"So I think I have three options," he told me. "I can start my own company now, or I can go work for an established startup, maybe that has some stable funding, or I can get a job in corporate. What do you think I should do?" He had just spent the last 10 minutes telling me about his volunteer work with a local entrepreneurship organization, his desire to travel, and his participation in the campus incubator program. His passion was pretty clear: this was a man born to start something. So that's what I said.
"Oh thank God. I really thought you were going to tell me to go work in Corporate."
Why did he think that? Because that is what most well-meaning, middle-aged people (Just for the record, I am NOT middle aged...) would probably say. They might say - "Build your resume!", or "What about this grad program at XYZ Bank?" or "Your cousin just got a job at this consulting firm". They might encourage a young college grad to think about his student loans and go out and get a great job that will help him save up some money (because after all, the real estate market you know...). But there is a dark side to choosing that road.
There are some advantages to the big company jobs, yes. They do provide some stability, usually good money, formal training programs, a level of organization, and other benefits that can boost your lifestyle. But the massive scary not-often-talked-about downside to taking a corporate gig early in your career is that the money and all that corporate stuff is wicked addictive. It's WAY harder to go and take a risk later once you have started earning at a predictable, reliable, steady rate of amazing pay in a nice comfy office. You start to get used to that stability and reliability. The company offers increasingly enticing incentives to encourage you to stick around: stock options, the annual bonus, a raise, an offer that matches whatever offer you got at the other corporate that looks pretty good too. And it becomes really, really hard to leave.
Take your Risks Now
Which is why, if you have the desire to start something, to take some risks in your professional life, you should be part of that world now. Before you get used to that giant cushy paycheck and how easy it all is just to keep doing what you're paid to do. Those professional risks will have much lighter consequences if you take them early in your career, and it's much easier to be nimble when you're young and fresh out of college.
You're More Attractive
The other advantage to starting with the risky and unstable is that the worst case scenario actually makes you pretty attractive to your backup corporate gig later. If you fail - say your startup goes bust or your cofounder jumps ship or the next round of funding doesn't go through and you're out of a job - you will have much better stories to tell in your interview than the person who just rocked up fresh from graduation to that corporate interview. You will LEARN, you will have to Macgyver your way through problems, you will get creative, and you will have conversations with interesting people.
If it works out, you could be part of building something big that makes a difference and that lasts. If you fail, you can always go to those corporate folks later, tell your battle stories, and explain how the experience has made you stronger, smarter, more professional, and eager than ever to do amazing work.