Career Advice

How Hard Is It Moving From Corporate to a Startup?

June 16, 2022

How Hard Is It Moving from Corporate to a Startup Moving from corporate to a startup is one of the most common paths we see in finding Second Act Success. After years (or decades) of adhering to corporate guidelines, processes and structure, many women look towards smaller startups as their chance to find fulfillment. Whether […]

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The Second Act Success Career Blog features articles to help inspire you as you navigate your career journey. Plus, you'll find show notes from podcast guests who have shared second act success stories. My hope is that these quick reads will offer advice and comfort knowing you are not alone on your path towards second act success. xo - Shannon


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How Hard Is It Moving from Corporate to a Startup

Moving from corporate to a startup is one of the most common paths we see in finding Second Act Success. After years (or decades) of adhering to corporate guidelines, processes and structure, many women look towards smaller startups as their chance to find fulfillment. Whether through entrepreneurship and starting your own business or joining a small, existing startup, this type of career shift often can reinspire, reinvigorate and satisfy workers looking for change.

All About the Mindset

The hardest part about moving from corporate to a startup is the mindset. Typically, in corporate jobs, employees have a very narrow field of focus. They have an explicit job title, under which they perform specific tasks in a specific role. Marketers aren’t developing products. Accountants aren’t revamping the supply chain. The sales team isn’t sourcing supplies. 

In a startup, or small business, silos don’t exist. Ideas and solutions are encouraged across functional areas. If you have an idea on how to grow or improve, it’s fair game. Oftentimes, startups are too small to even hire for specific positions. You may have had a job in accounting at your corporate job, but now you also answer customer service inquiries, help brainstorm strategic opportunities, and are in charge of making the morning coffee. 

Moving to a startup also comes with downsides. The speed things change can be eye spinning. Responsive, constantly adapting startups often require 24/7 availability, quick decision making and continual recalibrating and adjusting. 


Transferable Skills from Corporate to Startup

This may seem obvious, but it is not. Yes, if you are a wiz at auditing and are hired at a startup, your accounting skills will be valued. But unlike many corporate positions, your technical skills and explicit accomplishments are not necessarily what is valued most. Startups are small teams and they work very closely together every day. As a result, softer skills and general “fit” are often valued just as much or more than hard skills. 

Let’s take a look at some of the most valuable corporate skills that startups want.


Working Under a Deadline 

While nothing quite compares to the push of meeting seemingly arbitrary deadlines set by corporate executives, startups are constantly rushing to meet deadlines. Oftentimes these deadlines are changing or a moving target, because someone has a great idea and the company wants to activate now. 

In corporate, there are often long lead times as making big decisions requires the input of numerous stakeholders up and down the line. Corporate strategy is determined long in advance. How many of us have heard of the “5 Year Plan?” 

In startups, it can often be the 5 week plan. People that are able to utilize the skills they developed in the corporate world of prioritizing, multi-tasking, and operating under tight deadlines are highly valued in startup culture. 


Understanding How Big Business Operates

Startups don’t want to feel like corporate culture. They intentionally have game rooms and impressive offices and perpetual happy hours and brainstorming time. They are an escape from the corporate culture and structure that many people find restrictive and impersonal. 

But, that is not to say that they don’t value that knowledge. Startups will often hire team members coming from large corporations to benefit from their inside knowledge of how these businesses work. 

Many startups will need to work closely with big business, whether as clients, suppliers, partners or competition. An in-depth knowledge of things they will need to navigate, including everything from: 

  • Bureaucratic processes
  • Best internal contacts
  • Established structures
  • Causes for lag
  • Long term direction and goals
  • Sources of funding and budgeting allocations
  • Influence of shareholders 

Knowing how to interact with big corporations is a valuable asset for startups. Hiring someone that already understands the behind-the-scenes decision-making and structure can help expedite interactions and give an advantage to the startup.

Communication Skills

Many startups are founded by people with big ideas, lots of excitement and full of drive. That doesn’t always translate into presentation skills. Years working at corporate will build communication and networking skills. Whether from public speaking at events or in large meetings, creating endless PowerPoint presentations or networking with clients, executives or investors, the communication skills developed in big business are extremely valuable at startups. 

Sometimes, all a startup may need is a little polish to improve their pitch or their branding. Transferring a knowledge of how to communicate concisely, yet with impact, confidently, but while being flexible is a coveted skill. Corporate branding guidelines and culture help to instill these skills in a way that is much harder with the looser format of startups. 


Is Moving from Corporate to a Startup Right For You?

If you are starting to chafe under the restrictions of corporate life or are getting bored within your job responsibilities, moving to a startup could be a great choice. Startups are especially smart decisions for individuals looking for career changes, as they often value these softer skills mentioned above more than in depth industry knowledge or previous experience. 

Finding someone that fits within their culture, exhibits the right personality for their brand and can provide value through their work ethic, are often the primary requirements for joining a startup. Specific industry experience is secondary – which is fantastic news for anyone looking to start their second act. 

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