The engineering industry is a place that is home to plenty of start-ups, especially in the embedded systems sector where the applications of this kind of technology are still being uncovered. If you’re an engineering candidate that is currently employed or looking for a job, you’ll probably have considered what the benefits are of working for a start-up in comparison to taking a role with a large organisation.
Both options have a lot of different benefits and drawbacks, and in the end it often comes down to the candidate’s own preference as to which choice suits them best. To help weigh up the pros and cons, in this article we’ve compared working in a start-up vs a corporation and shared our thoughts on what the industry looks like right now.
The Benefits of Working for a Start-Up
One of the key reasons that engineering candidates choose to work for a start-up over a corporation is that the work is likely to be innovative, different and exciting in comparison to what other roles offer them. Start-ups are often formed to develop new products, services or technologies and this presents a brilliant opportunity to be involved in something that has the potential to change your industry.
Another benefit linked to this is that the work you do in a start-up will likely be more challenging and engaging if it’s working towards a unique deliverable. Some engineers really enjoy seeking out new projects that challenge their talents and teach them new ways of working and thinking, so working in a start-up can be preferable if you feel like you’re growing stagnant in your current role.
The learning opportunities that you get as part of a start-up will likely be greater and more varied than those in a typical organisation, as you’ll often be solving new problems and finding solutions that require more lateral thinking. No matter where you are in your engineering career, these opportunities can help develop your skills and really boost your career and future job prospects, often a lot faster than if you were working for a corporation.
Along with learning related to your role, as a member of a start-up you’ll probably learn a lot about starting and running a business just by watching and being a part of the company’s growth. If you have plans to launch your own business one day, this experience can be incredibly valuable and will teach you far more than other resources.
Start-up teams tend to be small, which means that you’ll probably have more responsibility in your role. Again, this can be fantastic for your career development and also presents the opportunity to develop a range of leadership skills that can positively impact your future prospects and other areas of your life.
Finally, if the start-up is successful then being a part of its development and growth can be a massive career boost. Not only will this help you to establish more of a name for yourself in your sector and give you an impressive piece of experience, but it can also make it easier to make other industry connections that may benefit your career and skills development.
The Benefits of Working for a Large Corporation
A key benefit of working as part of a large corporation is that these companies will have a lot more internal structure than a start-up. There will likely be clear departments and lines of communication, your role will be defined before you start, and it will be easier to access benchmarks and targets that help you know how to progress and succeed at your level.
This structure also means that career progression is a lot clearer, which is ideal if you’re just starting out as an engineer. Many large organisations have systems that give you a clear roadmap of how to get promoted or a pay rise, making it easy to understand where you’re going in your role and how you can do better.
Employee benefits tend to be better when you work for a large corporation, as there is the budget to provide staff with things like paid overtime or time off, significant holiday allowance and health insurance. You may also have access to benefits like equipment or training funds, providing you with much more than just your annual salary.
Leading on from that point, you are likely to be paid more if you work for a large corporation instead of a start-up. These businesses are much more financially stable and make a lot more money, so whilst this isn’t always the case, on average you can expect to have a higher salary as part of a big organisation.
When you’re part of a large company, a benefit that might be significant is that it’s easier to maintain an equal work/life balance. With lots of other people in your team or department, the need to work extra hours is reduced and there’s less of an expectation to put in overtime to get tasks done, making it easier to be successful in your role without having to sacrifice your personal life.
The Drawbacks of Working for a Start-Up
One of the benefits that we talked about in working for a start-up is that there are more learning and growth opportunities, but the flipside of this is that you’ll likely have to work a lot harder and overcome more challenges to stay afloat in your role. If you lack experience, this can create a lot of additional work and a steep learning curve to overcome.
With this increase in learning also comes the likelihood that you’ll have to work longer hours as part of a start-up to compensate for being part of a smaller team. This isn’t a universal experience, but when you’re launching a new business there may be an expectation to go the extra mile to meet deadlines and produce deliverables, especially when there aren’t lots of other team members to help you out.
This increased workload can provide a lot of exciting opportunities, but the pressure and stress may also lead to burnout. When working as part of a start-up, you need to prepare yourself for the fact that there will be a lot more at stake with your work and higher expectations to deliver, and this can take a mental and physical toll if you don’t look after yourself at the same time.
