What are the tradeoffs between working with a startup versus joining a big company? A lot of young professionals find themselves asking this question either when they are looking to start their career or make their next move. Working for either a big corporation or a startup is, after all, a personal decision that should be made based on which will provide the right foundation for learning and open more career opportunities in the future. Recent graduates and other young professionals seem to be more attracted to startups and sure, it’s kind of cool to work in a small dynamic work environment.
Young professionals at Philips, Nia Michael, a US-based Clinical Analytics Software Validation and Usability Engineer, and Anna Okuneva, a Netherlands-based Strategic Business Analyst, having worked on both sides of the house shed some light on why they sought out roles at a big corporation.
Become an expert but also learn beyond your field of expertise
Nia: “At a startup you wear many hats, increasing your breadth of knowledge in other areas but making it difficult to become a subject matter expert. Whereas working for a big corporation provides the opportunity to develop both depth and breadth, or “T-shaped” skills.”
The vertical bar on the T represents the depth of related skills and expertise in an area of work, technology, or process. The horizontal bar is the ability to collaborate across disciplines with experts in other areas.
Anna: “I was part of startup that created an investment platform. I supported the team on all fronts except for the actual software development. In a big corporation such as Philips, I found, I have more focused responsibilities. This empowers me to become an expert in my field. However, I feel there is still so much opportunity to enrich my learning to a wider range of skills beyond my expertise. For example, I can take on non-project related responsibilities such as participation in the investment and alliance committee. I can collaborate with experts in other disciplines throughout the company, join various communities and use the knowledge gained from this collaboration.”
There are a lot of growth opportunities (both vertically and horizontally)
Nia: “A startup will generally focus on launching a single product while big companies tend to foster the development of many products. This means lots of jobs and lots of opportunities for growth and exposure.
Also, big corporations have the resources to invest in people through education, skill development, and career assistance programs, aligning the individual’s personal career goals with positions they would like to work towards within the company. Not only is there oversight to other positions, but within Philips I get the opportunity to learn new technologies and explore other products as well. Through Philips, I’ve taken various trainings and received professional board certifications of topics relating to my current and future career path. In just a year and a half, I’ve been promoted from a software test engineer in patient monitoring to the software test lead in analytics. Recently, I was promoted again to my current position leading the validation and usability engineering activities for 6 of our software analytics products and I know there will be even more opportunities on the horizon.”
Anna: “Nine out of ten startups fail and so, your growth opportunities in a startup really depend on the success of that startup. That said, due to typically smaller teams in startups, it’s easier to get recognized and promoted if the startup is doing well. On the flipside, at a big corporation you are given time to train, results can be gradual and there are already honored procedures and structures in place for growth. In both the startup and corporation there are opportunities to grow vertically but in many corporations there are also lots of horizontal growth opportunities so you can get a taste of roles in different fields, while maintaining the same level of focus. You get to see and experience different departments and teams and get a wide perspective of the facets of business.”
You can often make a bigger contribution in the scheme of things
Nia: “A big corporation is likely to have brand recognition with an existing, loyal customer base. With a strong customer base in place, the turnover time is much quicker from when you are working on either an existing application or building something new to a customer using the product. Before I started working at Philips, I worked in a hospital as a Clinical Engineer and was responsible for the equipment lifecycle and procurement of medical technology. Philips was a favorite amongst our clinical and technical staff. It was this recognition and sense of value that really sparked my interest in working at Philips.
I find it exciting that, with my prior experience, I get the chance to be very entrepreneurial, pitch my ideas, and help innovate in ways that makes my individual impact so much bigger and even more fulfilling. Since working on our products, I’ve had the opportunity to visit various customer sites and observe the customers interacting with the technology I helped build. It’s such a rewarding experience to see what you work on day in and day out being used to make a positive impact.”
Anna: “It’s great to work for a company that wants to, and can, positively impact society. Our goal of improving the lives of 3 billion people a year by 2030 is inspiring and I can relate to this because healthcare affects all of us. However, no single person has a huge influence on outcomes, usually an entire team working together will influence the company’s success.
At a startup, you could very possibly be the only person working on a project that goes directly to the customer. Having said that, I am currently involved in projects with emerging businesses within Philips to develop products and solutions that can improve the lives of millions of patients. These projects are typically smaller, with direct contact and collaboration with end-users. So, within this scope, I don’t feel that being in a big corporation impedes the impact I am able to drive. Your sense of contribution really depends on the work, the stakeholder and can vary from project to project.”
A healthy work-life balance
Nia: “A healthy work-life balance is important for personal health and well-being, but it is also a positive contributor to your work performance. I find that the work-life balance is easier to maintain in a big corporation like Philips because the work schedule tends to be more structured and predictable. It’s also recognized and championed by the company as important to look after yourself and enjoy life inside and outside of Philips. Working in a startup, the hours were less structured and there were lots of odd hours, late nights, and working on weekends. Most days now when I leave work, work stays at work. Ican enjoy weekday outings in Boston with friends and weekend hiking and beach getaways without stress.
Anna: “I have experienced a healthy work-life balance in both a startup and a corporation. Inevitably there weren’t so many established policies in the startup and we needed to agree on some ground rules as a team. At Philips, we have established policies and we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. In the startup, I worked longer than average hours compared to a corporation, however I’ve found flexibility in both environments. Last week for example at Philips, I worked Friday and Monday from Moscow to spend that much needed quality time with my family over the weekend.”
Mentoring and direction from experienced management
Nia: “Just as with starting any new job, or new position within a company there is often going to be a steep learning curve. Having experienced and inspiring mentors in place makes it possible to get up to speed, contribute, and feel valued more quickly. The willingness and accessibility of this expertise has allowed me to build strong relationships with my mentors and seek their advice often.
Anna: “When I was in the startup I had to learn things on my own. You’re thrown into the deep end. If the sink or swim attitude doesn’t intimidate you it can be a great way to quickly gain valuable skills. At Philips, you can leverage a lot from other people and if you make the effort you can reach out to people with all kinds of knowledge and experience. From my experience, everybody is very happy to share their expertise and knowledge. Even if you don’t want to reach out to someone there are a lot of learnings in our online systems such as Philips University or other internal sites or events. In a startup you learn by doing but in a corporation you can have a head start and learn how it is done well.”
Great benefits and corporate packages
Nia: “There’s no denying the lure of a great benefits package. From health insurance, 401K, paid vacation, sick leave, performance bonuses, tuition assistance and stock purchase programs to company picnics, outdoor activities, discounts, and fitness classes, big corporations can offer long-term financial stability, peace of mind, and an atmosphere that fosters good employee relations. While startups generally may not be able to offer such benefits, they tend to offer more quirky perks and employees may be able to reap the rewards of success if the company does well.”
Anna: “Startups are working to get funding, which means money is often tight, and they can’t afford to pay employees the same salaries you might find at big corporations. These benefits are often different country by country, regardless, the benefits for working for a big corporation do tend to be pretty good. For example, Philips assists you with attaining the 30% tax ruling for expats in the Netherlands, there’s paid vacation (including additional days you can buy), maternity and paternity leave, sick leave, flexible working, performance bonuses, relocation package, e-miles (which you can exchange for workshops, coaching, seminars, and webinars), a pension contribution and a sense of having a lot of peers which I didn’t have in the startup.”
Make an informed decision
Tally up the pros and cons of each type of working environment to decide what makes the most sense for you. If you’re like Nia or Anna and have an interest in exploring health tech opportunities, check out Philips’ career website to get a glimpse of what it’s like to work for a leading health tech company.