Something odd is happening in the job market. For the first time in recent memory, college graduates appear to be shunning big-time corporate jobs with hopes of American startups hiring them instead.
A recent study by career website SimplyHired found that a whopping 39% of 2012 college graduates wanted to work for small- to medium-sized businesses, while only 27% were interested in corporate jobs.
Why, in the middle of this shaky economic recovery, are young people forsaking secure careers at large companies in favor of potentially brief stints at small ones? Are today’s college grads determined to ride the swelling tech bubble to fame and fortune, or are they just disillusioned with Wall Street business and corporate hiring practices?
We asked several job seekers and industry experts to help us shed some light on the subject. Here’s what they had to say.
Startups Hiring Young Professionals Provides The Chance to Make a Difference
“I can sum it up in one word,” says Jake Duhaime. “Opportunity.”
Back in 2008, Jake graduated from college with a degree in journalism. Recently, he left a dream job working for the Detroit Red Wings to pursue a full-time career with a startup company. Now that he’s in charge of publicity and special projects for Her Campus Media, he feels like he’s finally in control of his own fate.
“There’s no red tape involved with a startup,” says Jake. “Young professionals can pursue the challenge of opportunity and take their shot at living the American dream, knowing that there will be no safety net to catch them. You can’t achieve that that kind of thrilling success when you’re wrestling with the politics of corporate culture. There are simply too many roadblocks.”
Mark Dimont, who left his job at a top investment bank to lead business development for tech startup Dataminr, agrees. “The desire to work at a startup comes down to a simple ratio. Risk versus reward. The risk at a startup is high, but the upside is huge.”
Startups Are Fun, Corporations Are Not
Another reason startup jobs are so popular among young professionals is that these companies embrace the idea of fun in the workplace, a concept that many corporate hiring managers don’t grasp.
“Big companies require tons of experience, maintain strict schedules and offer little to no fun,” says Jeet Banerjee, a college student who recently started his own media company, JB Media Force. “Startups, on the other hand, offer everything young people want. They value skills over experience, they offer flexible schedules and they tend to be very fun.”
It was the concept of a fun office that sold Kelsi Byers on Remote Stylist. “I wasn’t initially set on working for a startup, but once I walked into the interview I knew it was where I wanted to be,” she says. “Our office is in a loft in a trendy part of Toronto, we have an office dog and we aren’t required to wear business attire. We’re a young, quirky bunch.”
Startups Truly Value Their Employees
Nothing seems to have turned college graduates off to corporate jobs more than the fear of being just another faceless cog in a massive machine. Young people want to know that they’re valued by their employer. They don’t want to be treated like replaceable parts.
Take David Kowalsky, for instance. Last summer, David interned for a large corporation. After seeing the way the company treated its employees, he knew he had to get out. “The company laid off two percent of their workforce while all the interns watched,” he says. “That really turned me off to giant corporations.”
David now works for Better Whey of Life, and he couldn’t be happier. “I feel a sense of accomplishment about my work. I know I’m never going be lost in the chain of command.”
Janeesa Hollingshead tells a different version of the same story. She got a job with Morgan Stanley in 2011 after graduating from Ohio State with a degree in economics. After working for a year at the finance giant, she realized that life in the corporate machine wasn’t right for her. “As the months went by, I began to wonder if a cubicle and office politics were all there was to professional life,” she says.
Janeesa let her contract expire and went back to the drawing board. During this period, Fundable CEO Wil Schroter noticed her profile on a networking site for young professionals. Intrigued by her work experience (and by her love of Ayn Rand), Schroter invited Janeesa to interview with his company for a social media and public relations position. When Janeesa came into the office, she was blown away.
“The atmosphere was fantastic,” she says. “The conference room had a large leather couch and a few recliners with a large flat-screen TV. Wil and his co-founder, Eric Corl, had a conversation with me rather than an interrogation. I handed them a few letters of reference on the way out, and the next day I was hired.”
As a PR coordinator for Fundable, Janeesa feels rewarded and recognized. “The men running Fundable have hired their entire team based on personality, intelligence and the ability to be taught,” she says. “I feel at home here. I don’t foresee myself ever working in a corporate environment again.”
Startups – Reviving the American Dream?
James Truslow Adams once defined the American Dream as “the dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement.”
To discover why so many young professionals are clamoring for jobs at startups, you simply need to ask yourself another question – does corporate America provide college graduates the opportunity to forge their own fates anymore?
Through the responses we’ve received, it’s easy to see that it does not. Corporate jobs stymie young people’s pursuit of the iconic American Dream by placing artificial barriers on advancement, while startups give grads the chance to shape their own future. Young professionals working at startups are the masters of their fate, and they will either succeed tremendously or they will burn out trying. Though the pay may be low and the risks may be high, that certainly sounds like a dream worth pursuing to us.
Jake Duhame, Publicity & Special Projects, Her Campus Media. @HerCampus
Mark Dimont, Dir. Business Development, Dataminr, @Dataminr
Jeet Banerjee, CEO JB Media Force, @thejeetbanerjee
David Kowalsky, position not given, Better Whey of Life
Kelsi Byers, PR Coordinator, Remote Stylist, @RemoteStylist