Michele Mavi

Start-ups are exciting! There's no doubt that joining a project at the beginning, watching it grow and feeling like a part of something are all exhilarating. Few professional experiences compare. But how do you know if working at a start-up is right for you?  Here are some of the pros and cons to help you put things in perspective. Of course, seeing something as a pro or a con is entirely personal, so as you read each point, determine which side of the spectrum you land on.

1. You get to wear many hats.

Pro: If you’re someone who enjoys having your hand in multiple areas of the business or you’re not exactly sure where you want to focus your career, start-ups allow for great exposure to a wide variety of career paths.

Con: Those who enjoy working in one specialized function and prefer they remain isolated from other departments would do best to steer clear of start-ups that demand departmental interconnectivity to ensure success.

2. There is a less structured environment.

Pro: Of course, many of us cringe at the thought of anything becoming routine. Start-ups are dynamic workplaces where things are constantly in flux and there is something new to learn every day.  As the business grows, you're faced with more new challenges.

Con: This may sound great to many people, but there are some who prefer routines and predictability. For those who need structure, start-ups may not be the best environment. You may opt for a much more corporate and formalized setting instead.

3. It can be an all-consuming experience

Pro: If you’re just starting out in your career and don’t have many personal demands on your time, becoming consumed by the work (like many start-ups require) can be exciting. You'll work with people who may become your best friends, especially since you'll be spending long days and nights to achieve a common goal; it can feel like you're part of a fraternity. 

Con: If you’ve reached a point in your life where you’ve become comfortable with your work-life balance and that balance matters to you, a start-up may not be the best environment.

4. It can come with a big pay day... but then again, it might not.

Pro: Sure, the possibility of the company going public and you getting to cash in your stock options is there. Being one of the first employees at a start-up comes with the potential for serious financial gain. If you’ve got a personality that gravitates towards risk and you’re not the type to play it safe, go for it.

Con: It’s a false assumption that all start-ups pay huge salaries, so while you may be waiting for that potential windfall (should you be lucky enough to make it to an IPO), you may actually be asked to take a pay cut in exchange for your stock options — which may or may not amount to anything. If you need upfront financial security, make sure you look at the numbers before accepting any job offer. 

5. You can choose between longevity and experience.

Pro: While you can’t be sure the company will be around next year, you can be sure you’ll learn a lot and have a unique experience that could serve as the foundation of a great career elsewhere. This will depend on where you are in your career and what risks you’re willing to take. Entry-level and mid-level professionals may be better suited for the job security risks involved, as they may already have a financial security blanket.

Con: You can argue that there is no job security anywhere these days, but working at a start-up requires you to put a lot on the line. I was approached by a start-up a few years ago, but a year after  — the company closed its doors. I’m very glad I decided not to make the move! For every start-up that succeeds, there are hundreds that fail. Be honest with yourself about your risk tolerance and what you can handle.

Deciding to work in a start-up comes down to an exercise in risk versus reward. You need to know what you can tolerate and what motivates you. Once you’ve honestly assessed these things, you’ll be able to make the right decision for you when the time comes.


Michele Mavi has nearly 15 years of experience as a recruiter, interview coach, and resume writer. She is Atrium Staffing’s resident career expert, as well as director of internal recruiting and content development. She also founded Angel Films, a division of Atrium Staffing focused on the creation of recruiting and training videos.