Never mind the doubters: whether you’re a recent grad or a seasoned professional, working at a startup is the best way to de-risk your career. More than their corporate cousins, startups value (and nurture) agility and resilience. And because you’re working with entrepreneurs, you’re expected to act like an entrepreneur — learn on the fly; cultivate new skills; take risks; make strong business decisions. In short, startups train you to navigate uncertainty and thrive in our fast-changing world of work.
“The speed of disruption has completely changed the demands of the market,” says Yung Wu, CEO of MaRS. “Today, there are no more jobs for life, just a life of endless job opportunities.”
A self-proclaimed “serial entrepreneur” and tech champion, Yung has seen some of the companies he founded outlast several of his Fortune 500 customers. “High-growth companies, by their nature, spin up and wind down,” Yung says. “Don’t lock yourself into any particular trajectory. Consider every new setting a tour of duty.”
If you can learn to channel volatility into reward, working at a startup is an ideal way to future-proof your career. And here are some reasons why.
The most successful startups help shape the future of their respective sectors. Whereas employees in corporate environments can sometimes feel locked into a particular career trajectory, workers at startups feel anything but. High-growth means a constant demand for new skills, new clients and new perspectives. In startup culture, employees learn across departments and develop master knowledge of the latest trends. “Where you end up depends on your curiosity,” says Colin Toal, vice president of engineering at integrate.ai. “And when you learn faster, you achieve more.”
Innovation, by definition, will always be “in.” Being part of a startup allows you to work with the latest technologies and collaborate with experts from emerging sectors. Just ask Prashant Viswanathan of Swift Medical, a leader in digital wound care: “The marriage that we’ve formed between awesome tech and real impact is rare in this, or any industry.” At a startup, the end goal is always the extraordinary.
Startups run lean and prize good ideas above all. By solving problems, you can take on roles that  may not have existed when you were hired, and  were seemingly beyond your experience level or expertise. “If you have a unique perspective, we encourage you to step up and lead your peers,” says Jillian Gora, director of customer experience with SoapBox. “That’s how you move up.” SoapBox is a prime ambassador for startup culture, as the company embraces holistic, cross-functional thinking. This enables fast career growth for those who like challenges.
Startups don’t expect employees to wait a year before moving into more senior roles since new opportunities always arise for those keen to take them on. They’re like a launchpad for your career: if you reinvent yourself, you can have many careers and gain the skill sets required to secure leadership roles at other companies.
One of the most exciting things that comes with working at a startup is witnessing firsts: the first big client; the first product launch; the first entrance to the global market. You also have a chance to gain equity early on, which means your value can literally grow with the company. Most importantly, you receive first-hand insight from founders — invaluable if you ever want to run your own startup or contribute to an executive team.
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