Internships in Start-ups vs Multinationals (Pros and Cons)

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Whether you are a student or a graduate, you may have to decide between applying for an internship in a multinational company or in a start-up. Both internships can be fun, exciting, and truly rewarding. However, the decision of which internship to pursue must be based on your interests and how the internship can accelerate your career. In both cases, employers are looking for people who can: (i) learn quickly and think critically; (ii) adapt to different circumstances; (iii) take initiative; and (iv) receive and implement feedback. In both cases, you will be challenged, and you will learn a lot. However, the approach of start-ups and multinationals towards internships are totally different.

An internship in a multinational company presents you with a well-known brand, which can help you when you are applying for the next internship or a full-time job, and shows you how large companies operate. 

The perks are generally good, and there will be other interns to socialise with not only in your department, but also across the various business units. 

In comparison, a start-up internship lacks the same brand strength but provides you with a more intimate view of how a company works and how critical individual performance is to the overall company performance. 

Arguably, you will gain transferable knowledge that will help you to think critically, take initiative on projects, and make you feel that your actions can truly impact an organisation.

The advantage of a large company is clear processes, division of labour, and manageable deadlines. The challenges can include rigid decision-making and understanding the company-wide strategy, rather than just your business unit´s segment of the strategy. Meanwhile, in a start-up, the responsibilities can vary, the processes are new (if they exist) and the whole team is just getting used to them together. Your exposure to a range of functions – marketing, finance, sales, product, etc – can be impactful for future experiences.

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While interning at a multinational company, you will most likely work in a specific team which may limit your capacity to interact daily with other people within the organisation. However, multinationals are usually particularly good at organising corporate events where you can meet people outside your usual bubble. 

When you intern at a start-up, you have a good chance of meeting and getting to know everyone in the business. You will almost certainly have the opportunity to interact with senior workers or even C-Level executives. Also, if you continue to participate in the start-up community in a certain geographic region, you will discover that so many people know each other, which can be highly beneficial for your own professional network.

A structured internship program is more likely to exist in a larger organization. The onboarding process for new interns is well designed and implemented, and each intern is typically assigned his/her teams and projects for the internship program. In a start-up, you are much more likely to be tossed into the fire straight away, no different from a new full-time employee. You will be assigned a tutor/mentor and you will have your own KPIs; however, they will expect you to be proactive, hands-on, and resolutive.

In my case, working in a start-up is a better choice because I like a closely-knit work community and varied tasks. Also, in start-ups you get more responsibility and I feel like it leaves my options open as I can get a taste and test my skills in every function across the business. After all, the most important thing when choosing the internship, is to choose the right one exactly for your future. Selecting or looking for an internship should be a thoughtful process and choice based on your career aspirations.  

Joel H.