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CEO to CEO: Taking a Job at a Startup vs. a Public Company

It is true that there are some major differences between startups and established, public companies, but which type of organization is better is a personal preference.

Before making your next career move, consider typical cultural norms and differences in working environments:

1) Less Defined Roles/Responsibilities: Startups have many needs and are usually short-staffed, so be ready to multitask. At a larger, public company, you can expect your job description and responsibilities to be more clearly defined.

2) Long Hours: Traditionally, hours are long at startups, and even though the start times might be later, the nights are longer. Weekends are not unheard of and before a deliverable anything goes (including all-nighters).

3) Benefits: Most startups are launched on tight budgets, so benefits tend to be lean. It is important to realize most standard benefits only cover basic medical coverage for the employee, and additional family members tend to be out-of-pocket. Company size also plays a part in the richness of the company’s benefit plan; more employees mean more negotiating power with insurance providers.

4) First Day: At a startup, you are expected to be productive from the start and there really is no learning curve. You’ll have to pick things up very quickly, without a great deal of instruction. Public companies tend to hire people who have already occupied their roles at a competitor because they can afford to, and the first day will probably be spent with the HR department.

5) Dress Code: Most startups have a certain culture or image they are looking to project and employees are free to, and sometimes even encouraged to, express themselves. Sandals, t-Shirts, jeans, hats, hair and even hygiene are almost all fair game. If you want to see something from Brooks Brothers, your best bet is to visit 44th and Madison.

6) Culture: Culture at a startup in three words: young, culty and clichy. When you spend long hours, nights and weekends with the same people, as most at startups do, the culture becomes similar. This work hard/play hard culture is very prevalent and impacts hires. Also, most hires at a startup are referrals or friends of the founders. For example, at Facebook, the oldest Executive is 42 and the youngest Executive is Mark Zuckerbergat 27, so it would appear many original Facebook employees were young like their founders, and probably shared the same values. Typically, older people have certain family obligations which may prohibit them from spending endless days and nights at the office and late nights out discussing the company. Public companies are under more legal pressure to have a more diverse work force and due to their size, the culture is bound to be more diverse.

7) Get Rich with Options: Buy-out or IPO, either way, many people just want to cash out. Almost all professionals today remember the .Com days of companies going public and creating overnight millionaires. This is a major reason why people consider working for a startup.

8) Pets and Frills: Perks such as pets, foosball tables, beer and candy are typically found all over startups. The idea behind this is to load the employees up with caffeine, sugar and entertainment, in the hopes that they work longer hours. Public companies are more likely to have formal cafeterias where employees can collaborate, too (just without the animals).

9) Lower Salaries: If a startup only has a limited budget for a certain number of hires, getting top-dollar for every position is going to be difficult. Public companies are often cash rich and win bidding wars on talent. Salaries pay the bills, and if you are married with kids, try explaining to your spouse that you are going to take a significant pay cut because you believe in an idea for a company.

10) Office Locations: Forget about 9 West 57th Street, hello Regus and other temporary office space, incubators or Brooklyn!

11) Manic Boss: Startups can be very stressful and the founders might have great ideas, but their management skills are often behind their vision…and you can forget about talking to a Human Resources department!

12) Privacy: If you want to make a private call, your options include the bathroom or outside. Space is limited and there are usually two employees per desk. You might be able to search more Internet sites at a startup because many public companies now have restrictions.

Whether the goal of your next career move is to work for a startup or a public company, when interviewing, it is important to ask about company culture in addition to responsibilities. This will help you decide if the job is the right fit.

Michael Dsupin is CEO and Founder of Talener. Founded in 2007, Talener specializes in information technology staffing of temporary, project and full-time job candidates for top employers ranging from Fortune 500 companies to emerging start-ups, headquartered in New York with offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles.


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