't happen as often as they would at a bigger company, but your role and hours will typically remain consistent. [20 Best Jobs for Work-Life Balance]

"Small businesses have a relaxed, family atmosphere, and [as an employee] you'll have more nights and weekends free," said Ashu Desai, co-founder of Make School, an alternative to university-based computer and technology education.

Ask yourself:

  • Would I like to feel like a valued member of a close-knit company, regardless of my role?
  • Do I want the chance to develop personal relationships with a business's clients and customers?
  • Am I OK with not having as many advancement opportunities due to limited resources and staff size?

Large corporation

Though startups and entrepreneurship are becoming more popular career choices, joining "Corporate America" is still the end-goal for many job seekers. If you're looking for a traditional 9-to-5 office job that offers benefits, job security and a chance to rise up through the ranks, this is probably the path for you.

Larger, more established companies are also a good fit for individuals who prefer guidance from management in their job duties. You won't have much influence in business decisions until you reach a higher level, but there's strength in numbers. A big company has a big presence in its industry and market, so you'll get to be part of that.

"A big company will give you more direction, teach you [skills] and help you grow, rather than having you figure it all out yourself," Desai told Business News Daily. "It also allows you to specialize in one area."

Ask yourself:

  • Am I looking for financial stability and a strong career path with regular raises and promotions?
  • Do I perform best when I'm in a structured environment with clear-cut processes and reporting lines?
  • Am I willing to accept less credit and recognition within the company in exchange for access to greater resources, professional development and networking opportunities?

Nonprofit

Nonprofit organizations, as the name implies, are companies whose proceeds go toward a cause, rather than business development or investments. This being the case, nonprofits often try to keep their overhead costs — like office space, equipment and salaries — as low as possible to ensure their dollars do the most good they can. You won't get rich working for a nonprofit, but you'll likely get a much greater sense of purpose and fulfillment from your career.

"To work in and support nonprofits, you must know that partnership is essential, innovative thinking is key and it's all about the people you serve," said Deirdre Greene Groves, executive director of Challenge Detroit, a nonprofit organization that connects Detroit-area job seekers with employment opportunities.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I passionate about a social or environmental cause?
  • Do I want to have a direct, positive impact on the world through my work?
  • Would I rather make a difference than a lot of money?

Finding your company

Once you've decided on your ideal company type, you'll need to look for potential employers that fit what you're looking for. LinkedIn is a great place to start your search, especially if people in your network are already working for companies you're interested in.

"Utilize online resources to help you find open positions and research potential employers," Cohen said. You can "use LinkedIn's Higher Education tools to research alumni [and] where they work, and connect to get more information and expand your network. For example, LinkedIn University Rankings provide access to the career outcomes of millions of alumni across LinkedIn, enabling job seekers to see where their school's alumni work, what they do, and which majors and skills helped them get there."

Regardless of the work environment you want, Desai noted that it's important to find a company with great people. You spend most of your waking hours working, and since people are often influenced by those around them, good co-workers can make a huge difference in your job satisfaction levels, he said. You should also look for an employer that has a mission you truly believe in.

"Companies ... hold personal values like the importance of family, fairness and respect for customers and staff, [being] welcoming of new and diverse points of view, [having] upright ethics, [an] emphasis on physical and mental health, and more," Simpson said. "You need to get a sense of the values the company holds and determine whether they align with your own." 

"Work will, at some points, be tougher than you think," Desai added. "It's important to care about [your company's] impact. You won't be motivated to continue if you don't."

Nicole Fallon

Nicole Fallon received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the assistant editor. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.

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