Deciding to pursue a position within a start-up can be a nerve-wracking choice. Before you accept an offer, examine the positives and negatives of startup employment. With these issues in mind, you can make a sound decision - oh, and be ready to spend a lot of your time explaining to relatives/friends/strangers just who exactly your company is, and what you do. Repeatedly.
No Job Description
Fond of having a structured role with set tasks and responsibilities? Then working for a start up probably isn't for you.
If, like me, you are walking into an entirely new role, then chances are you will have the opportunity to carve your own position and influence the direction of your internship - you really do receive a great deal of autonomy. Great for those who flourish in a more haphazard environment, but not so good for those who look to organisation and structure to guide their working day.
Learn By Doing
Unlike larger companies, where you may have to endure hours of official training, in the start-up world it's 'sink or swim'. I absolutely love that from the moment you walk in through the doors, you're treated like an integral member of the team and are expected to roll your sleeves up and get your hands dirty.
In a start-up, everyone must pull their weight for the company to succeed, and as an intern you will be no exception to this rule.
Low or No Salary
Young companies are generally unable to offer the same kind of financial package that a large company can, and you'll tend to work harder and get paid less while at a startup compared to your comparable role within a larger company. Of course, this isn't always the case - many start ups offer a competitive internship wage, and many larger companies neglect to pay their interns at all.
It seems the ominous phrase "other duties as required" becomes the norm, and you may find yourself performing duties that are not even close to your expected responsibilities - for example, I have just taken over the role of Office Manager after coming onboard as a Community & Marketing intern. It's all hands on deck, and thus startups offer fantastic opportunities to wear multiple hats and really get to know what it's like to run an organization.
There is a certain energy and determination present in the start-up environment unlike anywhere else I've worked. Startups are almost invariably made up of passionate, excited people who are working there because they truly want to be working there, and it's something special to be a part of that.
Regular office hours? What're they? "Nine to five" is a fiction at most startups. This is really a 'glass half full/empty' situation, because although you may find yourself still sat in the office at 10pm, you are equally as likely to enjoy the prospect of a lie-in on days when you just need that bit extra. Holiday also works on a far less formal, more flexible basis.
Working for a start up also means you'll probably have the opportunity to attend a plethora of events - there's not many people to go around, so even as an intern you will be counted as a crucial part of the team.
Out Of Business Risk
Time for a reality check; an overwhelming number of start-ups will not survive past the first year. Obviously this is a substantial risk, but one which can pay off far beyond what you might expect, but can also leave you updating your CV and trawling the internet for vacancies within a breathtakingly short time.
Wealth Of Experience but Less Specialisation
Though you may not be pulling in the big bucks yet, working at a start up is valuable in another way; your hands-on, multi-functional experience will be a real asset for your long-term professional growth.
However, one thing I've certainly found is that you may experience some frustration when it comes to honing specific skills - when you're doing a billion and one different things, it's difficult to become the marketing/sales/engineering/consulting/etc guru you expected.
Friends, not Colleagues
The nature of a startup means you will continually be meeting new people and building relationships - and you'll grow to see many of your colleagues as friends.
It can be frustrating being a little fish in a big pond, and start up culture, generally, removes many of the hierarchical barriers experienced in larger companies. For example, when the CEO of 10gen came over from California, he ensured that he and I had an in-depth one-to-one; probably a very unlikely situation in larger companies.
I also have the chance to travel a lot more than I might otherwise - during my internship so far I have been lucky enough to take business trips to places such as Aarhus and even Miami. Being part of a smaller team means playing a bigger role.
The dedication seen at startups comes hand in hand with the need to curate an enjoyable environment, and an attempt to cultivate a healthy company culture (read more about that here). It's the little things that make life worthwhile, and in 10gen those include jeans, popcorn, beer, and office juggling competitions.
The exhilaration of being part of a successful startup produces pride and a sense of accomplishment that is extraordinary. You will never regret the long hours, hard work and smaller paycheque.