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Post Script: Life at a Startup

Sep 25, 2016   |   The QEC

Deciding where to work and what you want to do right after graduation might just be one of the most difficult decisions you’ll have to make in your twenties. Regardless of the career path you decide to take, there might be a spot at a startup company that might be right up your alley. The word “startup” is often thrown around to refer to the hottest, up and coming small businesses. However, a common trait that describes many startups is that it’s a company trying to bring to market a creative solution for a problem, but business success is not necessarily guaranteed. Depending on the type of career you’re looking for, you might consider looking into working at a startup that’s looking for your skills and talents.

HBO’s Silicon Valley might have you visualizing young and inspired tech geniuses cohabiting an expensive flat in San Fran. But don’t let startup stereotypes deter you from realizing what it really means work at a startup.

From recruiting info sessions and word-of-mouth, you’ll see that corporations are quite defined by individual corporate cultures. Although it goes without saying that there can be significant operational or managerial differences between large corporations and startups, startups are distinct from one another by their own distinguishable cultures too.

Rather than generalize about startups, we’ll share some personal experiences and quotes from a few students who worked at various startups this past summer.


From our experiences, there’s still no real way to define “startup culture”. Sure, some startups might encourage an open-space work community or promote a casual dress code and a more modern look, but a company’s culture is developed through each of its unique employees. Some startups might have a strong focus on developing relationships between each of its employees while others will let you work remote. Depending on the company, your work hours might be flexible too. If you’re not quite ready to start the day right at nine, some startups we know will let you start an hour or two later. At one of the startups we worked at, as long as you finished your work before the deadline, you could set your own hours.

At my startup, the culture was all about humility, passion, and finding a better way. With a startup, you see just how dedicated everyone is to the success of the company – they support each other and make big things happen!

Work & Projects

If your startup’s current operations allow for it, you might be able to do a little more than you signed up for. In open-space workplaces, it’s easy to pop over to a colleague’s desk and ask about the work they do. You might have been hired as a “social media intern”, but the ad specialist a few desks down would be happy to have your help on a new project. We found that after working at a startup, we didn’t gain a lot knowledge in any specific area, but it was still fun and valuable to learn a bit about every department that makes a business function.

I started out working with a different department, but once I realized how much I enjoyed the creative and analytical aspects used for SEO (search engine optimization), I was able to ask for ad campaign optimization projects.


Are startups more laissez-faire? We think it’s fair to say that while certain startups might be willing to let you provide your own direction for the projects you take on, this could turn out to be a challenge or a benefit. Startups with very directional leaders might have a clear vision on what needs to be done in each department. At the startups we worked for, leaders ran weekly meetings to provide general direction before letting each employee set up their own meetings and “to-do” schedules.

At the small businesses I worked at, leaders were always looking to learn from other entrepreneurs. They were always looking for a fresh perspective.

Is working at a startup the right thing for you?

If you’d prefer working with a small team and having the chance to develop close relationships with each of your teammates, a startup might draw your interest.

That being said:

Hours can still be long and if it’s not something you’re interested in, it’s not as sexy as it seems.

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