Joining a startup may have its perks, but it also has its downsides -- ones you should strongly consider before accepting a position.

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When 20-somethings hear about startups, we invariably imagine the glamorous cafeteria and play space at Google or the young and enthused workforce behind Facebook. Startups have a reputation for playing fast and loose with their work schedule, fostering innovation and offering a lax atmosphere that’s lacking in many established and corporate working environments.

So it’s no wonder so many of us are tempted to ditch our 9-to-5 job at typical buttoned-up companies in favor of joining a startup.

But there are downsides to working for a company of young entrepreneurs, even one with a solid business plan. New ventures possess an inherit unpredictability because they’re starting from scratch, and a company that was founded to capture one untapped market could completely change its focus within months, and even change again by the end of the year.

If joining a company in flux sounds like an intriguing prospect, consider these drawbacks before you jump onboard:

1. Your workload might vary

When you join a startup, you’ll likely need to perform duties outside those outlined in your job description. Your employers may not have properly prepared for the deeds demanded by their market, and they might change the purpose of your job as those needs change.

Both the appeal and the drawback to a startup company is its willingness to be flexible. That may be convenient when your employer allows you to make up your own schedule, but it’s an entirely different matter when your boss changes the quantity or composition of your workload on a whim.

It’s up to your employer to determine how the malleability of the company affects the scope of your job. If you’ve found a good company, they’ll prepare for you new duties and responsibilities as they come along; if the company isn’t so savvy, you might find yourself plunged into work you never trained nor asked for.

If that happens, remind yourself to look at the job as an opportunity to learn.

2. You’ll be working for first-time employers

If you’re working among peers in their early-to-mid-twenties, chances are many of them will be working their first job after college. You might even be managed and supervised by one of the recent college graduates.

Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with having younger superiors. But if they lack the proper experience, you could run into a host of difficulties that sour your employment. First-time employers (and colleagues) who lack office experience may have difficulty communicating with staff or show a hesitance to wield authority in situations where decisive action is necessary.

This could play to your disadvantage in a host of ways. For example, the superior at your company may lack the experiential expertise on payroll and billing matters, disrupting the regularity of your pay periods until they get the system right. Suddenly your endearingly naïve boss seems much less qualified to lead than you imagined, and you may reconsider your tenure at the company.

3. The future of your employer will be uncertain

Untested new enterprises have little to no clout in whatever market they enter. So when you join a startup, understand there’s a risk the company may not fare well in the market or even fold altogether – a scary possibility when jobs are scarce.

Companies start and fold almost as easily as new restaurants on a popular street corner, so it’s important that you investigate the viability of a potential employer’s business plan or target market before you decide to sign on. It might seem somewhat glamorous to work for a company that’s poised to become the next Facebook, but there’s a fine line between struggling companies and those on the cusp of success.

If you don’t feel confident about your startup’s future, it might be smart to go in another direction.

Jemima Lopez is a freelance blogger and writer who writes for Zen College Life, the directory of higher education, distance learning, and best online colleges. She welcomes your comments at her email:


  1. David Y

    Great article Jemima, a few other often overlooked hazards of working at a startup is the stress factor, especially it’s role on a ones health.

    Over the past few years I’ve seen many great individuals experience a whole host of new health ailments from working in a startup environment. The most noticeable one, anxiety. Especially after a change in the company culture isn’t one for the better.

    • Janet Krenn

      I totally agree with you, David. The stress can be killer, especially for start-ups that are so small and new, they’re owned and CEO’ed by the same person who’s the principle investor. When there’s some much at stake for that one higher-up person, there’s a lot of stress that flows downhill as well.

      Embedded in the health issue is the poor health care that start-ups can offer their employees.

  2. Jrandom42

    One of the overlooked hazards of working for a startup is, when the startup fails, you may be blamed as a cause for the startup’s failure, just because you were there.

    It’s the old guilt-by-association thing.

  3. Holly Grande

    Great post. Last year, I worked for a firm in the business development sphere, and I connected with plenty of entrepreneurs and start-ups. One expert I always seem to come back to is Kathy VerEecke. She has some great stuff, including survival tips, for professionals working or interested in working for start-ups:

    • Kathy Ver Eecke

      Holy cannoli Holly – I’m a member of the Brazen community…nearly fell off my chair when I saw my name in your comment. Thanks so much for the endorsement! Appreciate it

  4. Megan Atkinson

    I’ve been working at a start-up for about 3 months now – and I can totally relate to #1. One day I’m marketing, the next I’m business development, after that it’s quality assurance, and then back to communications. Lots and lots of hats – but that’s how I like it. I think the special thing about my start-up is that the owners are all second-time business owners (with a successful employee-owned flip in the past) so they’re a bit older, have incredible experience, but still thrive on the start-up phase of business growth. 🙂 I feel like I’ve got the best of both worlds.

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