Should Students Work for a Startup?

It does not matter if you are looking to start working while you are still in college or if you have just graduated and are looking for your first employment; in today’s job market, one simply cannot ignore startups as an opportunity.

The sheer number of startups being launched every minute is quite honestly staggering, but it is more than that. Startups offer a unique work environment where the right people can not only find work, but also excel in it, both when it comes to earning a living and learning new things about their industry, the world of business and, to a certain degree, themselves.

Like on most subjects, the opinions are divided on whether it is a good idea to search for a job at a startup. For some people, working for a startup is the worst idea ever, a one-way ticket to job hell. For others, it is the best thing that could happen to someone looking for a job, a bona fide Shangri-La. Those people who have actually spent some time observing the startup culture, and preferably living in it, will most probably tell you that it is actually a mixed bag, like most things in the world are.

Today, we will try and give just the kind of objective overview of the subject, outlining the good and the bad sides of finding employment at a startup and especially how this relates to students and those who have just graduated.

A Degree is not Everything
Unlike with larger, more established companies, when startups are in question, the degree does not really matter that much. This is not saying that it is absolutely worthless, but with startups it is definitely more about practicable skills, actual experience and demonstrable knowledge. People who have not yet graduated will see this as a positive since they will not be valued according to whether they finished school or not. If they can walk the walk, so to say, the paper means very little. One might even say nothing. This article by Dan Woods of CITO Research covers this in much more detail.

The Challenges are Considerable
There is one thing everyone who has ever been associated with any startup in any capacity will agree on – startups are extremely fragile and due to this particular trait of theirs, working for one can be quite a challenge.

In order to understand what kind of environment we are talking about, it is necessary to paint a clear picture of what an average startup looks and feels like from the inside. For one, it is usually launched on a shoestring budget, with means that the money is scarce, to put things bluntly. As a result of this, the number of employees is also limited, necessitating greater demands from everyone.

On top of all that, startups most often lack proper management and problems arising from this are common. As if all of this was not enough, there is also the annoyingly-ever-present and looming prospect of the startup failing.

The end result of all this, as far as employees are concerned, is that the workload is substantial, as are the work hours. Furthermore, employees are often asked to do jobs and complete tasks that they never dreamed would come down to them. A situation when a fortnight’s worth of work has to be completed in three days is nothing uncommon in a startup.

For some people, this highly volatile and fluid situation is just what they were looking for. A work environment where they are put to the test every single day and where they need to learn to swim instantly to avoid drowning is invigorating in the best way possible. They know that they are learning a lot about the industry in the trenches and they are aware of the fact they are becoming true professionals in the most challenging climate possible. They thrive on it.

For others, this is simply too much. They prefer a more gentle start to their career, more forgiving surroundings where mistakes and lapses do not necessarily portend a disaster. They might also be more put off by the excessive work hours and the fact that their role is not precisely defined.

Compensation Can Be Lacking
One of the main considerations to be made when thinking of getting employment at a startup company has to do with the compensation, i.e. the money that one will be making in such a company.

Due to the financial constraints inherent to startup companies, the compensation that the employees can expect will most often not be as large as that which can be expected in an established company. In the vast majority of cases, employees and potential employees, especially the early ones, will be offered other ways of compensation in lieu of receiving full salary. This is usually done in the form of stock options which allow startups to attract top young talent without spending huge amounts of money in the early stages.

Once again, for some people this is not such a huge problem, including students and recent graduates. They may still be living with their parents and in most cases they do not have families to provide for. Salary is not as big an issue for them as for some other people and the concept of getting stock options definitely sounds like a great thing, which it may not be, by the way.

The Bottom Line
Students and graduates definitely should not overlook startups as potential employment options, especially since they fit the description of an attractive startup employee more than most other people. That being said, they should always take stock of their own needs, preferences and skills; as well as of the specific startup before they make any kind of a final decision.

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