Taking your first steps into the corporate world can be a daunting task for anyone, especially when you’re fresh out of school with close to zero knowledge on what working life is like. There are so many factors to consider when choosing a company: from salary and career progression to welfare benefits and proximity from home.
Then comes the million-dollar question: start-up or corporate?
We have compared and contrasted the two for those who are spoilt for a choice, worried about their future prospects or simply just enjoy reading random analyses when they’re bored. To ensure a more impartial perspective, we also spoke to a few working professionals who have experienced working in both kinds of companies.
Pros: Flat hierarchy, flexible work arrangements, great growth prospects
One thing you will probably hear a lot from those who work in start-ups is the amount of freedom you get. Things like remote working and flexible working hours seem to be a staple with these companies, though the supposed “uniqueness” of these arrangements have been minimised due to the pandemic. Either way, those with a busy social life will definitely appreciate the more accommodating work schedule.
Image credit: MS News
Start-ups also tend to have a flatter hierarchical structure, which encourages more openness and interactions among employees. In the words of one respondent, “you can jio the boss for lunch almost any day and get to learn from them personally”. Perfect if you are the type to constantly worry if you’re using too many exclamation points in your messages to your supervisor.
“It was incredible. Everyone was very close to each other, the processes are transparent and you know who’s doing what. You’re not micromanaged per se, especially if the founder knows what they’re doing with the company/objectives.”
– Qian Yi, employee at a SMC, did her internship at a start-up organisation based in Bali.
Furthermore, start-ups are said to value innovation over productivity. This means more opportunities for learning and improvement, as well as constantly being pushed to think outside the box.
“Speaking from experience, when I was a fresh grad, I felt that I was already playing catch up with my peers because of NS. With that in mind, I opted to look at positions with start-ups knowing that I’ll be given more responsibility and in turn getting to do a variety of things.
Instead of joining a bigger company and turning into another cog in the machine, it was what I needed at that time to pick up skills as quickly as possible.”
– Iqmall, journalist, previously worked at a start-up organisation.
Cons: Lack of formal processes
Not all is a bed of roses, though. One common complaint employees of start-up organisations have is their lack of proper structure. While it may be nice to have a more dynamic work environment, many of our respondents felt that the lack of experienced leadership made it very hard to reach out if they needed help.
“As my first internship, I joined a start-up company which did not go well. The environment then was not stable and the company lacked direction as well as experience. Hence, there were many times where I found myself going to work simply to sit in the office and not do anything.
I was also assigned work with the intention to learn, however the staff who was supposed to teach me was unable to as she was too busy handling other matters. Therefore, I was left to my own devices most of the time and simply had to do what made the most sense to me.”
– En Yi, intern at a production company, previously interned at a start-up organisation.
If you are looking for a job with security and regular pay, many would also advise against joining start-up organisations. For one, layoffs and budget cuts are extremely common, which result in understaffed departments. This in turn yields heavy workloads and OT among the current staff, who often have to go above and beyond their pay grade and skill sets in order to ensure that the company can stay afloat.
If you’re somehow unlucky enough, you might even end up working for some shady businesses.
“An advertising startup I joined asked me to resign after 3 months. The founder hired me, but his company director – his mother – decided to let me go, saying she was looking for cheaper, more affordable, younger staff.
The founder was not an official employee or director of the company on paper, because he was actually a moonlighting civil servant who got his mom to be the official director for him. His father, also a high-ranking civil servant, was also funding and advising the company, which is against civil service anti-moonlighting rules.
The startup now seems to be in inactive mode, and the businesses are back to managing their own advertising or hiring their individual agencies to do it.”
– Krystal (not her real name), employee at a SMC, previously worked for a now-inactive start-up.
A co-working space in Singapore. Start-ups tend to use these spaces as a cost-saving alternative to renting or buying office space.
