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Does Size Matter? Should Gen Yers Join Startups?

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-Guest blog post-

Shawn Graham, Gen Xer and author of the job search book Courting Your Career, says no.

Ryan Paugh, Gen Yer and co-founder of startup Brazen, says yes.

Startups lack clearly defined roles and a structured career progression, by Shawn

When you work for a blue chip company, you don’t have to worry about your role or opportunities for advancement…it’s all been rigidly predetermined. If you work hard for 3-5 years, you have a chance at being promoted. 3-5 years after that, and assuming people in more senior positions exit the organization to open up some spots, there’s a chance you’ll get promoted again.

Oh contraire, by Ryan

Startups don’t lack clearly defined roles, and it’s a good thing. Most entry-level Gen Ys don’t know what they REALLY want to do when they graduate from college. So the best option isn’t to be placed in a position where their role is clearly defined, but in a position where they dabble in a bit of everything and discover where their true strengths lie.

I sucked as a start-up guy for about the first 6 months of doing it. I wasn’t good at anything I tried, until me and my team discovered that I had Community Management build into my DNA. I’ve been thriving ever since and I see tons of career paths I could meander down after I move onto something new.

Startups generally don’t offer formal, internal training programs for new employees, by Shawn

When a company doesn’t offer any formalized training that means you’ll be expected to hit the ground running without the benefit of know what you don’t know. And that puts added pressure on you, as a new employee, to learn the job on your own.

But formal training is overrated, by Ryan

The formal training programs I’ve experienced in the corporate realm are typically designed for employees looking to stay at that company for a long period of time, because naturally, that’s what the companies want. But Gen Yers want to be a part of an organization that understands that they don’t own their brand. And it’s not that we’re not loyal, we just can’t feel like we’re being chained to our cubicles.

I think startups understand that their employees are typically there as a part of a stepping stone towards something better. Penelope Trunk, Brazen’s CEO, is consistently pushing me to make connections outside of our company because she knows that we’re not going to be Brazen forever.

And that’s the kind of training Generation Y REALLY needs.

Many startups lack brand recognition, by Shawn

Sure you might be working on some really neat stuff, but if it’s at a company that nobody has ever heard of, is that something you’re really going to want to put on your resume? Early in your career, you’re much better off going to work for a large company with a well known brand.

I’d trade brand recognition for innovation any day, by Ryan

The companies that lack real brand recognition are where the most innovative things are going down. Generation Y wants to be a part of organizations that are making powerful leaps forward. You can’t typically get that excitement at a Fortune 500.

Sure, there’s risk. The company could fail. But isn’t being able to take risks a powerful asset? If companies want employees that just want to play it safe, that’s fine. But you’re not going to find young talent with the skill to thrust your company into the future hanging out in a safety net.

Startups lack job stability, by Shawn

Startups aren’t worried about hitting quarterly earnings or budgeting for the next fiscal year, they’re worried about funding from investors that will help them keep the lights on through tomorrow. Larger companies are often more likely to be able to weather the storm than many startups.

The lack of stability is part of the fun, by Ryan

And I would never recommend the start-up life to a young professional who desires a consistently stable life, because life certainly won’t be that peachy. But being involved in something so unstable separates the wolves from the sheep.

Since the recession, our team has been in some pretty low places. We weren’t getting paid for months and things were getting grim. But we continued to work hard and a couple of weeks ago we secured our second round of venture capital funding.

I’ve never felt so empowered to keep moving forward, and to do my job even better. Yes, it was an unstable point in my life, and yes, we’ll probably reach a new point of instability. But I’ve become a stronger person for it.

Startups just don’t have the resources of larger, more established companies, by Shawn

And that means startups often don’t pay as well and they don’t have a lot of the back office infrastructure necessary to run the business.  That means you’re going to be stuck doing a lot of the grunt work (making copies, updating the company website, and whatever else needs to be done) while not making as much as your friends working at larger companies.

The lack of resources also means less bureacracy, by Ryan

Being an employee at a startup means that you’re going to have more ownership of your projects. Yes, you’re making the copies, updating the websites, but you’re also mapping out the development plans and executing killer strategies for the company.

Employees in a startup that succeed make work for themselves when no work is there. And for the most part, start-up leaders are more encouraging than corporate leaders because there’s less bureaucracy involved in the process.

You want to do something? You can do it! Nine times out of ten your boss will have your back.

Which leads us back to our original question-should Gen Yers work for startups? It really depends on what you’re looking for from an employer. If you prefer a rigid organizational structure, working in a clearly defined role, and if having a “big name” company on your resume, than working at a start up probably isn’t for you. If, on the other hand, you are interested in getting involved with a business from its infancy, aren’t afraid to roll up your sleeves and get dirty (sometimes even literally), and you want to have the chance to work on some pretty cool, innovative stuff, than a startup could be the way to go.

Shawn Graham is the author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job and a career expert blogger for For more information about Shawn, visit his blog at

Ryan Paugh is the Community Manager and Co-Founder of, a community that empowers Gen-Y bloggers and forward thinking companies and organizations. For more about Ryan, visit his blog at

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