Coaching & Leadership

Young Potential Going for the Top? The Corporate vs Startup Ladder.

Arne Van Damme

COO at intuo

Every talented person is young, ambitious and a tad naïve at the beginning of their career. Often, freshly graduated business-(wo)men-to-be choose for the thing they know best: go through the belly of the beast and work their way up some well-defined corporate ladder. (If only you could work for the likes of Jordan Belfort, right?). I agree that success, however you define it, is worth pursuing from the get go: life’s too short to waste on work that’s only promising you things in the long run. For young people, climbing up the corporate ladder is the safe and obvious bet, but not the best.

The way I (and Maslow, if you interpret it freely) see it, there are 4 things that could define career success for you: Security, being able to develop yourself (= being challenged), recognition (your ego) and the social aspect of your job. The first one, security, is the reason that many young people want to work for an established company. But, and this is where I make my case, the other three are much harder and slower to obtain in that kind of environment. Not impossible, but harder.

Let me put every one of those four into perspective.

  1. Recognition (a.k.a. Your Ego)

    Of course, everyone likes being recognised for work. But for some people, being known for being good is what keeps them going at work. Provided they can align their personality with the goals and vision of the company, these people will be a lot happier in a small fast growing startup at the start of their career. For example, one of my colleagues did a really good job of getting Mobile Vikings started with our platform. This was not only recognised company-wide, but it was also turned into an example case for future customers. From now on she’s the one on-boarding the customers. Not only great news for our customers, but her confidence has taken a major boost and it shows in all her work.

  2. The Continuous Challenge

    For some people, being able to develop yourself and continuously being challenged is the most important key factor for success. I tend to focus on one particular skill I would like to master. Then I focus on honing that skill for about 6 to 18 months. In my previous, more corporate, job, that skill was selected for me. There was little to no way of changing my personal growth direction fast. In my current function, I got to choose it myself. I’ve been working very hard on Go-To-Market and Sales strategies for the last six months. And it paid off, since then we’ve expanded the team with 5 new sales & marketing people. Which means that now I can and will have to focus on my management skills to get them going! So you see, there is always something new to learn, always a new challenge to tackle. And an environment that agrees with that, is an environment I like to spend my days in.

    "How do I make my company attractive for young potential?"
  3. The Social Aspect of My Job

    There’s a small distinction to be made when it comes to the "social aspect". There are those that have given up on having an engaging job and go to work mostly for the awesome colleagues, and then you have the people that need a sense of belonging and a lot of social interaction while performing the job they like doing. The latter is what you want, and is usually the case in a startup since you’re working in a small group towards a mutual goal. I can guarantee that you’re likely to quickly become friends with everyone (including the managers/founders) In a bigger, more rigid, company there is a lot of need to organise social events to get to know each other. Of course, they do their job well and many coworker relations will turn into friendship as well. But once again, it might take more time and effort.

  4. Job Security

    There’s one category that’s worse off when working for a startup and that’s those who are looking for job security and clearly defined tasks every day. Every day will be different and challenging, so it’s definitely not for everyone. In a startup there's a feeling that you have to earn that security, usually by working hard and late for a couple of years. True in a lot of cases, but certainly not all. It depends greatly on the kind of business you're in and how experienced the people around you are. Then again, because the market for a lot of industries is changing rapidly, there's no real guarantee that a bigger company is automatically a safer bet.

So what's the takeaway here? Should everybody quit their job and join a startup? No, of course not. First of all, the goal of the majority of startups is to become as big and established as the big mammoths. So it would be rather ironic to make that statement. The real challenge here is to take that what makes a startup so exciting and attractive and keep it alive during the many years of growth. This is the challenge that a lot of companies are dealing with nowadays.

It requires that "agile mindset", which takes people's drive and own ambitions into account. You need the ability to give challenges when they are wanted, or easily recognise efforts when they are made. Have people work in teams and let them help out each other. This kind of social interaction leads to trust and honesty between coworkers and might lead to everlasting friendships along the way. If you can maintain this sort of work environment while growing and scaling up, you'll have both the security of an established enterprise and the likeable features of a startup, all in one big awesome organisation. And isn't that exactly what young potential is looking for?

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