Choose wisely from among your job offers

Big firm or start-up? There’s much to be said for each; the area you want to work in will dictate your choice

Here is a simple question. Say you have a job offer with a great package from a well-known company. You also have an offer from a small company that not many have heard of. Which one should you pick?

You are right if you said ‘the former’; you would also have been right if you picked ‘the latter’. And righter still if you said ‘it depends’. Deciding which offer to go with for your first job is not easy and depends on a lot of factors.

First is best

A job is where you spend a good deal of your life and it is important to choose well. It turns out that it is particularly so for your first job, for several reasons. “Your first job ends up making your career. Only a few choose to change their line of work later,” says Pallavi Jha, Managing Director and Chairperson, Dale Carnegie Training India.

Also, the learning curve is steep in the first five years of one’s career. Subject knowledge, operating style and best practices are all typically picked up early in one’s career and may be hard to alter later, say experts. In campus placements, you may not have the choice of refusing an offer; so it is all the more essential to choose wisely.

In the past, typically, only larger organisations went for campus placements. However, there has been a trend with even start-ups increasingly attracting young talent. An Employment Outlook Report based on a study conducted by TeamLease recently found nine of 10 start-ups claiming to increase the number of hires in 2016. This makes it, in a way, a bit more challenging for the candidate to pick among the plethora of options.

Starting the search

To start with, you need to decide which function you want to work in. If you specialised in finance, you must decide if you want to continue in this line or be a generalist. “If you want to do marketing or finance, it may be better to take up a job in that function at a large organisation which is known for that functional strength”, says Biji Kurien, former MD of Berger Paints, who entered IIM-A 50 years ago.

Experts advise that it is important to understand the role you want, prepare accordingly and select a job. For instance, while in college, you must meet industry professionals to know the daily functions of those in various job titles. It also helps to do internships, be aware of realities and choose based on what would be suitable for your skills and interest.

Bigger is better?

Larger companies may typically pay a higher salary and perks. There may also be other advantages, such as a structured HR and training process that will ease the transition from college to corporate life, notes Jha.

There may also be the comfort of a better job security at a larger organisation. “There is recognition, prestige and branding. Your seniors may also be working at the same place. There is more predictability and the company may also invest in training”, says Dorai Thodla, a technology entrepreneur who works closely with student entrepreneurs and colleges. He also adds that, often, parents prefer that their son or daughter joins a recognised company, nudging the decision.

“Till last year, start-ups were romanticised like never before in India”, says Mohit Gundecha, Co-founder & CEO, Jombay, a HR advisory firm. A lot of people wanted to join the bandwagon and be a part of the buzz. But this year, it has been a bloodbath, with many of them shutting shop or laying off. “Quite naturally, there are concerns about joining a start-up, especially at the start of one’s career. People are not ready to take a leap of faith any more”, he says.

But would you be trading off learning for comfort and choosing to be small fish in a big pond? Experts differ in their views. Kurien, who joined Asian Paints when it was not yet a large firm and grew with it, says that the learning curve is steeper in a small company. “Bigger companies put you in one slot and you cannot see the business as a whole”, he says.

However, Pradeep Kumar, who works for a large organisation and advises many young start-ups, says that the belief that one can learn a lot, have freedom and create an impact in start-ups is a ‘myth’. “What you can do and cannot do would depend on the stage of the start-up, priorities and lot of external factors. It is possible that you may not be able to execute your ideas in a small company; it is very possible to do a lot and learn a lot at a large organisation”, he says.

Thodla says that big names such as Google offer a lot of avenues to learn and grow. “B-schools are geared to think on scale and this fits what larger companies want. The case studies are on MNCs, not often on smaller firms”, he says.

Also, the lack of structure in smaller firms may not be suitable for many. “Everything may be up in the air and only those who are driven and are self-learners may be able to learn”, says Jha.

Small is beautiful

For those who can navigate chaos, and manage on a smaller pay cheque, smaller firms can however offer good opportunities. “You get a T shaped learning at a small company — deep knowledge in few areas and broader learning in a variety of verticals”, says Thodla. Also, those who want to start their own ventures may benefit from the practical learning.

“Presumably every MBA wants to be a CEO some day. If that is the long-term career plan, it is better to start with a smaller company. You can learn multiple functions and can grow with the company”, advises Kurien.

But given the many risks, it is imperative to choose your employer wisely. The term ‘start-up’ is used a bit loosely and you must know what stage they are in to decide on the suitability. “It may be safer to opt for start-ups that see customer traction and have possibly received some funding. Very small start-ups may offer greater learning, but may be too risky”, says Thodla.

Kunal Sen, Senior Vice-President, TeamLease Services, lists three main aspects you must deliberate on. One, look at the qualities of the founders — most start-up failures are due to weak leadership. Two, find out the work environment and the company’s HR policies for your job profile. This is important as the work can be hectic and stressful. Three, look at your job role including your responsibilities, targets and growth path. “There may not be a clear description of what the job entails, and the start-up may expect you to perform a number of tasks”, says Sen.

What to pick

So how does one select one’s first employer? Experts advise that, rather than look at size or sector, you must focus on the quality of work and how you fit into it. For instance, Sen observes that lack of a clear job description in a small company may bother some people, but may be seen as a perk by others.

Also, most smaller firms don’t want employees who are there to just do a job but want them to push the envelope. “You should evaluate if you have the ability to challenge the status quo and mediocrity. Individuals who can’t live up to the quality or can’t challenge the mediocrity will struggle to enjoy and sustain in a start-up”, cautions Gundecha.Thodla advises that students run their own business even while in college to see if they enjoy the process and choose accordingly. Pradeep Kumar is agnostic to the company’s size and believes that, at the end of day, the choice would depend a lot on the culture of the organisation you are joining. “Irrespective of what you pick, talk to your boss and your team; understand more about your role and what is expected of you; evaluate how the growth path might look like, before you sign up”, he says.

Kurien says that what is taught in B-school is a lot of management techniques and rational analysis which are left-brain based. “Business is not just that. You need a lot of intuition to do well in business”, he says. And so it is in the business of deciding who your get your first pay-cheque from.

This article was first published in Business Line on Campus:


Kunal Sen

TeamLease Services Ltd

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