What does working at a startup look like? Ping-pong tables. Kombucha on-tap. Standing desks.
These are visible differences between the grey cube-farms of our parent’s offices and the startups of today. When you’re just beginning your career, startups can be an appealing option for entry-level employment. But is working at a startup really all it’s cracked up to be?
We’re exploring the major pros and cons of joining a startup. In the end, you’ll have to weigh what matters most to you when applying. It’s important to have a high-level view so you don’t get sucked in purely by the allure of endless snacks and a game room.
Working at a Startup: The Pros
Overall, startups have a solid reputation for being fun, enjoyable places to work. They tend to embody the “work hard, play hard” attitude that so many look for. Since they are smaller companies, you have more informal corporate structure, closer bonds with your coworkers, and everyone is energized and working towards the same goals.
By definition, startups are modern companies. They are almost universally less than a decade old, which means that they have their finger on the pulse of what young workers find engaging. This is because the management tends to be younger than average. Startups get that you want to enjoy their work environment. They typically provide cool perks, like wellness programs, rideshare credits, legitimately awesome company retreats, student debt forgiveness, and free food. These brag-worthy perks contribute positively to company culture and your attitude at work.
One of the strongest items in the Pros column for working at a startup is that they often provide robust benefits packages. Inclusive healthcare, flexible work schedules, remote work policies, and paid parental leave all draw top talent to startups. Great benefits will keep you healthier and happier at work, and save you money in the long run.
Room to Grow
There’s ample opportunity to build your skillset and move up the ladder at an early-stage startup. Since startups are rapidly growing, the skills of their employees evolve with their company. Startups require flexibility, creative thinking, and rapid adaptation. You’ll round out your skillset with tools you never thought you’d be able to get experience in. Due to a lack of traditional corporate structure, you’re likely to be promoted to a more senior title much faster than you word at a long-standing firm. You can carry this title and your wealth of experience with you should you decide to leave.
Startups are looking specifically for candidates who are the right cultural fit – skillsets matter less than general enthusiasm for what they are trying to build. So if you’re just getting started in the workforce, a startup is a great place to get your start! They are seeking smart people to join their team – rather than people with a specific work history – because they know that their needs can change rapidly (and you need to be able to adapt with them!).
Working at a Startup: The Cons
Remember: that which glitters is not always gold. Plenty of startups have a bright and shiny finish that lures you in, but it can flake off easily once you actually start working there. Poor leadership, lacking business models, and caustic cultures can make for a toxic work environment. Fortunately, these read flags tend to be easy to spot (provided you know where to look).
“Work hard, play hard” is a classic startup manta – and they mean it. Especially at young companies, the hours can be long and you may be called in on your days off to tackle urgent problems. Work life balance can evaporate, with companies believing that ordering take out for the team during another all-nighter is a suitable proxy for time outside the office. Pro tip: it’s not. Another issue is that startups are usually made up of small teams that wear many hats. Good employees can quickly get overloaded with responsibility, resulting in burnout. Ask hard questions about what employers do to maintain healthy work-life balance. How often do people work overtime? Is the “unlimited” vacation policy just a way to discourage employees from actually taking time off?
Startups can become victims of their own success. Most startups aim for an aggressive growth strategy once things start to take off. But swift growth can have consequences. An influx in new team members can rapidly change the cherished company culture. Office noise levels, limited meeting space, and group think can plague your once-cohesive work environment. When this happens, it’s important for leadership to step in and correct these problems as soon as they can – if they want to stay in business that is.
Remember how we just said that leadership matters? Many startups are created by brilliant people who don’t have any experience managing a team – let along a 50-plus person company. Once easy-to-connect with CEOs and founders can become distant, stressed, or averse to dissenting opinions (especially if they’re now surrounded by yes-men). Asking about management style and history working with teams in your interview is a good way to safeguard against joining a company lead by a micromanaging tyrant.
The unfortunate truth is that 44% of startups fail after 5 years – and that’s concerning when you’re looking for stability. Most startups fail due to either cashflow problems or attempting to scale up their business too quickly, causing the business to collapse in on itself. Look for startups that have already secured funding. During your interview, ask about their 5-year plan for their business, including specific growth targets and goals for their company. If they can’t give you a concrete answer, they likely aren’t thinking that far in the future – or they don’t know the answers themselves.
Tally the Score
Working at a startup can be an amazing experience. They have incredible potential and are great learning environments, making them awesome for you early in your career. Just make sure to do some thorough research! Come to your interview with a list of hardball questions. Use sites like Glassdoor and Built In to deep dive into company practices. JobFlare’s in-app collection of companies is full of great places to work and includes many startups. We’ll give you the inside scoop you’ve been looking for. Find a healthy startup that’s set up for success – both the company’s and yours.