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Why Startups can be a Perfect Place for Graduates

By Joe O'Brien, on 16 January 2020

Written by Theo Margolius, BSc Economics UCL 2015 & Co-founder of Otta

I didn’t discover how great it was to work for a startup until I moved to work for Nested after 2 years at an investment bank. In this post I explain why you should be considering startups for your first full time job, even though you may have mostly had exposure to large corporates in your research so far.

When I went to a careers event at university in 2014, most companies on the attendee list were established brands with well over 1,000 employees. This makes sense, as universities want to help get all of their students a job and big companies hire the most people. At the same time, large corporations have the time and resources to dedicate to these events (while fast-growing startups are focused on building their company and product). However, just because these firms are the ones you hear the most from, it doesn’t mean they’re the only option.

While graduate schemes at big companies can be good, I strongly believe that going to work for a startup straight out of university can be a great move for lots of people. Here’s why:

  • The growth opportunity is huge compared to corporates. Large corporates are complex machines that need individuals to do very specific jobs for them to function properly. At startups, your role may change and you’re likely to get involved in a wide range of tasks. This gives you more opportunity to learn, explore different parts of the business and develop your skills. At Nested, I saw the company triple in size and moved roles twice within the first 15 months across operations, finance and strategy. Everyone at the company had a good amount of exposure to the CEO, which is unheard of at big corporates
  • You can experience a fresh approach to culture and ways of working. While big corporates are trying to modernise their culture to make themselves more appealing to the next generation of workers, they simply can’t make that shift overnight. At startups you can experience a more flexible approach to work that might suit you better (like working from home on some days)
  • The pay is not always low. There’s a common misconception that jobs at startups are low paid. While it’s true that your pay is unlikely to reach the levels it would at investment banks or consultancies, great startups pay competitively to attract the best talent. While you need to make sure your salary is high enough so that you’re comfortable, I’d argue that the start of your career is not the time to focus on salary and you should be focused on learning as much as you can. As an extra perk, a lot of startups give their employees stock options in the business, which allows you to share in the upside if the company is a success.
  • Our generation wants to be mission driven. You’re more likely to find pleasure from work where you’re having an impact on something that matters to you. You have a lot more chance of finding meaningful work at a startup where you believe in the mission. For example, Flux are trying to get rid of paper receipts and Koru Kids are reinventing childcare options for busy parents
  • There’s no better way to see how to run a business. Joining a small and fast growing company gives you a significantly better overview of how the whole business works and what makes it successful. If you’re thinking of starting your own business early in your career then why not learn how it’s done sooner rather than later?
  • You don’t have to battle with the academic recruiting cycle. Big corporations typically hire for their graduate schemes at the same time of the year, with work on most schemes starting in August/September after you graduate earlier in the summer. On the other hand, startups hire when they need people. This could give you the flexibility to take time off and travel after university then interview with startups when you get back and start shortly afterwards
  • You won’t close doors. It’s unrealistic to expect to find your perfect job from day 1, and you shouldn’t feel like you have to. Your first job should enable you to learn as much as possible, and if it doesn’t quite work out, you’ll still be able to join a graduate scheme in a year’s time

If these points resonate with you then you should consider launching your career at a startup rather than taking the traditional graduate scheme route. It’s worth noting that choosing the right startup is more of a skill than choosing the right graduate scheme, so it’s important to do your research and get to know the company you’re considering working for more deeply.

At Otta, we’re rebuilding job search. Our product is the smartest way to search for entry-level jobs at startups in London. Find your next role at a fast-growing company by visiting our website. If you want to know more, feel free to email me using theo@otta.co

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