Finance vs. Consulting vs. Startups For Your First Internship
Choosing between getting experience at a Startup, or a Finance/Consulting position for your first internship or job opportunity can be challenging.
Making career choices can be daunting and difficult. The most important considerations for Millennials and Gen Y's today are a healthy work-life balance, company culture and the opportunity to grow in the company. Of course, salary and job security are also important considerations.
An internship or an entry-level job is a great opportunity to gain practical industry experience and learn how a company works. You will learn through completing tasks and working with others, rather than studying the methods in a classroom. Whether it be finance, consulting or startup, you are expected to work long and hard hours. There will be many responsibilities and the to-do list will go on-and-on. Sacrifices will be made!
Let’s dive into the specific difference between the more traditional finance and consulting routes and compare it to what it is like working at a startup.
Consulting and Finance
Getting work experience at a top financial or consultancy firm such as JP Morgan Chase, Accenture or McKinsey looks great on your CV.
As a young professional in consulting, you will work on a ‘project’ basis and constantly encounter new opportunities and challenges. Being on the road and traveling during the week will become the norm. An upcoming financier has a world of opportunities to help others make informed financial decisions (as well as their own)! and FinTech companies usually offer very attractive compensation packages. Both industries provide endless possibilities, narrowing down your area of expertise and determining what you would like to focus on can be super hard.
In either case, you will also have the chance to work with professionals who have been doing the job for decades and can share valuable senior insights and learnings.
Delay specializing in a particular area: This will give you the chance to put-off making specific career decisions and expose you to different industries at the same time. This gives you the chance to weigh up what fits you and your abilities best.
Transferable skills: You will learn skills that are less specific to a certain role and more adaptable to any job in the future.
Job security: You know that the company is well established and has been operating for some time.
Higher compensation: Established companies can offer better base compensation for new employees.
Lack of direct impact: Consultants and financiers often get frustrated and burnt-out because their work doesn’t get implemented, clients pull out or they work for causes they don’t believe in.
Rigid and traditional company structure: In an existing firm, your tasks are clearly defined but also narrowly scoped. There is a clear path for juniors to follow and it often takes years before you get into “interesting” and client-based work.
Hierarchical management structure: A big company has a fixed structure. This usually means less freedom for self-directed work and more micro-management. You will have limited say and impact on the company as a whole and how it is run. Moving up faster is difficult.
The reality of startups is that they can be unpredictable. But there are huge payoffs and benefits to that. Landing your first job or internship at a startup will give you an opportunity to create direct impact from day one; both with your work and with your ability to significantly influence the course of the company by being close to (and later a part of) important strategic decisions. What makes it different is that you can voice your honest opinion, always pitch your ideas, be involved in management decisions and be among a motivated and global team. Startups offer an opportunity to get involved and help build the company from the ground-up and to earn company ownership.
Steep learning curve: You will be entrusted with a lot of responsibility very fast and have the opportunity to grow within the company.
Flatter hierarchies: Because the company is still developing, some tasks will involve everyone in the team, including the co-founders.
Company culture: Flexible work hours and a casual work environment, both in dress and attitude, are in the company’s DNA.
Work with the latest technology and tools: Startups are all about innovation and experimenting with new operations and methods to find better and more efficient solutions.
Many tasks and responsibilities from the start: You are expected to wear many hats and learn fast and since the company is growing you will need to keep up and complete your tasks accordingly.
Modest paycheck: The base pay is going to be less than in traditional companies. However, it is an opportunity to earn equity, which in the long-term might have a bigger pay off than a higher starting salary.
Self-directed learning: There will be lots of ownership and owning a project. You need to be comfortable figuring tasks out on your own and receiving constant feedback, rather than constantly having someone else tell you how exactly to do every task.
Let’s Compare Both Sides
Any job requires commitment and energy. But it’s not all hard work and no play. Fostering a positive and engaging company culture is important to all companies. Traditional work environments are a safer option and there is a lot at stake with working at a startup. It can be demanding, both mentally and physically. Working at a top consulting or finance firm will give you the prestige of having a big name on your CV. Whereas taking the unconventional path and joining a startup that shares your values will be meaningful and ultimately will give you a steeper learning curve and faster growth trajectory. You will feel that what you are doing has an impact and that you are creating positive change in the world and be surrounded by people who share your values. And you never know, you could just join the next Netflix or Facebook.