Working at a start-up: why it’s good, and why it isn’t for everyone

Startup Graduate Jobs – Is It for You?

There are currently over 5 million businesses in the UK. 99% of these are classed as small or micro-businesses, employing less than 10 people. According to the CIPD Labour Market Outlook, over 60% of employers in the UK are actively looking to hire, and as the economy continues to strengthen, the number of businesses will surely grow, and with it, the number of available roles, particularly at graduate level. What does this mean? Simply put, there are a huge amount of startup graduate jobs – both graduate and entry-level roles in the market. Working at a start-up is very different to a large corporate or a more established business, for a variety of reasons. The purpose of this article is to try and highlight these differences to prospective candidates, so that they may make decisions about where they wish to work in the future on a more informed basis.

The media likes to sensationalise the start-up environment: you’ll ride an alpaca to your meetings and learn to play the kazoo while you’re brainstorming. Everyone sits on ethnically produced beanbags and send their messages via carrier pigeon. It is certainly true that startup graduate jobs can offer certain perks and a different office environment, this shouldn’t disguise the nature of actually working at a start-up company. Start-ups require a level of commitment that you do not often see at larger companies. This is a business that lives and dies on the basis of the work of a few people. If you aren’t pulling your weight, people will know about it, and it will have direct and immediate connotations. Work/life balance is consistently highlighted as an issue working in a start-up environment: there are a lot of late nights, difficult days, and general pressures upon you to get the most out of yourself as possible. This highlights one of the biggest things to recognise about the start-up environment: to be successful there, you need to be fully committed to the cause. For starters, the pay at start-ups is generally markedly lower than the same job at a larger company.  You need to really believe in the product or service that the company offers, as well as your future co-workers’ capacity to deliver it. You have to have a real passion for the mission your company has committed to, whether that be creating a new piece of software to help people do their taxes or brewing beer made from potato peel. Without that passion and willpower, you would struggle to succeed in such an environment.

This links to an important issue for most young graduates. We leave university having only a vague idea of what we want to do going forwards in our lives. A huge part of your early working career is working out what you want to do, and also, equally importantly, what you DON’T want. Your first few jobs can be acid tests for this, isolating responsibilities and companies that you feel that passion for. Therefore, the start-up environment can very quickly be a ‘sink or swim’ sort of deal. If you’re lucky, you’ll click with the brand and the people and have an absolute blast. If not, you’ll know about it pretty quickly. This is why a lot of people join a larger company upon graduation for at least a few years: they gain experience in a stable and more structured environment, working out their passions and strengths, before joining a start-up style company where they can get stuck in from day one.

But don’t despair. While startup graduate jobs can be difficult and hard places to work that place a large demand on their employees, working in such an environment can be a hugely educational experience. As most small companies have a flatter structure, you will be in much more direct contact with more senior people, both internally and externally, and you will have the opportunity not only to learn about the business’ key strategies, but also to influence them and express your opinion on them. As well, it is well-documented that people wear many different hats in a start-up environment. We have touched on the expectation of a strong work ethic, which this obviously links to, but what it also does is give you exposure to many different elements of a company. Not sure what you want to do? In a start-up, it is much easier to have more immediate access to different facets of working life, which would be much rarer in a larger, more established company, where you would have a set role from day one.

The reality of start-ups is that they aren’t for everyone: one person’s pro may be another’s cons. Even if ultimately it isn’t for you, you’ll get a unique experience and hopefully loads of skills to put on your CV.


Find startup graduate jobs today or discover the right talent here with Brightsparks.