Doing your internship at a start-up: pros and cons

Previously, large companies reigned supreme in the minds of recruiters. Having an unknown company on your CV was not a great help when finding your first job. Fortunately, in the past two or three years, things have changed. With the increasing number of start-ups, and the attraction that they exert on students coming from the best sectors, this type of training is now highly valued by recruiters.

Obviously, the choice between a large company and a start-up will ultimately depend on you, your career aspirations, your way of working, and your personality. We cannot give you a definitive answer to the question: "Is it better to do an internship in a start-up or a large company?", since it is ultimately up to you to make this choice. Here are some criteria that can help you choose!

Note: we are referring here to "small" start-ups, those that have just been created and are beginning to grow, and not “unicorns” those start-ups that already exceed 100 employees and have well-established processes.




1. A close relationship with the founders

A start-up is characterized by the relatively small size of its team. You will certainly call its founders by their first name, and it is quite likely that you will work with them directly. As a result, they will provide you with extensive knowledge of the industry, and you will have a clearer vision of the growth strategy of the start-up and the reasons behind major decisions that they make every day. You will learn a lot from them, both in technical and strategic terms.


2. A strong sense of belonging 

The advantage of having a small team is that you get to know everyone very quickly, and you will quickly become one of the team for one simple reason: an extra mind is always welcome in the type of structure where everyone is drowning in work. Any new project, the launch of a product, or preparing fundraising demands so much energy that everyone contributes to the work load. You will very quickly feel as involved with the business as the rest of the team members, and the value of your actions is undeniably tangible, which is particularly satisfying.


3. A mix of passion and work

Many start-ups are born of a deep conviction of their founders; a desire to prove something, to offer a better solution. The founders are driven as much by the desire to grow their business as by their passion. This mindset is very contagious, and if you want an internship that holds value to you, rather than to simply advance your career, nothing beats experience in a start-up.


4. A fast-growing network 

The start-up community is a small world: entrepreneurs will meet at training, at organized events... If you follow along with the scene, you'll soon realize that you always cross paths with the same people, and after six months of training, you will always know someone who knows someone who is employed by whichever start-up interests you. If you don’t know these people personally, the founder definitely will, and they will be happy to provide you with a recommendation if your internship went well. In short, once you are part of the scene, it's very easy (and tempting) to stay.


5. A strong knowledge of your industry and its challenges

Depending on the size of the start-up, you will likely get to work in the same open space as the rest of the team, and you will be part of a number of projects that are integral to the development of the start-up. By being observant, you can gain a lot of information on the overall strategy of the company, its investment strategy, and what makes it unique from its competitors. This will allow you to see how the company started, the challenges it may face, and how to overcome or recover from mistakes. For those who intend to start their own business later, this experience is invaluable.


6. Increase in skills

The benefit of an internship in a start-up is that you are able get involved with everything. If you are in a very small start-up, you will work in everything from communications to the business and technical side, and you will be the jack-of-all-trades as an intern. You will be able to interact closely with all aspects of the company, and you will have an active participation in the decision-making process. You will leave the internship with a very comprehensive understanding of how a business works, an experience that someone who has done their internship in a large company may not necessarily have received, where tasks are often distributed throughout different teams.


7. Rapid job progression 

In a start-up, the difference between interns and employees is quite small. You can quickly gain more responsibility if you prove competent, trustworthy, and if you take initiative. If you have the chance to be recruited at the end of your internship, it is very likely that it will be for a position with lots of responsibility, such as Commercial Director, CTO, etc... While in a large company with a well-established hierarchical process, you would need at least three years in a junior position to attain responsibilities, which will surely be minimal.


The cons:  

1. Less specialization

During an internship with a start-up, you'll touch on each topic a little less in depth than you would with a large company. Start-ups have got less time to devote to your training, and you will be quickly thrown in at the deep end and working independently. For those who have more difficulty learning by themselves and who dread the possibility of making mistakes, that independence may be resented.


2. Irregular schedules

The fact is that the directors of a start-up will expect the same level of work from you as from their employees: you have got to learn to juggle dozens of project deadlines, and it is likely that you find yourself having to work (much) later than usual in order to finish on time. You may even be required to run an exhibition stand over the weekend, anything can happen!  


 3. Less consistent wages and benefits

By definition, start-ups have a lower budget than larger groups. The amount of your internship wages will inevitably suffer: it is more than likely that you will be paid the legal minimum wage. Similarly, you will not benefit from conventional advantages enjoyed by interns who are employed by large companies: company restaurants or restaurant vouchers, business committees, or an on-site gym.


4. A less clear career path

From the moment you enter the world of big companies, whether in commerce, computer science, or marketing, the hierarchical advancement of any job is plainly laid out: two or three years in a junior position, a few years in a managerial position, following which you can claim a well-placed position. In a start-up, the future is less clear. You are in a good position now, but who says that your company will still exist in three years? A new more aggressive competitor may appear, a strategic mistake with serious consequences may occur…


5. Having a little-known name on your CV

If you do your internship in a start-up, you may face difficulty when it comes time to finding your next job. Recruiters expect you to have sufficiently thorough knowledge of the company, its industry, and its values for you to be able to answer their questions. Take a step back and don’t hesitate to speak of any weaknesses of the company that you may have spotted. You're not there to sell your start-up, but rather to talk about your experience. This exercise therefore requires greater analytical skills, and a certain maturity: if you do well, you can be sure to score points with your recruiter!

Written by JobTeaser

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