It wasn’t too long ago that companies like Airbnb, Uber, Square and Snapchat didn’t even exist. Now they’re shaping the world. As startups pop up with dreams of disrupting the way we live and older companies try to revolutionize their businesses to stay on top of fast-moving trends, fresh college graduates face a tough choice: join a startup or head for an established company?
Startups can offer a fast-paced environment with lots of hands-on opportunities, and older companies can provide new employees a look into what years of experience can teach someone. When looking for their first job, new grads have a lot to consider, including benefits, stability and what they want to take away from the experience.
Adweek spoke with two startup veterans about their time on both sides of the corporate spectrum to see what’s important to keep in mind when making that decision.
Your first job should be about learning
Dollar Shave Club CMO Adam Weber faced his own decision shortly after he graduated—help build a startup or join a larger, more established company. “I was going to join the startup until my father pulled me aside to give me some advice,” said Weber. “He said, ‘You’d be an idiot to take that job.'”
Weber’s father, and now Weber himself, saw the value of starting his career with a large company rather than jumping into a potentially risky situation.
“The beginning of your career should be all about learning,” Weber said. “If you learn from the best individuals and the best companies, any startup will want you. If a company can provide you the opportunity to become a sponge, you should take it.”
According to Steve Loguidice, BuzzFeed’s svp of global brand development who joined BuzzFeed in its infancy as its 18th (or so) employee and one of its first salespeople, the right startups can pay off with valuable experience and guidance, if you do your homework.
“A lot of startups are actually started by people who’ve started other businesses that have been successful,” Loguidice said. “Joining a new company like that means you can learn from great, smart people.”
Check your expectations before joining a startup
Weber now works for one of the most successful startups in the world, Dollar Shave Club, which Unilever acquired in 2016 for $1 billion. When you consider that around 90 percent of startups fail within their first couple of years, survival is no small feat.
If you’re joining a startup still in its early stages of development, Weber suggests you’ll need to be more of an athlete than an expert.
“You can go from one exercise to the next with ease, and you can be successful whether or not you’ve done it before,” he said. “No matter at what point you join a startup, it’s critical to be coachable and willing to learn.”
Before joining an up-and-coming company, check your expectations.
“If you join a startup thinking it’s going to be the next Snapchat and will go IPO tomorrow, you’re in for a rude awakening,” said Loguidice. “You should walk in wanting to get behind whatever their idea is and wherever it is going.”
On a day-to-day basis, your responsibilities at work can change, so “you have to have that agility and adaptability to succeed in that environment,” Weber said. “There’s no real playbook to follow.”
Many new grads may not know initially what field they want to work in, and startups can provide an opportunity for “people who have entrepreneurial passion and want to wear multiple hats,” said Weber.
“With startups, the idea is that the sky is the limit,” Loguidice said. “You hold your own destiny. Go into the experience wanting to be a businessperson, wanting to help build a business, then you can go anywhere after this job.”
The benefits aren’t as important
Weber suggests folks not getting distracted by the shiny offers newer companies often dangle in front of younger employees.
“When you’re about to graduate, you should definitely pause to measure the risk versus reward,” said Weber. “There’s danger in evaluating your choice based on the perks, benefits or vacation days a startup can offer.”
While benefits are sometimes considered “perks” of a job, a recent MetLife study on the feelings of millennials and their employers in relation to benefits showed that companies with a higher rate of millennial employees are planning to increase their benefits offering.
The study also breaks down the different types of benefits that might attract different types of millennials, or employees in general. The more diverse a mix of benefits a company can offer, the more likely its employees will remain loyal to the company. However, this doesn’t include frozen yogurt machines, cool chairs or access to hoverboards as some startups have stereotypically come to be known by.
“Our parents’ vision of what a job should be is very different from ours,” said Loguidice. “To them, you get a job, stay there for 30 years, get married, buy a house, then retire. But these days, people in the middle of their careers in television or magazines, for example, are being uprooted by people 10 years younger and with half the experience, because they are crushing them in digital. Every job has risks.”
“Evaluate your options based on the people,” said Weber. “Can you learn from them? Will they guide the company in the right direction while empowering the organization? What makes a good work culture aren’t the benefits—it’s the people.”
“There are a ton of ways a startup can fail,” said Loguidice, “but the experience you get in those eight months or year is worth the risk.”