Startups vs. Corporations: Attracting Talent & Keeping It!

Armando Diaz
Jul 1 · 6 min read

A few months ago, like so many other millennials, I found myself in a jam. My decision to move on from my current employer thrust me into a job hunt. I had a choice to make. Do I go for a startup or an established corporation? Yes, I made a choice and learned some things along the way.

After a few interviews, deducing what a start-up could offer over a corporation wasn’t too difficult. Startups have greater risk of going under but the possibility of huge rewards. Inversely, corporations are more stable but frequently offer less to look forward to in terms of growth. Regardless, let’s take a look at the key aspects that both types of companies can use to attract and retain top talent, as well as what prominent CEOs have to say on the subject.

Tell me your story…

Why does the company exist in the first place? I want to know the story. I want to be a character in your narrative. Millennials in particular look towards the future of a company. The vision pitch is critical. I want to make a difference and if you convince me that we can change something together, I’m sold.

“They are more likely to buy into your story and less likely to be lured away by the appeal of higher wages. ” -Anta Pattabiriman, Founder of Auro, an AI-driven fitness tech startup.

It’s important to note that being upfront about any negative aspects of the journey is actually more helpful than sugar coating. This is especially important when it comes to retention. Everyone needs to be psychologically ready to meet possible challenges.

“A lot of startups make [this] mistake … they paint a flowery picture during recruitment and do not give their prospective employees enough room to consider the downsides. So, when their business meets strong headwinds, these talents are the first ones to abandon the sinking ship.” -Manish Khera, Founder & CEO, Happy.

I want to love the workspace.

I recall walking into a corporation’s office (which shall remain nameless), prepping for an interview. My shoes were brand-spanking new, and my tie looked just right. Everything seemed to be working out with this one. Then I turned the corner and saw the workspace… (Insert ominous doom music here). The desks must not have seen sunlight since the 90’s. They were lined up in five rows of six, all facing a single small window, no more than 4’x4’. If the musical Les Misérables had a corporate version, this was it. The misery could be cut with a knife. What a shame, they gave great benefits and a decent salary.

With a blank slate, startups can design their office space from scratch. Older companies might find it too difficult or costly to displace all of the employees for “renovations.” I’m not saying it needs fengshui, but where’s the positivity? Here are three of many things to consider:

  • Is there room for movement?
  • Can I have moderate privacy or space for personalization?
  • Do I see a plant or something aesthetically pleasing?

Trust your gut, put yourself in my shoes and make it pleasing to any human. Also, for goodness’ sake, consider an indoor plant!

Let’s grow together.

I have a lot of life ahead of me, but not enough to be in the same place forever. I need to know I can grow with you. Startups and corporations are both able to address the point of growth in their own ways.

From a corporate standpoint, there’s the usual ladder to climb. Every six months there might be a review with a small salary bump. That isn’t all bad considering the inherent stability.

From a startup’s standpoint, the world is your oyster. If a company has 10 employees and grows to 100, the original employees tend to take the best compensation and titles.

“Many talented applicants will willingly forgo a higher salary now for the promise of potentially greater financial rewards in the future.” — Patrick Reinhart of WeWork.

Let’s get to work, partner.

No one is asking for their name on the door. What I need is a mission, a problem to solve together. It’s important for management to present themselves as a part of the team. It inspires all to work towards the goal, rather than work just hard enough to keep the boss happy.

In corporate interviews, the manager used the word “you” frequently.

In startup interviews, notice the repetition of the word “we.”

“My only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work hard enough not to get fired.” — Peter Gibbons, Office Space.

Bust out the technology.

If the company phone is a Nokia with a pull-out antenna, there might be an issue. Now, I’m not spoiled, nor do I stand in lines for hours for a new iPhone. But the tools provided by a company can reflect how much they want me to succeed and what they will do to help. Granted, sometimes a budget issue simply won’t allow for Pentagon-speed computers. In this case, let me know so I can take pride in being “resourceful” for the company. It’s the thought that counts.

A startup that only has 5–10 employees and decent investors might find it easier to give everyone decent tools. It’s all relative when it comes to small businesses looking to gain a foothold. However, if a large corporation gives me a computer that still has MSN and AOL, it might automatically make me feel less valued.

I also grew to beware of startups using a BYOD policy. This is where a startup asks employees to use their own devices, hence the Bring Your Own Devices, a.k.a. BYOD. This can mean wear and tear of my personal tech as well as a security issue for the company.

“What companies gain in convenience and extra cash can be lost in poor control and flimsy policy,” says Lauren Heckenson of regarding BYOD.

Show me the money…

A lot of startups I’ve worked with have been shocked at the salaries involved in securing skilled tech workers … But they realize if they don’t pay to get the elite skills, someone else will,” says Dave Sadler, head of IT and digital at Acorn Recruitment.

Choosing an employer can be a gamble. Salaries vary all across the country, throughout every industry and specialty. I opened my email one day to find two offers. One was a startup offering just a bit less than I’d like. The other was a corporation with a slightly higher salary.

Here’s what I realized; the corporate salary was probably going to stay in that range for years to come. The whole thing made me feel claustrophobic, like signing my life away to a corporate ladder.

The startup offered less, but I could feel the spark of adventure. Many would take a pay cut if it means a meaningful life. In essence, that paycheck could multiply if the startup blows up.

At the end of the day, everyone has their own decision to make.

Both types of organizations have their drawbacks but come with their own set of benefits. If you have a startup, consider emphasizing these points. Corporations are doing a decent job in establishing a startup culture across the board, too! For employees like myself, take note of your lifestyle and goals, then do what makes you happy.

Many startups are changing the culture as we know it. For example, Lifefy implements new technology and consumer friendly techniques while relying on the comfort and tradition inherent in established companies. These hybrid organizations use the best of both worlds.

Armando Diaz

Written by

Corporate Author for Lifefy Corp.

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