When college graduates survey their futures, most face a tough decision: Should I jump into the workforce or continue my education? While no job can exactly simulate the grit it takes to pursue an MBA or the experience gained from the process, I'd argue that you can find similar opportunities for learning and growth inside the doors of a startup.
Continue Reading Below
Startups bring together unique sets of individuals, ranging from up-and-comers to seasoned veterans and everyone in between. Passion and enthusiasm are part of the everyday lives of most startup employees. Rarely is there any shortage of opportunities for employees to stretch beyond their comfort zones and learn more.
I've spent time conversing with dozens of prospective employees about the ups and downs of working at a startup, and it has become increasingly clear to me how and why startups provide not only fulfilling work, but also opportunities for growth.
Here are five ways that working at a startup can give you both experience and education – sometimes similar to what you'd learn in a classroom, and sometimes even better.
1. You'll Find a Career Path
When you work at a startup, you never wear one hat. Startup recruits must leave rigidity at the door and prepare to dive into whole new sets of experiences. Working at a startup gives you the opportunity to solidify or experiment with your career path. A lot of cross-collaboration occurs between teams, and on-the-go feedback happens so regularly that you have the opportunity to learn – at a very quick pace – from your managers and peers every day.
2. You'll Learn to Spot the Macro Trends
In most MBA programs, a great emphasis is placed on the ability to spot macro trends – i.e., the factors driving innovation and next-generation thinking in the world around you. When you're in the weeds at a startup, you'll naturally begin to adopt a similar mindset. At a startup, you have to innovate often and stay on top of the trends driving consumption of your product or service. You're forced to look outside your bubble and into your surroundings, which will challenge you to rethink the way you look at your industry and its pain points.
3. You'll Gain Real Business Experience
Business schools aim to help students learn the basics of finances, lead predictions, and forecasting resources and models. But when you work at a startup, you'll constantly depend on these models and learn to adapt as things change rapidly. Eventually it all becomes second nature.
MBA students are often tasked with designing entire businesses. Sometimes, these designs even lead to grants or awards that allow them to actually follow through with their plans. At early-stage startups, you're given a similar opportunity – with no personal debt. You'll find yourself conversing with colleagues and your team about how to build a business, how to monetize for the long run, and how to survive financially. You really learn how to look at a company holistically.
Related: At a Startup, the Sky Is the Limit
4. You'll Build a Strong Network
Similar to attending an MBA program where all the students are pursuing the same degree, working at a startup has a bonding effect. You and your colleagues are working toward the same goals, and when it comes down to it, you all want what's best for the company. There are plenty of opportunities for networking and establishing relationships that will benefit you for years to come.
At BetterWorks, for example, we host monthly "lunch and learns" where employees have the chance to hear from and interact with top executives and industry leaders. Startups are great places to build powerful networks of people who can really impact your career in the future.
5. You'll Learn From the Best
I can think of few other jobs where you have direct access to business leaders with years of experience. While startups are technically young companies, the people who grow them have been through so much and can impart a lot of knowledge. You may be able to talk to experienced leaders at other jobs or in your MBA program, but at a startup, you'll be working alongside top executives. You'll have a direct line when you have questions or want to learn more about something.
Startups attract a certain crowd. The startup mentality – one full of enthusiasm and vigor – is contagious, and working for a startup can give you a platform to pursue whatever you're most passionate about. Whether you're uncertain about the next steps in your career or craving the opportunity to learn and grow, you can expect to be stretched and changed when you join a startup.
Tamara Cooksey was part of the founding team at BetterWorks, where she leads people operations.