Whether you’re a student seeking college credits or a fresher trying to pad your resume or a professional changing your line of work, internships are the best way to gain some valuable experience in a limited time span. If you’re actively searching for an internship, then you’ve undoubtedly faced the same dilemma plaguing virtually the entire job market today: startup or corporate?
Most college students would naturally opt for a startup, seeing as they foster a more casual workplace while large corporations tend to enforce stricter rules and regulations about things like dress codes or work timings. But that doesn’t always mean that interns at a startup work lesser than their corporate counterparts. Nor does it mean that they have more fun either. Learning new skills and/or adding value to your professional career should be an internship’s main objective.
The value to be gained from interning at a startup versus interning at a corporate differs from person to person. If you find yourself at such a crossroads, here’s a list of the advantages and disadvantages of both options to help you make a better decision:
Arguably the biggest advantage of an internship at an established company over a startup is that it carries much more weight on your resume. If you’re a fresher or someone who’s pursuing a new line of work, having work experience at a big-name company can do wonders for your future job prospects. Thanks to today’s overcrowded job market, recruiters often have to browse through hundreds of applications for a single role. If you have companies like Google or Amazon on your profile, you instantly stand out in a crowd of virtually similar applicants and hence have higher chances of ultimately landing the job. In fact companies such as Facebook and Google have internship programmes in place that students can apply for.
Startups, especially early-stage ones, are a place where employees often have to work long hours and carry out tasks that fall outside their job description. But small teams, the need to expand quickly, and the absence of a strict hierarchy means that startup interns are afforded the chance to try their hands at a variety of roles within the company. If one is willing to put in the effort and has the support of one’s managers, there’s nothing stopping, say, a digital marketer from coding. This is especially valuable for freshers who, let’s face it, are rarely sure of what line of work they want to pursue. Not only does this give you the chance to explore avenues you’ve never considered before, but learning by doing beats a degree from a fancy college any day of the week.
Did you know that Ursula Burns started her journey at Xerox as an intern and went on to become the company’s CEO, or that Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors (GM), is also the company’s first female CEO? It’s also the first time that an engineer became the CEO at GM.
Such freedom is almost never available when interning at established companies, where the roles are very rigid and parallel growth is stunted by strict organisational hierarchies. Also, large companies typically employ in-house tools and processes which take some time to learn. These skills are not always transferable to other jobs which mitigates a crucial benefit of interning – gaining valuable work experience.
While it is an unfortunate fact that most internships are unpaid, it is unfair for employers to expect interns to have the sort of financial freedom that allows them to work for weeks without a stipend. If you’re searching for an internship, there’s no harm in asking for a basic allowance to at least cover the costs for your daily transportation and food. There is no doubt that you’re more likely to get a paying internship at a large company.
Startups run on tight budgets and sometimes struggle to pay even their key employees well (compensating instead with stock options). So, to earn a decent allowance as a startup intern is a tall ask. Large companies, however, can afford to pay their interns well, and they do so in most cases. They also tend to offer their interns many of the perks enjoyed by their employees; things like transportation, meals, and team outings can be expected from an established corporation even if you’re ‘just an intern’.
As a working professional, it pays to build a solid network of connections that can help you when you really need it. From getting references for jobs to getting funding for your startup and everything in between, knowing the right people often paves the path to success. While working at a startup, as an intern or otherwise, you get to interact with a diverse range of working professionals. The rather informal atmosphere prevalent in startups also allows you to form more meaningful connections with people you speak to. This is invaluable not only from a professional point of view but from a personal point of view as well.
Interning at a large company, however, typically limits your interactions to your manager and a handful of your peers since the sheer size of the workforce is huge. While this may also allow you to form some important connections, it may not open up and help you connect with multiple sectors.
Offering interns a full-time role is one aspect in which startups and large companies are virtually indistinguishable. Both entities realise the value of hiring an employee who has already spent a few weeks/months on the job and can carry out assigned tasks without any further training. Be it a large corporation that requires from its employees an in-depth knowledge of specific tools or a startup that wants someone familiar with its nuanced operational structure, on-boarding interns as full-time employees saves both types of companies a lot of time and money. However, if you are looking to convert your internship into full-time employment, do your due diligence beforehand, because there are certain companies who hire interns for short durations and then let them go because it’s cheaper to get a lot of work done that way when compared to hiring an employee.
It would also serve you well to remember that there are many companies today that tread the fine line between startup and corporate. Companies like Freshworks and InMobi have retained their startup culture while growing into large corporations. So try finding an internship in one of these companies if you want the best of both worlds.