The idea of working for a startup can be very appealing — and so can the reality if you approach it with the right expectations. With a reputation for creativity and innovation, startups can provide a refreshing solution to corporate burnout. Small and nimble, startups have the potential to grow into steady businesses. And you can grow along with them.

However, if you are accustomed to life in a corporate environment, there are several factors to weigh before making the leap. Before applying for a job with a startup, we advise our career coaching clients to think beyond the position and your skill set; it is just as important to consider whether you have the traits to thrive in a startup environment.

3 Career Coach Questions to Ask

While there are many differences between working for a large corporation versus a small company, startups offer distinct advantages and disadvantages because of their age — and their growth and risk potential. The following career coach questions can provide good food for thought as you try to decide whether taking the plunge into the startup world is right for you:

  1. Am I comfortable with risk? While some startups have potential — and often an energetic leader and young team that can make the potential feel limitless — these companies are new, untested and carry more risk than a traditional job in an established company. Startups fail for a number of reasons: insufficient funding, lack of customers or clients, or founders deciding to pursue other avenues. While large corporations can fall victim to mergers, buyouts and cutbacks that threaten your job security, a startup environment might make you nervous if you’re looking for a high level of stability.
  1. Can I be flexible? In all small companies, you may be asked to juggle many tasks and work outside of your job description or comfort zone. In most startup environments, a lean team means that as a marketing manager, for example, you might be doing everything from handling purchase orders to making high-level executive decisions. If you have the attitude that some duties are below your pay grade or you don’t want to be responsible for areas of the business with which you are less familiar, you might experience frustration in a startup environment.
  1. Do I have the passion? Working at a startup can mean late nights, weekends, a heavy workload and, sometimes, a lower salary and fewer benefits than you might be accustomed. It takes passion to stick it out on the tough days and the ability to focus on the big picture. If you aren’t passionate about the product or service that the company produces, you might eventually burn out. It can be exhilarating to be part of building a company that you care deeply about, but you have to be genuinely invested.
The Startup Advantage

If you answered yes to those questions, a startup environment might be a good match for you. Working for a startup offers many unique perks, including:

An opportunity to innovate — New ideas for everything from processes to products are usually welcome at a startup company. With no one to say, “We’ve always done it this way,” a startup culture is a great place to exercise your creativity and offer new ideas.

Career development — In a startup environment, you generally have the ability to create your own career path. There is no corporate ladder, meaning there’s no limit on your career potential as the company grows.

Learning prospects — As you carry a broader range of responsibilities, you are exposed to a wide variety of the facets of the business. A startup is a great place to gain valuable insights into entrepreneurship if you have your sights set on launching your own business someday.

Flexibility — While you might be working long hours, many startups allow you to work remotely or take flex time to make up for a weekend in the office, helping you maintain greater work-life balance.

Greater impact — Working at a startup, your day-to-day actions can have a profound influence on the company’s performance and direction. While wearing many hats, you might have more contact with clients, greater control over expenses and a welcome voice in company decisions.

Excitement — The startup environment is often fast-paced and many companies are working on creative products that could change entire industries. If the company turns into “the next big thing,” you can say you were there from the beginning.

Is a Startup Right for You?

Only you can decide if your sense of adventure and willingness to roll with the punches trumps your desire for security and job clarity. Before taking the plunge, spend some time considering how well you mesh with the new company’s culture. Because startups are usually comprised of small teams, your relationships with the owner and your co-workers matter just as much as your passion for the mission.

Have you made the transition from an established company to a startup? What advice do you have?

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