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Exec Insights: Moving from Corporate Culture to Startup Scene

Corporate vs Startup

According to Derek Smith, Xref’s recently appointed General Manager for North America, many differences and similarities can be drawn between the working environments of a large corporate enterprise and a small, nimble startup.

With his transition from leading teams at multinational corporate giants, including HP and Apple, to his position on the executive team at Xref, Derek has the perfect vantage point from which to make the comparison.

While, at a glance, significant differences can instantly be seen in the workplaces of big corporates and startups, I discovered that when you dig just a little deeper, you see there are also stark similarities.  

After all, the top-level objectives of any business remain the same, regardless of its size or stature. Leaders (if they are being honest) will always list the following business priorities.

1. Top line revenue

2. Bottom line profit

3. People

But, it is that third priority that really sets these two types of businesses apart. One aspect that I have noticed is handled very differently, is hiring.

The struggles of sourcing for startups

When hiring for a startup, the time to market and time to hire are absolutely critical.

Candidates have more choices. There is only one Apple or HP but when you are competing against other startups you are interviewing as well as the candidate! You have more to prove in a shorter space of time before the best talent is snapped up by a competitor.

While the available talent pool might be different, those applying to work for startups are more likely to be invested in the brand and what it stands for. They’ll have done their research and they’ll be aligned with the values of the business.

Employees at startups hold a wide range of responsibilities

It’s critical that the employer brand is accurate and authentic.

If a candidate is willing to take a “risk” on a less-familiar entity, they must be able to trust that the workplace they believe they will be joining, will meet their expectations when they start.

Unlike enterprises, startups do not have the budgets to build teams made up of individuals that are responsible for very specific elements of the business. Rather, each employee will have a wide range of responsibilities.

This often means that the hiring decisions you make as a startup will be based less on the skills and experience of a candidate, and more on their cultural suitability and willingness to learn. Insights into them as professionals beyond the tactical requirements of their role is essential.

Whittling down a wealth of enterprise applicants

Large corporates, on the other hand, have a supply of great people knocking on their doors (sometimes literally) to join them. The strength of their brand impacts their image as an employer, and ambitious professionals see the opportunity to work for them as a reflection of their own social status.

A wealth of talent available to big corporates won’t always translate to the same number of potential recruits. Of the more than two hundred applications received for a role, there may only be one candidate that is suitable for it.

In this situation a robust and efficient recruitment process is critical to reducing time wasted on people that have applied for social status alone, rather the career prospects offered, and without having the skills required.

Acknowledging those who want to grow with the business

Corporate hiring also requires a keen focus on the individuals that will be willing to find ways to add value. Unlike the startup environment, where almost every task completed will impact the success of the business in some way, corporate employees can easily go under the radar. Making sure you have the people that want to grow in your business is key to avoiding wasted resources.

However you look at it, both environments have their pros and cons when it comes to hiring. Since joining Xref I’ve become particularly aware of the power that a hiring process can have in not only finding great individual talent but also in forming the team that will reach the goals set out for the future of the business.

Whatever the size of an organization, a candidate’s impact on its ongoing success should be central to the final hiring decision.


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