There’s a lot more freedom and flexibility as part of a start-up, but this also means that there’s less structure and direction, which can be frustrating and cause problems. For example, you might not have a clear job title or set of responsibilities which makes it harder to know what you should be doing day-to-day. There’s also a lack of clear progression opportunities and likely less chance of regular pay rises, especially in the early stages of the business.
Speaking of finance, a risk you have to accept when working for a start-up is that there is a chance that the business will fail. You have much less financial and job security, so you need to bear this in mind and have a plan for how you’ll cope if you suddenly lose your job.
You should also consider that a start-up might be run by someone without a lot of management and business experience, although this isn’t always the case. This can be frustrating if mistakes are made or citations aren’t handled properly, which might be jarring if you’re coming from a more corporate environment.
The Drawbacks of Working for a Large Corporation
A downside for engineers working for a large corporation is that you may feel that your work is less meaningful and impactful. These companies are sometimes pioneering new ideas and technologies, but your individual impact as a member of a large team may not feel very significant, which can be frustrating or disheartening.
You may also find that the work you’re required to do in a large organisation isn’t as challenging as the opportunities you get in a start-up. If you’re looking to be at the forefront of industry innovation, you might struggle to feel engaged and motivated working as part of a big company.
It can also be easier to feel stagnant in your role when you’re one member of a large team. In businesses of this size, it’s also easier to fall off the radar and miss out on new opportunities, ending up doing the same kinds of tasks every day for years at a time.
If you’re trying to gain industry recognition as an engineer, this can be a lot harder to do when you’re employed by a large corporation. When you get high up in a company this might change, but when you’re starting out in your career it will likely feel a lot harder to make waves and establish yourself as an individual.
Which Should You Work For?
When it comes to deciding what kind of business to work for, that decision really depends on what you’re looking for from your career and what kind of position you’re in currently.
If you want to be part of new and exciting projects that challenge and develop your industry sector, you’re going to have a lot more opportunities to do this as part of a start-up. The work will be a lot harder, but if the start-up is successful then the financial and career benefits could be massive, along with the work you do feeling much more exciting and impactful.
However, it’s worth considering that you’re also more at risk when you’re part of a growing start-up, which means that you’ll need a safety net that will support you if you lose your job, end up working very long hours or leave because you’re not enjoying the experience. Everyone’s personal circumstances will be different, but consider what you might lose and how long it might take to get back on your feet.
In the end, there are plenty of opportunities for engineers in both start-ups and large corporations, with a lot of other opportunities in businesses that lie somewhere on the spectrum between these two kinds of companies. There’s a lot to learn and be enjoyed from both situations, and you’re likely to learn from experience which kind of work environment suits you the best.
Things to Consider in 2023/24
As we look forward to the next two years, it’s sensible to consider the current financial state of the UK and the wider economy and what this might mean for start-ups.
First, bear in mind that companies of all sizes are being affected by rising costs and inflation, meaning that payrolls are being trimmed across a range of sectors and jobs are being lost from start-ups right the way to large organisations. You might feel more secure in a role in a larger company, but being part of a corporation doesn’t make you immune to losing your job if money gets tight.
There was a real boom of start-ups several years ago when plenty of investors had the resources to support businesses as they grew. Many survived and thrived, and it seemed as though start-ups were undoubtedly the place to be working if you wanted to make a name for yourself in the tech industry.
However, with the current economic uncertainty, there’s been a decrease in the amount of funding available for start-up businesses. Investors are now much more risk-averse when considering the increased cost of living and less likely to take a chance on a new business venture, meaning that there are fewer start-up jobs available and those that are hiring face a harder struggle to support themselves in the first few years.
We’ve already covered the benefits and drawbacks of working for a start-up as opposed to a large company, but another factor to throw into the mix is the uncertain state of the economy. Technological advancements mean that there’s a lot of exciting innovation right on the horizon, but there’s also likely to be more financial difficulties on the road to these new developments. New start-ups need talented candidates to get their ideas off the ground, but candidates should go into these opportunities with their eyes open to the potential challenges they’re going to face.
It’s understandable to be hesitant about working for a start-up, especially when you consider the continued economic uncertainty of the coming year. But large corporations aren’t necessarily immune from financial struggles, so the factors you should really consider when making this decision come down to what kind of job experience you want and how much security you need in your role.
If you’re an engineering candidate looking for a job opportunity or are wondering whether you should work with a start-up or large corporation, KO2 can help. Check out our available jobs or get in touch to speak to our team for personalised recruitment advice.