Lessons I learned When Asking Where the Grass is Greener: Startups or Large Companies


As graduation approaches, I find myself drawn to career opportunities in the Bay Area. Starting my career in any city can be intimidating, but especially in the Bay Area for socioeconomic reasons. I am also intimidated by the sheer significance of the big brand-name companies that I admire and aim to work for. I worry that I won’t be ready when I finally secure an interview with a dream company.

To combat these concerns, I reached out to some contacts who are local professionals in the Bay Area, in hopes that they could share some advice for students like me on how to set myself up for success.

I interviewed two hard-working ladies whom I admire greatly, Sarah (Customer Insights / Ad Measurement at Google) and Maribel (SSU Primitivo Grad, TV App Partner Relations Production at Apple) and asked them my most pressing questions:

  1. How did they choose between working for a startup or a more established company?

  2. What sort of skills would they recommend honing before jumping into the job market?

  3. What is the biggest piece of advice they would give to anyone just starting out in the Bay Area?

Startup Pros (+):

  • Social

  • WORK-HARD-play-hard

  • Wear multiple hats

  • Opportunity to grow quickly

  • Surrounded by gritty hard working people

  • Potential to win big if the company is successful

  • “Free food”

Startup Cons (-):

  • Unmanaged egos

  • Burnout

  • Less accountability

  • Unexperienced management

  • Lower salaries sometimes

  • More work per person

  • Less work/life balance

  • Possibility that the company doesn’t succeed like you’re sold it would

  • Less process

Corporate / Tech Giants Pros (+):

  • Accountability

  • Career paths

  • Stability

  • Surrounded by smart people

  • Better work life balance

  • Benefits

  • Process

  • Bigger name clients

  • Less risk

Corporate /Tech Giant Cons:

  • Can feel less exciting

  • Have less of an impact

  • Little fish in a huge pond

  • Less growth on stock value

2: What sort of skills would you recommend honing before jumping into the job market?

S: You’ve spent years honing your communication skills, ability to meet deadlines, be accountable, show up on time, and commit to your teammates. Work is the same.

M: I stressed about this a lot, and most of the skills you’ll need you’ll actually learn on the job. But some skills you should have coming in are: good communication skills, being flexible/adaptable, and especially taking strong initiative in completing your tasks. You’ll need to be able to take initiative in figuring out how to do things you’re unsure of, as well as find new ways to complete your work more effectively & efficiently.

Don’t undersell yourself! Know the skills you bring to the table, and don’t be afraid to apply for jobs even if you don’t have all the ‘required’ qualifications listed. Don’t let that deter you from applying, because most of the time half of the skills they want you may have, and the other half you will learn on the job.

3: What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to anyone just starting out in the Bay Area?

S: I’d recommend developing a job search plan and giving your plan a chance to succeed. There are hiring cycles, so stick with it. If you need to get a side job to pay the bills while you search, go for it. But keep your focus on your end goal, which is to get a full time job in a company that can provide you career growth! What matters most is what type of culture you will thrive in. I started at a small startup (~30 employees) and then ended up moving on to a corporate company where there were thousands of other research managers doing the same job across the globe. There are benefits to both sides.

M: I’d say consider job perks/benefits, but don’t let them be the ultimate decision factor. Focus on determining the job culture and whether it’s a good fit for you. For example, will your ideas be heard? Does the role give you some flexibility in defining/adapting it? If it’s a tech company dealing with products, you have to have some passion for the products (or services in general).

.

After talking with these two, I was super inspired to examine my career skills and what aspects of my past work experiences I enjoyed most. During my time at Primitivo PR alone, I’ve had the chance to explore multiple facets of communications, including branding, ad copywriting, copy editing, graphic design, social media strategizing, event planning, and more. In fact, one of the best benefits of starting out in a small company is that you are more easily able to try on many hats at once, and explore variations of careers within your field-of-interest to get a better idea of what to look for in a company.

Based on my experiences so far, I’m leaning toward working for a smaller local business or a start up. It is important to me to have some artistic freedom in my work, and in a smaller space I think I would be better heard.

I hope that these answers were as helpful in inspiring career reflection for you as they were for me!


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