As my MSc International Management course at King’s College London (KCL) neared its inevitable conclusion, there seemed to be one topic of conversation that dominated the hallways — and it wasn’t ‘how many words are you into your dissertation?’ Nope, the question that was on everyone’s lips was an equally as depressing one, ‘have you found a job yet?’
Well, for most of us the answer to this question was quite simple really, ‘no’. Not only did we have our dissertation hand-in dates looming over us, but we were also racing against the clock to ensure that once we had graduated from King’s, we would not only have a degree from an internationally recognized university but that we would also have a job to look forward too.
Now, to those readers who perhaps graduated a long time ago, as I’m sure you are aware the process of applying for a job no longer simply entails handing in your CV and waiting to hear back. Instead, this process has become considerably more complex with various online aptitude, situational, and behavioural tests the applicant has to undertake before progressing to the next stage.
In theory, this process makes sense as it attempts to weed out those applicants who would not be a good fit for the company either academically and/or culturally, but I believe that this process has gotten a bit out of hand. However, that argument is for a different time.
One thing that I recall from when I was a student was that all of my peers seemed to be applying for the same roles, at the same big corporations. For some reason or another everyone was applying for the same ‘Trainee Consultant’ roles at the likes of Accenture, Deloitte, PwC, and KPMG. Maybe it was attributed to my fear of missing out (or as it is more colloquially referred to ‘FOMO’), but I found myself filling out the exact same job applications as my peers — but to no avail.
In hindsight, had I known at the time what I am about to disclose to you in this article, I not only would have saved myself a lot of time and ultimately disappointment, but I would have been in a better position to focus on writing my dissertation.
Throughout the entire time that we were actively browsing and applying for entry level jobs and graduate schemes, my peers and I all seemed to neglect a crucial part of the economy that in most OECD countries is solely responsible for roughly 60 to 70 per cent of job creation — startups. Perhaps we could have been accused of being ignorant, but at no stage were we really made aware of the actual viability of working in startups.
We were all completely fixated on the prospect of working in larger and more established firms and completely neglected the startup scene. Perhaps we were blinded by the prospect of earning £30,000+ in our first year and the possibility of experiencing the associated ‘perks’ (such as free gym memberships, health insurance, and lavish office Christmas parties), but at no stage did I hear anyone say, ‘yea, I have an interview at a startup company this week’.
Well, I’m here to let you know that taking the startup route is not only an extremely viable option — as startups are constantly hiring — but it is equally as fulfilling and rewarding.
Having been working in an artificial intelligence (AI) startup for nine months now — called Gluru — I can honestly say that the skills that I have learned, and the rate at which I have developed both personally and professionally would not have been the same while working at a bigger company. This is not to say that I would not have jumped at the opportunity of working for the likes of PwC, KPMG, or Deloitte (I still would if the opportunity arose), but the skills that I have learned while working at Gluru are considerably broader than those I believe I would have learned at any of the larger firms.
As anyone involved in the startup scene would probably agree, one of the key benefits of working in a startup is that you are not limited in terms of the roles that you perform while at work. Despite my job title being ‘Product Marketing Executive (which honestly exist to enable a LinkedIn profile), I have had responsibilities that far exceed this title.
For example, on a daily basis, in addition to my core responsibilities, I would also assume the role of HR manager (conducting interviews with prospective applicants), office manager (liaising with our landlord and dealing with office related issues), content manager (especially since we have just launched our new company website), customer success, customer support, and so on. Not only has this kept me extremely busy and satisfied at work, but it has also enabled me to hone in on the jobs that I enjoy doing and the ones that I’m not so keen on.
Although I appreciate that to some, this list of responsibilities may seem a little daunting, the message that I am trying to convey is that the beauty of working in a startup is the fact that you can experience all aspects of a business, and significantly broaden your skill set.
As is the case with many soon-to-be graduates, they are often unsure about what it is that they want to do with themselves. They often find themselves asking questions like, ‘what sector do I want to enter?’ and ‘what job should I apply for?’ Well, not only are the application processes for jobs at startups considerably more simple and straightforward — you submit your CV and then depending on how that goes you get invited to an interview — but the various job responsibilities that you assume while working at them significantly exceed those that you would have achieved at more established companies.
From a theoretical perspective, this enables you to strengthen your ‘T-shaped skills’, meaning that you not only enhance your skills and expertise in a single field (the vertical bar in the T) but that you also collaborate across other disciplines with experts in other areas (the horizontal bar).
Perhaps this is why bigger companies are so keen on poaching talent from startups?
Finally, I cannot stress enough how pleasantly surprised I have been during my first year working in a startup. Not only have I broadened my skill sets, but I have also been able to make a tangible difference at the company I work for. Instead of simply filling out excel spreadsheets on a daily basis and not really noticing any impact, I have been able to work on projects that make a direct difference to Gluru and which have a direct impact on the user.
In other words, I have been given a level responsibility that I would not have achieved at a larger company until I had worked there for a number of years. Yes, you could say that I have been thrown into the ‘deep end’, but the fact that I am directly accountable for all the actions that I take has made me develop professionally, very quickly.
I hope that this article successfully managed to convey why I am so passionate about working in startups and why you should be as well. But hey, don’t take it from me, take it from Jack Ma, the founder of one of the biggest e-Commerce sites, Alibaba, who inspirationally stated that:
“Before 20 years old, be a good student, learn some experience. Before 30 years old, follow somebody, go to a small company. Normally in a big company it is good to learn processes, you are part of a big machine. But when you go to a small company you learn the passion, you learn the dreams, you learn how to do a lot of things all at one time. So before 30 years old, it’s not which company you go to, it’s which boss you follow.”