First job for freshers: Startups or Corporates? 3 differences

Graduating from college is a significant milestone to many, but it’s also terrifying. Waving goodbye to the past 22 years of hard toil doesn’t mean your life ahead is any easier. When it comes to job options, it can be tough to embark on the next journey. As a fresher, you might spend most of your waking hours at your new job for about two or three years; therefore before you recklessly pick your first job, ponder carefully. 

Here is the classic startup-corporate duel, do you prefer working for a startup or a big company? But first and foremost, let’s define what constitutes a startup and an established company. Next, we’ll delve into some inherent differences in terms of working culture and perks, etc.. After fathoming these two options, you’ll have a clearer picture of which to pick and what suits you better. 

Without further adieu, let’s dive right in. 

Further reading:  How to Write a Professional Resume?|Ultimate Writing Guide & Tips

Startup vs. Corporates

What are established companies/businesses?

A corporate job might invoke images of employees wearing suits and bringing a suitcase like Barney from HIMYM, or maybe boring board meetings where everyone has acquired how to doze off with their eyes wide open. These are outdated stereotypes, big companies do not equate to a stagnant environment.

More and more companies are moving towards a start-up-esque environment; for example, employees can play foosball during brainstorming meetings to spark creativity; team members can also show solidarity during the process. Some enterprises also encourage internal entrepreneurship by incentivizing them with benefits. 

However, working in a corporate is less diverse because labor is highly specialized, every member in established companies is assigned to specific job tasks. If you happen to be a specialist, and you prefer to work systematically and methodically towards your goals, mature firms can offer you that.

Besides, established companies with brawny balance sheets might relatively manage CSR and ESG better and initiate more radical changes to our society. A large portion of millennials put these issues on a pedestal. In fact, startups are also increasingly geared towards solving societal problems.

What are startups?

Not every startup founder works in garages, and even if they do, only very few have the potential to create another Apple.

If you choose startups for the sake of free refreshments and flexible hours, I suggest you think twice. Startups are always evolving and dynamic; therefore, employees are expected to be resilient and adaptable to various scenarios. With a smaller employee base, a “generalist” is more suitable in startups where one can dabble in different tasks, from PM to advertising to editing or PR.

That being said, the smaller the company, the broader the work. Evidently, it can be pretty stressful for a fresher to take on so many roles, but surely one will be rewarded with a wealth of knowledge and experience. 

As was mentioned, startups are more turbulent. According to the report released by CBinsights in mid-2019, here are the top 3 reasons for startups to fail: 

  1. No market need
  2. Run out of cash
  3. Not the right team

These are the Achilles heels of startups, not to mention the gloomy 2020 is bad news for all, but startups take the hardest hit. With a dooming market outlook and plummeting consumer confidence,  resiliency becomes one of the key indicators of whether a startup can survive or not. 

3 Main Differences Between Startups and Big Companies

Now that we’ve defined some traits of startups and established companies, let’s take a closer look at some intrinsic differences between established businesses and startups. In the following section, we’ll talk about responsibility and autonomy, culture, and perks in both businesses and startups. 

1. Responsibilities and autonomy

Responsibility and autonomy go hand in hand. Given the looser job descriptions in startups, you’ll be given a variety of responsibilities while at the same time, you also have the say to make major decisions on your own. More responsibility thrust on your shoulders. It’s either a blessing or a curse: you receive accreditation or you take the blame.

For those who enjoy using their initiative and dislike following the orders of bunky company policies, more autonomy equals more freedom. In a dynamic environment like startups, every employee wears all hats and you can expect to have a steep learning curve. Therefore, skill sets also grow at a fast clip. For freshers, startups allow you to know your preferences before deciding which specific skill you want to develop. 

But for others, the aforementioned features could be an added layer of pressure, they’d prefer a clear chain of command and lists of duties. They might prefer to work at established companies.

In enterprise careers, the environment is more “tepid,” you won’t need to shoulder tremendous responsibility, even if mistakes are made, consequences won’t be so severe. In established companies, the working environment is more rigid and less flexible since company policies should be strictly followed. As for what exactly you will work on, established companies go with more specific job tasks, a “specialist” as some may term; freshers can hone skills they need as opposed to spending a lot of time on numerous tasks at startups.

2. Startup culture vs. corporate culture

Before landing on a job, 80% of job seekers would consider a company’s mission, culture, or core values. But what exactly are they looking at? Providing endless beers from the kitchen fridge or foosball is too narrow to define startup cultures, let’s not conflate perks with culture.

