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Transitioning from the corporate world to an early-stage startup

October 6, 2018 By: Suthen Siva

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We are starting to see a shift in the private sector: many iconic organizations are restructuring to remain competitive, while startups are growing at unprecedented levels. Despite this shift, job seekers are still hesitant to apply and work at startups. According to MaRS’ Talent Fuels Tech study, this reluctance stems from a general lack of knowledge about startups and limited employer-brand recognition.

When I transitioned from working in the corporate world to working at an early-stage startup, I found it difficult to compare and assess the two opportunities. Today, most people are taught to assess work opportunities based on pay, location, team calibre and the company’s brand. Candidates then spend countless hours trying shape their resumé and cover letter to improve their overall fit for a specific role. Given the nature of startups, I believe that this approach is not effective when assessing startup opportunities.

Benefits of working in the corporate world
The main benefit of working at a large, established company is the opportunity to build a deep understanding of your role and industry. In my corporate work experience, I was fortunate to work on highly visible teams where I gained a first-hand perspective into how leaders make business decisions.

I quickly learned that making decisions requires both business acumen and emotional intelligence. Gaining alignment with key stakeholders is just as important as building a logical plan to solve a problem. A key part of collaborating with other teams is being able to present and defend ideas with senior leaders. These skills are more likely to be developed in a larger organization where people work across multiple layers and functions.

Benefits of working at an early-stage startup
Over the past few months I’ve learned that working at a startup is an extremely deep learning experience. At startups, people have the opportunity to try new things and wear many hats. Obtaining a similar experience at a larger company would take several years and multiple positions, simply because it’s not economically viable for generalists to move between disparate functions. You also learn to experiment at a faster pace at startups, which is generally hard to do at a large company where time is spent gaining alignment and people are less exposed to the end-user impact.

Assessing job opportunities at a startup
The clear difference between working at a startup and working at a larger company necessitates a different way of assessing job opportunities at startups. At a startup, it’s important to understand your potential contribution to the entire business. This requires looking critically at the way the startup works and the overall skill composition of the team. Applicants can do this by:

  • doing informational interviews with people across the organization;
  • job shadowing people you would be working with;
  • seeking referrals from people who have previously worked with the founding team; and
  • building a skills map to understand which skills you will be required to use and adjacent skills you can develop in this role.

Deciding whether to work at a startup or a larger organization is a difficult process. Roles in both types of organizations can be valuable depending on the skills and expertise you’re looking to develop. You should carefully consider the future of work when making your decision, as companies are being forced to act faster than ever before. This makes it imperative for individuals to develop skills and build expertise in areas that have high employability.

Suthen Siva is a former Studio Y Fellow, Cohort 5. To learn more about Suthen, click here for a short bio.

MaRS Talent Development offers specialized programming to talent in the GTA’s tech community. From pre-graduates to senior-level professionals, we engage and support the innovation ecosystem.

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