Image credit: TheSmartlocal
Start-ups are for the risk-takers, those who prefer learning at their own pace and as much as possible. You are, however, advised to do the proper research before committing to a company. There are also a lot of other factors to take into consideration, especially where success is concerned, such as the industry you’re in and the nature of start-up services in said industry. All in all, one must be willing to tough it out when choosing the path of a start-up. Start-ups can take years before they even see some semblance of a “big break”, but when they do, you get to grow along with the company and might even be considered part of their core team.
Pros: Clear structure, stability, boosts your portfolio
Large organisations tend to be more organised, with a set hierarchy and SOPs in place that ensure quality work boosted by productivity. So if you like having a routine and structure to your day, large companies would probably appeal to you. The stability of a full-time job at a large company is also appreciated, evident in the lower turnover rates compared to start-up organisations.
Prudential’s Singapore office.
Image credit: TheSmartLocal
“In more established companies, there are usually more mentors who are able to support and guide you – and you won’t be thrown into the deep end from the get-go. Usually, this results in a safer and more comfortable learning environment, especially for those who need a bit more guidance. You also get to learn working etiquette in more established companies, since more systems and processes have been set in place. Versus a startup environment where company culture and systems are changing constantly at the speed of light.”
– Dewi, previously worked for a large organisation.
Expanding on that point of hierarchy, more experienced and set positions in place means that there is a specific chain of command to turn to if you need help. There are also quite a few set ranks to climb in a larger organisation, which gives you tangible goals to work and aspire towards.
Additionally, having a larger, more established company in your portfolio is in a way, a one-way ticket to getting hired anywhere in your industry, particularly in industries like finance, law and medicine. Think of it as the Twitter blue check mark for verified accounts, HR tends to take you more seriously.
If you have the privilege of working for a MNC, there’s also that added bonus of getting to know how business works across a certain region, and even the world.
“I worked for a MNC and I found that they have a more global outlook. Since we were working with a lot of corporations both in and out of Singapore, we tend to try and adopt different practices from other countries that would best fit our company. It was very consultative, as compared to the consensus-building that you might find in smaller companies, and the result was us being more nimble at navigating the global business scene even if we weren’t at all small size-wise.”
– Daisy, homemaker, used to work for a banking MNC.
Cons: Long and strict hiring processes, stagnant career growth
Large corporations tend to scare potential employees away due to their long and strict hiring processes. Because of the high volume of applicants, hopefuls have to wait weeks or even months to sometimes get a reply after the initial application stage. Many more will drop out at the later stages of the hiring process.
Once you get in, though, you are expected to adhere to the organisation of the company, which means sticking to your pre-mediated job scope as much as possible. It isn’t a bad thing per se, but it starts to get frustrating when you aren’t given many opportunities to learn outside of your assigned work.
If you’re expecting to be promoted quickly though, then you might want to take your chances with a smaller company. Many employees at large companies have expressed their vexation at being stuck in the same position in their workplace for years. Again, the low turnover rates aren’t a bad thing if you are just looking for an entry-level job or internship position, but the job may not be for you if you prefer a faster kind of career growth.
If you prefer the traditional corporate experience with a fixed job scope and almost-guaranteed job security, then larger corporations might be a good fit. However, as with every organisation, do your due diligence and look for companies that best feed your needs.
Which Is A Better Launch Pad For Fresh Graduates?
While doing the relevant research for this piece, I found that it really boils down to two things: your preferences, as well as the industry you choose to go into.
For example, in industries like medicine and finance, it is almost impossible to gain leverage if you don’t have the backing of a well-known organisation behind you. This is also why most fresh grads choose to apply to government-backed or more well-known private companies, especially since it’s quite literally an iron rice bowl.
In other industries with more flexibility, such as those of marketing and tech, start-ups are pretty much seen as equal to, if not better, than larger organisations. What really matters most is finding a company that you can vibe with and actually enjoy going to, a sort of job Tinder, if you will. Your first job can make or break your entire working life, so do your research, ask around and happy seeking.
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Cover image adapted from TheSmartLocal, TheSmartLocal