According to Glassdoor’s survey, 65% of 18-to-34-year-olds are likely to place culture over salary. In a nutshell, a good culture sets the tone for how your startup interacts with customers, suppliers, and stakeholders. There have been quite a lot of resemblances between startups and established companies with the latter catching up to offer more freedom to employees, but they’re essentially very different. 

Take orientation for example, in established companies, newbies are gathered on their first week to receive guides, manuals, and structured on-the-job training. Mentorship is quite common in established companies, you can turn to savvy veterans for instructions. While at startups, set-in-stone rules have yet to be established, rookies won’t be instructed with concrete guides telling them what the SOPs are. They mostly learn from hands-on experiences. But it also implies that rookies could be contributing to shaping the startup’s products or goals, values, and culture. 

Further reading:  4 Things You Should Ponder on Before Working at a Startup

An ideal working atmosphere should value problem-solving, open communication, rapid response, transparency, and a flat hierarchy where everyone is equally involved and actively engaging. Some other key virtues include business agility and resilience to adapt to internal and external pressures. You can find these in both startups and mature firms, but to value every member’s voice, it’s probably more viable in startups given that the employee base is smaller. An established company has too many employees to reach fair engagement. Hierarchy helps businesses manage their employees, and SOPs, rules, or practices help to resolve problems when crises emerge. 

3. Perks: Stability, compensation, and benefits


Statistically, about 70% of startups fail, and failure is most common during the first two to five years. The beginning stages of startups are risky and vulnerable because securing seed funding is a huge task. Needless to say, you can expect more security in your job and less volatility when you’re working for a more established company than a startup. Or, pick a startup in the scaling stage, profitability is more foreseeable compared to ones that are still conceptualizing innovative ideas. 

In terms of crisis management, predictions are always hard to call, but a company with a big war chest is unlikely to go out of business soon, even after being hit by pandemics or economic crises, they are more capable of taking the brunt.

Compensation and benefits 

As one can imagine, established companies have the whole package, retirement plans, 401K, child-care assistance, dividends…, needless to say, their startup counterparts have difficulties catching up with these cradle-to-grave benefits. But for freshers like you, it’s less likely for you to stick to your first job for 40 years, so retirement plans and child-care assistance might not be your priorities at this stage. 

As for salary, there’s no guarantee that established companies pay higher than their startup counterparts. Let’s put it this way, once a company survives the odds of failing, its employees can enjoy the benefits of bonuses or dividends. In some cases, in face of a dilemma between retaining talents and jeopardizing the fragile finance, startups might also offer equity in addition to salary. 

What do you personally need to succeed? 

After sharing three intrinsic differences between startups and established companies, it’s time to think about what you need to succeed.

What is success to you?

You have to consider all the aforementioned things, be it lifestyle, benefits, or work-life balance. Certain personalities fit in different working environments.

If you thrive on taking risks, taking initiative to get the resources you need, and learning from trial and error, you can easily accumulate these experiences in startups.

On the other hand, if you prefer that available wealth of knowledge in a less volatile environment, you might find a corporate position more comfortable. 

The typical startup-corporate duel has no definite answer assuring you which is better. Of course, you can always go for a mixed type, startups for the first couple of years and corporate next, or vice versa. No matter what, you got to think thoroughly about all the questions listed here.

  • In which environment will you fully realize your potential?
  • What kinds of work can offer lots of opportunities that you can adorn your resume with?
  • What will help you climb up the career ladder fast?
  • In what settings can you strike a healthier work-life balance?

After reviewing major differences between startups and established companies, you have to think about what suits you best. 


This guide helps freshers pave the way to understand what to expect, the ups, and the downs in startups and established companies. Knowing what you need and whether your needs can be fulfilled in either startups or established companies is key to a good start.

With these basic distinctions in mind, do not forget the importance of Google!

Every company’s culture and perks are still very different, do your research on both avenues, and take your personality, work style, your expectation, unique needs, and career goals into consideration.

Please bear with me to repeat a few points.

When you come out of a startup, you come out as a Jack of all trades, dabbling in everything from ground reality to bottom-up.

While at a corporate company, the environment is more regimented and more secured. Less responsibility and autonomy, but this kind of environment can equip you with specific specialties.

Working at enterprises or startups have their pros and cons, so think thoroughly before landing your first job. Make this journey worthwhile.

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