It may seem, to many graduates, that their best option after leaving university is to find a role at a large,
successful company, where they can learn from the best, gain knowledge, grow their career and maybe
show off to their friends and family, a bit… Although this route does have its advantages, Conor Todd
from FreeOfficeFinder took a look at why graduates should consider making their first role out of
university one with a startup instead of an established corporate company.
The idea of working for a startup might induce fears of instability and failure for many graduates, but
this could well be wrongheaded as the experience you gain from working at a startup is likely to be
vastly more valuable than the experience you would gain at a larger, more established company. For a
number of reasons, graduates will genuinely benefit from making their first role one at a startup. From
job progression to flexibility, here are some of the reasons why graduates should consider working for a
When working for a larger company, progressing up the corporate ladder can be a long, slow process.
Depending on the size of the organisation, gaps between promotions can be years. If you do well in a
larger organisation you are likely to slowly creep up the hierarchy, certainly, however, it is more difficult
to get noticed for doing a great job and even if you are noticed the progression can still take years. Often
you may have to wait for positions to open up in order to get the promotion you deserve and reaching
the higher echelons in the organisation can take decades as a result.
Startups tend to be smaller outfits who do not subscribe to such rigid structures, meaning that career
progression is a much more attainable goal. Roles are less strictly prescribed in startups meaning that
you do not have to wait for a role to become open in order to fill it. If you are doing a great job and
helping the company grow you can essentially create roles for yourself. As the company grows more
roles will be created at the top end of the organisation, for instance, as more managers are needed. A
graduate who performs well in the early days of a startup will be given far more responsibility since the
roles are far less specific. Taking advantage of this responsibility and expanding your role leaves you in
good stead to fill up spaces as the company grows.
In a similar vein, were you to leave university and go and work for a large corporate company, you are
likely to spend the first year or two being acclimatised and settled in. Often graduates will be given roles
that are essentially responsibility-free, to begin with. This can have its advantages certainly. Graduates
are given time to get to know the company, find out what area of work most interests them and learn
some of the ins and outs. However, this can often be dull and feel unfulfilling and arguably be
ineffective, as the settling in process does not always give graduates genuinely meaningful or
Graduates beginning their careers at startups, however, have no option but to gain genuine experience
from day one. Almost always, a startup’s biggest worry in the early days is money, or lack thereof,
meaning that they are unlikely to make any hires who they don’t think will be of actual value to their
growth. This, though, means no time for settling in. Which, for some, may be a disadvantage, but for
many, getting thrown in at the deep end can be the key to quickly learning the kinds of skills necessary
to succeed in the work world. Joining a startup basically guarantees that you will have a role which
immediately has a genuine impact on the company. This may seem unsettling for some people coming
straight from university, but it can be a priceless learning experience, which gives you an array of
attributes necessary to move onwards and upwards in your career.
Unless, as a graduate, you are joining a company for which you feel a genuine passion and excitement
towards, starting at the bottom of the ladder for an established organisation can sometimes make you
feel isolated and separated from that organisation. It’s difficult to feel connected to a corporate
company as a graduate because your lack of responsibility in the role means you can have no real
impact on the success, or failures, of that company. This can lead to ambivalence about the success of
the organisation you work for.
The same cannot be said for a graduate who joins a startup. As mentioned before, when joining you will
be expected to genuinely contribute and add value to the company. Being relied on like this from day
one will likely leave you feeling more committed and dedicated to the growth of the organisation.
Knowing that your input is valued and that your work has an effect on the company and those around
you will give you a sense of importance difficult to be found in more traditional work environments.
Those around you, in a startup, will have that same level of dedication to making the company work and
this will undoubtedly be infectious. Working for a company whose success really means something to
you will positively impact your morale and sense of purpose.
Graduates seem to have high expectations for their first workplace these days. With things like the type
of office they work in, how flexible their company is, the company culture, the atmosphere of the
workplace, work/life balance and the ethics of their employer playing a role in graduates’ decisions,
clearly, there are more factors for graduates choosing a career than big wages. Startups may be the
choice for those looking for a healthy soul as well as a healthy bank account.
More established companies are likely to have been around longer and be slightly more set in their ways
than startups when it comes to more modern ways of thinking about work life. Options like remote work
and flexible hours may be a non-starter with companies who have succeeded with a 9 to 5 approach for
many years. The fact that these types of companies are established and successful makes them less
likely to change their ways to accommodate a new way of thinking about things like work-life balance
and company culture. And, frankly, who can blame them, if they are successful. However, this may not
be the atmosphere graduates feel they best thrive and succeed in.
Startups, by their very nature, are new and for this reason are far more likely to meet the expectations
of graduates, for a number of reasons. As they are new, startups are more likely to be founded by
younger entrepreneurs whose sensibilities will better match those of the graduates thinking about
joining them. This can be crucial as many graduates consider the ethical stance of the company they are
about to join and startups with younger founders are more likely to agree with the moral or political
position of graduates as opposed to older CEOs and founders.
Startups, also by their nature, are young and disruptive and looking to make changes to improve the
world. This means that they will offer the flexibility and openness that many graduates will be looking
for. They will have no allegiance with prescribed ways of work and will be open to options that seem to
improve productivity or their team’s morale, be it remote working, flexible hours or experimental ways
of working. If you are looking for good work/life balance and flexible work, as many graduates are, then
you are more likely to be satisfied working for a startup than anywhere else.
Beginning your career at a large organisation will probably entail performing a pretty specific and
narrow role each day for the first year or two. This isn’t always the case, as some companies will give
you the opportunity to sample different sectors within their organisation for a couple of months at a
time, to give you a sense of where you best belong. This can be rare, though, and even sometimes
remain unproductive. The insight and variety you are getting at larger companies can sometimes be
hampered by the fact that graduates are merely getting a variety of tasters as opposed to actually
worthwhile work experiences.
Startups, on the other hand, work differently. You may well be hired for a specific role, but given that
the team is probably smaller and people are relying on one another you will be called on to contribute
to all kinds of decisions. This kind of hands-on experience with a variety of different decisions can soon
give a graduate genuine experience in all different kinds of fields covering the whole business spectrum.
This variety only gives a graduate more engagement with the company, whilst also developing their skills
at a more rapid pace than if they were to work at a corporate company, for instance. It should also be
noted that all these skills will, of course, be transferable were anyone to want to begin their own
business, meaning entrepreneurial spirits would do well to join a startup in order to gain invaluable
insight into starting a company.
Obviously many startups, like Uber, Snapchat and Airbnb, didn’t exist that long ago and are now some of
the biggest brand names in the world. This is a testament to the fact that startups can become huge and
there is no reason that with hard work and a bit of luck that couldn’t be the startup you choose to join.
More realistically, though, even if your startup does not become the mammoth corporation you might
have hoped, it’s not unlikely that it will become a reasonably sized organisation where you will have had
a huge part to play and are more likely to find yourself in a senior role at the right time.
Most importantly, whatever route the startup takes it will be providing you with an unrivalled
experience of the ins and outs of the business world. Whether the startup succeeds, is sold out, fails,
goes bankrupt, whatever… if you are a graduate who wants to understand the business world, or even
one day set up your own business, this will be a lesson unavailable anywhere else. However the startup
progresses or doesn’t progress, you can learn so much from both the successes and failures. This insight
and experience will leave any graduate capable of great success in their future careers.