We get it – picturing yourself working for a tech giant like Google, Amazon, or Meta is a dream for many newcomers in tech. But according to Practicum’s Career Team, it does not have to be your first move. There is hidden potential in smaller companies, particularly start-ups! Read along to dive into the benefits of working for a start-up and get help deciding which path is best for you.
Big Tech vs. Start-ups
There are many types of tech companies. Big corporations are better known, as they provide software solutions for your daily life, run your computer’s operating system, help you chat with friends, and deliver your online orders. They also hire specialists for entry-level positions, so working for a Big Tech company isn’t a far-fetched idea.
However, even junior positions at Big Tech companies almost always imply three to five years of comprehensive experience. Landing a job at a well-known corporation may require more than just a resume and a cover letter. Some steps, like a network and solid portfolio, may take a while to acquire. So aiming for Big Tech is an excellent plan if you already have an ongoing mid-level position.
“Some students think that they can just walk into a Big Tech company right away. But we try to manage that expectation,” shares Ana Mineeva, Practicum Career Product Lead. “Surely if they truly want to work for Big Tech, they will do it. But [to] start, it may also [be] interesting and worthwhile to focus on something smaller.”
Unlike big corporations, start-ups are usually small companies with a flat structure and an inspiring mission. They strive to find the right team member to match their vibe and bring value. The main business target for a start-up is to find its market and then scale. So being part of that journey can give you loads of insight and experience outside of the technical field.
“Meta and Google seem very attractive to work for. But there are also start-ups, mid-sized tech companies, and even non-tech businesses, [that] have roles for you,” adds Ana. “In smaller businesses, you can grow your expertise faster by working on a bigger part of a product and being responsible for more things. In a big company, it may be they trust you to keep an eye on a few buttons. Therefore, your work outcomes will be more visible in start-ups or mid-sized tech companies. [This] will create valuable assets for your experience and future resume. Finally, flexibility is something that most smaller companies can offer. If this is an important factor for you, then big tech may be not your cup of tea.” Ana also noticed that the number of students who want to work for Facebook has decreased over the past year. It can seem that students’ expectations are becoming more refined.
The value of start-ups
If you are still not convinced that working for a start-up may be better than “the big leagues”, here are a few more selling points for you to ponder.
Flexibility vs. compensation
You can expect more flexibility in a start-up. Bigger companies might have strict policies, on-site work only, and solid deadlines to align. So, clocking out late on a Friday night would not be a rare occasion.
Compared to that, mid-sized companies and start-ups are more flexible in their employees' work conditions and hours. It’s not uncommon for teams to work remotely and in different time zones. Although the median salaries for such entities are lower than in Big Tech, you can still feel the bliss of being in control of your time.
(You can also negotiate your role if you feel the responsibilities are a bit out of your range!)
Predictability vs. spontaneity
For a starting position, it’s essential to expect stability and predictability in your workflow. Only established companies can give you that, regardless of the size. Start-ups are often comprised of a vortex of changes as product roadmaps are written and adjusted on the fly. A company can be small, but your role will be determined if you have already spent some time on the market. The good thing is that “seed-stage” start-ups typically don’t hire junior positions, so it will be hard to mistarget.
“Start-ups hire a bit more experienced developers because they need you to work immediately,” shares Dom Vidovic, Senior Front End Developer. “Go to an established company, learn as much as possible, and then you will capitalize on that knowledge. I worked for established agencies for the first three years, then joined a cool start-up. You do so many things. And since there are not so many people [there], you get way higher privileges.”
Growth vs. depth
In a big company, chances are you can become an expert in a niche area. But how scalable is that, and how quickly will you be able to get a job after leaving that company? Start-ups expect you to jump into different parts of the process, but the better you are in that, the more proficient you become in how tech products work.
“My first internship was at a start-up,” says Zyad Elgohary, Full Stack Software Engineer at Verkada. “The start-up field is nice because you can wear many hats, but it may be chaotic. [...] The issue with a big company is that you’ll go into [a role and you’ll stay there for some time.] If you go to Amazon or Google, you’ll be on a specific team, developing [specialized knowledge in one area]. In the start-up field, in my experience, you get to touch on all different areas of the stack, which is nice.”
Where to search for work
Some companies put sufficient effort into marketing, but start-ups may have a reduced budget for promoting their open positions. In this case, you must invest more effort into the job search. Here are some resources we recommend to our students and graduates.
LinkedIn. A recruiter platform that verifies most companies posting job offers. The information about the company is transparent. You can follow their page and contact current employees or the hiring manager via InMail. With paid access, you can also check helpful insights about the job, like desired skills or geography of applicants. You can also showcase your skills by passing quizzes, and seeing which jobs you are the top applicant for.
Dice. This recruiting platform specializes in job offers in tech. You can fill in your profile, wait for recruiters to contact you, or search for jobs in remote, hybrid, and on-site conditions. This website is known for posting offers for experienced specialists with good pay. Some offers will come under a W2 contract, as this involves an indirect hire by a staffing agency.
Upwork. It is hard to miss this platform when looking for a job. Upwork takes care of the legal side, generates invoices, and provides secure contracts between clients and freelancers, and it may seem like an easy and lucrative way to kick off your career. However, our career team warns: jumping into Upwork right after graduation might be not the best choice. Freelancing rarely gives a recent graduate solid experience. And offering services with a lack of experience may result in spoiling your professional image.
Verifying the company
How do you know if you can trust the company? Mid-sized entities and start-ups tend to be more obscure about hiring policies and attitudes. Certain notorious risks are associated with start-ups based on their limited budgets and demanding environment. However, there is no proven correlation between the size of a company and its security for employees. You should research before accepting the offer or even arriving for an interview.
- Check the company’s social pages, how they communicate with others, and, most importantly, clients. A careless attitude or conversations left without a response is a marker of something going wrong there.
- Look up websites of honest employee reviews. Sites like Glassdoor, Indeed, and Comparably offer access to profiles of companies and reviews of former employees. You may also just want to put a simple query on Google in the form of “Company_name Reviews.”
- If the company is too small or lacks direct information online, look up the founder. The person who responded to your application can be the executive manager or even the company's founder. Check their social profiles and the way they post and comment. Are you going to be comfortable working with this person most of the time of your day?
- Check the product. Some people prefer to start with this step. It’s hard to know what’s happening behind closed doors, but at least you can judge the front cover. Great products are always done by great people!
- Review the contract. Never work without a contract, NDA, or another legal paper, be it a service agreement written on a napkin. (We know you won’t do that; it’s just a reminder!) Ask questions if any clause seems ambiguous. Don’t start working before the papers are signed by both parties.
If you want personalized support during your job search and hire, enroll in a Practicum bootcamp and rely on the Career Team. Our Career Prep Program is available for all current students. You’ll get to know the best tips on how to fill in your portfolio and resume, network and choose companies, write cover letters, and more! Still need career support after graduation? In that case, you can participate in Career Acceleration, where a career coach will guide you in getting the best offer with your experience and profile.