Is a start-up or an established tech firm the best career move?

When deciding on your next move in your tech career, start-up vs established tech brand is a common fork in the road. Both options have pros and cons, so it’s essential to consider which environment suits your skills today and those you want to build for the future, and how the opportunity aligns with your career objectives.

Here we explore the similarities and differences to help you decide what’s right for you.

Environment

The start-up world is driven by risk-takers, entrepreneurs who are willing to stick their necks out to take a product or service to market, so it helps to have a creative and curious mind and be open to taking some risks.

You’ll often work closely with the founder/s, so sharing their belief in the product or service’s potential will help you thrive. These companies are usually relatively small in terms of staffing numbers, too, so you’ll have to be comfortable with a wider lane of responsibility and be happy to get involved with frontline work that may or may not be inside your usual remit. This can give you exposure and experience across a much wider variety of tasks and business areas.

Things tend to be quite fast-paced, so you need to be comfortable moving at speed, making decisions quickly and moving forward.

On the other hand, in an established tech brand, you will likely have a narrower scope and be able to really focus on it, honing your skills in the area.

You’ll need to work with a larger group of people, often in cross-functional teams, so communication and the ability to work with a diverse range of personalities are key.

So, if you prefer to get your hands dirty and build skills across the business, a start-up might be well suited, but if you like a narrower lane, an established and larger tech firm will have the additional support you need to focus on your core area.

Career opportunities

Both options offer career opportunities in different ways. At big tech, you’re more likely to have a clear pathway from team member to senior expert to leadership, and the goalposts for each will be more apparent.

In start-ups, the opportunities may be smaller initially as early-stage start-ups tend to be flatter in structure. In saying that, there are often more opportunities to showcase your skills and value to senior leaders or business owners, so you can put yourself in the box seat for newly created jobs as the business grows.

Professional development

In a bigger firm, you’re more likely to find structured development opportunities delivered in-house or have an allocated amount you can spend on external learning and development.

In a start-up, you’ll probably have more opportunities to get involved with different projects and extend your skills on the job.

Salary

Typically, there isn’t a great deal of salary difference between the two. You might start on a higher salary in big tech companies, but there may be more hoops for a pay rise. In small start-up teams, the right people and skills are absolutely critical, so if you show your worth, it may be easier to increase your remuneration – provided, of course, that the funds are there, as finances can be quite tight in the early years.

One other thing to consider is that start-ups, by their very nature, offer less job certainty. Some 90% of start-ups fail. However, if you’re part of a success story from the beginning, the rewards and career advantages can be significant.

So, are you in a position to take a chance and join a fledgling company, or do you need more wage certainty in your life? The answer will really depend on your life stage and priorities.

Is a start-up for you, or are you better placed looking at established tech companies? It’s an individual decision that comes down to your career and life goals, skill set and cultural fit. 

Talk to an expert

It’s one of the ways working with an experienced tech recruiter can help. Lloyd Connect is not in the business of filling jobs; our focus is on building careers and businesses. So, if you’re debating your next move in tech, reach out. We’d love to share our expertise and help you find a role, culture and career opportunity that supports your goals.

About the Author
David Lloyd

David Lloyd

Head of Executive & IT Recruitment
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