9 Reasons To Choose A Corporate Job Over A Startup

Startups can be amazing places to work, and the euphoria surrounding them has a high degree of contagion. But future leaders have unique lessons to learn by working for larger, more established companies as well.

Fast Company recently published a widely shared post, "8 Reasons To Choose A Startup Over A Corporate Job," that almost exactly reflects conventional wisdom in Silicon Valley. 

While I truly appreciate the perspective of choosing a startup over a corporate job, I thought I would provide an alternate perspective, largely from my own personal experience. Now, truth be told, my data point is pretty limited on large companies—EMC is my primary point of reference as my current employer. Depending on the culture of the organization and role you have, your experience could be wildly different. But if I were to use EMC as a proxy for a “large company” or a “corporate job,” I thought it would be worthwhile to highlight the key benefits that a company like EMC can provide to your learning experience that a startup would find hard to match.  

Ultimately, as is said by many people far smarter than me, go where your passion lies and the rest will follow. The reality is each company is different and eventually you work for a company, not a category like startups or corporate jobs. And by no means is a startup a shabby place to be in today’s day and age. The euphoria has a high degree of contagion and if it weren’t for such a vibrant startup community, we wouldn’t have such an amazing set of large companies in the United States. And, at least in tech, most large companies were startups not so long ago.  

But these 9 reasons provide you the counter-argument on why you might want to also seriously consider corporate jobs over startups, should you be given the choice. Assuming that learning is one of the key objectives in a job, a corporate job will teach you: 

1. ...how to create sustained profitable growth:  It is very hard to grow a company from $0 to $10 million. But sustaining double-digit growth rates year after year in a profitable way at the scale of billions of dollars makes for very seductive learning experiences. While there are some amazing startups that are growing to be huge successes such as Facebook, Riverbed, Linkedin, Splunk, etc., there are many startups that fail despite solid revenue growth, largely because some core business fundamentals aren’t followed. Well-run large companies inherently teach you how to build a lasting business. This is a day in class you don’t want to miss if you aspire to be a leader someday.

2. ...how to not just disrupt competition, but also disrupt yourself:  Technology is an industry where anyone who remains complacent has their days numbered. Successful large companies know that if they are to remain relevant, not only do they need to leapfrog and disrupt competition by doing things better, faster, cheaper, and differently, but they often MUST disrupt themselves and their existing revenue streams in order to ensure continued success. Apple, an overused example in recent days, is a master at self-disruption when it makes sense to customers. They did this with incorporating music into the iPhone, thereby disrupting its iPod business, and introducing the iPad, which could disrupt its Mac business. If you happen to join such a company, the complexities in the decision tree will prove to be an enormous learning ground. However, as a word of advice, try to play the role of a change agent, since people who aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo will always as a rule do better than those who are averse to change.   

3. ...how to operate in a massively scale-driven environment:  A good friend of mine once told me that what attracted him to keep working for a big company having experienced both worlds is that when a change you’ve been advocating actually takes effect, the ripple effects are massive, which can be extremely gratifying. You might materially change the life of people in a country across the world in an area that you’ve been working for the past year.  In contrast, most startups, with the exception of a very few, aren’t ever able to achieve such scale and reach.  

4. ...to use influence over authority:  Large companies tend to have many competing interests and stakeholders. Those who are most effective in large companies are those who prefer to use influence over authority, and truly know how to balance the two. In startups, such complexities tend to exist on a much smaller scale, and therefore an authority model tends to predominate. Learning to lead with authority is a very important lesson in life. But I’ve found that learning to lead with influence is far more difficult to achieve, and everyone who aspires to be a great leader would benefit greatly from this lesson.  

5. ...operational discipline:  There are plenty of startups that also have phenomenal operational discipline. But I’ve found that large companies have among the best operational talent. Given my personal strength is on the creative and strategic areas, I have learned a great deal around how to operate effectively at scale in a global business.  And the learning continues. 

6. ...that innovation is more fun at scale:  One of the amazing parts of EMC is that it has maintained a relatively informal and flat organization even though we are more than 50,000+ employees and $20+ billion in revenues.  But thinking about creating revenue opportunity through innovation at hundreds of millions of dollars or at times even billions of dollars makes innovation even more exciting.  

7. ...that scaling innovation is even more exciting:  I believe Google has come closest to cracking this code of bottom-up innovation. But when a company is able to drive innovation in every area of the business from the bottom up, you’ve created a long-lasting organization. This is truly how innovation scales. One idea builds on top of another, and a collection of innovative ideas creates a lasting impact on society. The opportunity to learn how models to encourage bottoms-up innovation are designed tends to be extremely valuable.

8. ...the power of an ecosystem:  Large companies, especially in software, tend to have ecosystems built around them. Working in a leveraged model through large ecosystems of partners, developers, and customers teaches you how to be very thoughtful and tempered in shipping product. But it also teaches you that shipping is a feature. This duality of being tempered in what you ship, but still shipping regularly is one of the most valuable lessons that an ecosystem teaches you.  

9. ...how to go beyond being a one-trick pony:  As revenues scale, the law of large numbers takes effect. It gets harder to grow the base when the base gets large. You have to enter near adjacencies to the core business in order to continue to scale aggressively. Focusing on a few things while still being in multiple different businesses is a difficult balancing act and a terrific skill to learn.  

By no means am I suggesting that startups aren’t a great experience from a career perspective. But consider corporate jobs as having equally compelling benefits to your career as you embark on your next job.  

—Author Jeetu Patel is chief strategy officer and chief marketing officer at EMC's Information Intelligence Group.  

[Image: Flickr user Richard]

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5 Comments

  • Dave Elliis

    I've worked at several large corporations and am now at my second startup. Corporations do have their advantages in terms of scale and resources. I prefer startups to the points you list because I find one gets to be more creative and nimble (less bureaucracy), and you get to learn more aspects of a business (you're often not assigned to just one department). For people just stepping out of school into the Real World, I definitely recommend a stint at a startup to get a wide view of different career paths.

  • Gaston

    Someone's got to stick up for 9-5s I guess... I think #9s a bit misleading."how to go beyond being a one-trick pony"... this is precisely what anyone who works at a startup avoids. An entrepreneur juggles a million things at once - the workload is diverse and tests your skills in areas you never thought you'd be in. I left every corporate job I've had because I was pigeonholed into one piece of the puzzle and scolded for asking about the bigger picture. 

  • Jeetu Patel

    Fair enough.  What I was talking about is as companies get large, you can move around in different jobs within very different businesses, which startups have less of an opportunity to do.  But yes, there is less specialization of the specific job at times, depending on the culture of the big company.  I've personally found at EMC because of the various different business that we have that people move around a lot within the divisions to get exposure to very different businesses.  Thanks for your comments.  

  • Jason Parry

    #9. "The law of large numbers is important because it "guarantees" stable long-term results for random events. For example, while a casino may lose money in a single spin of the roulette wheel, its earnings will tend towards a predictable percentage over a large number of spins." You are using it wrong.

  • Jeetu Patel

    Thanks for that correction Jason.  I simply meant as numbers get large, maintaining aggressive growth percentages is difficult, and therefore a great learning experience.  Much harder to grow a 2 billion dollar business at 56% than a 2 million dollar business.  But thanks for correcting the wrong use of the term "law of large numbers".  Cheers!