Should I get an Internship at a Start-up or a Large Corporation?

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By: Rachel Wei / October 8, 2019

Scrolling through LinkedIn, you see descriptions of what all your college and high school friends are doing this summer. “Upcoming Software Intern at Facebook” reads the description banner under one friend’s profile, and “Upcoming Business Analyst Intern at Deloitte” sparkles under another profile. Browsing through these profiles gets you thinking: Should I also try to get an internship at a large corporation? 

While most students aim to intern at large corporations, believing that those companies are able to give them valuable exposure to a desired field, this path isn’t your only option. In the tech and start-up business age, there are many smaller companies that may be intriguing. Now you’re probably thinking, Okay, I know there are options, but which path should I take? What is the best option?  Lucky for you, I’ve compiled a brief list of pros and cons to help you figure out which company type is right for your interests and goals. 

Large Corporation

Pro #1: Resources

One of the major benefits of working at a large company is that they have a plethora of resources. Everything from a huge staff who you can learn insightful skills from or have enlightening conversations with, to state of the art equipment, to a budget from which you can hopefully get a paid internship, large companies tend to have it all. Interning at a large company can be helpful in learning the ropes from experts who have decades of experience.

Pro #2: Opportunities to break into the field 

Another pro of interning for a large company is the hope of getting hired after you impressed the pros as an intern. Interning for a big company can be a great way to smoothly transition to an entry level job post-graduation. This can be a reassuring, comfortable, and relatively safe option.

Even if you don’t end up landing a job at the corporation where you interned, you will likely walk away with some valuable contacts in the field. A large corporation can provide great opportunities for networking. Relationships with experts in the field is a bonus you can take with you to any job, whether its at the same company or not. These connections will prove to be valuable resources as you continue to break into the field.

Con #1: Small fish in a big pond

Being at a large company means that you’re likely to be a small fish in a big pond. Although you may be talented and qualified, you’ll be surrounded by so many other talented individuals, which can prove overwhelming. In addition, it may decrease your prospects of landing a job at the company because there are so many other interns and applicants to compete with. Moreover, being at a large company may limit the number of skills you can learn. For example, if you go in as a writing assistant intern, you will most likely be restricted to being just that—a writing assistant. However, at a smaller company such as a start-up, you may be able to test out different jobs because responsibilities are less rigidly divided.

Con #2: Less individual attention 

At a large company, you are likely to receive limited individual support and attention. You’ll probably be expected to be able to get the job done on your own, and may not receive as much mentoring as you would like. Large companies are swarming with busy people, and there is usually a more hierarchical structure that will prevent you from effectively receiving mentorship from people who are too “high up.” Working at a smaller company like a start-up may give you a better chance of being mentored by a higher-level employee and receiving a recommendation letter from them in the future because you were able to get to know them well, and vice versa. 


Another path you can choose is to intern at a startup. You may think that all the cool start-up ideas have already been taken and the golden age of entrepreneurship is over, but that could not be further from the truth. There are so many smaller companies tackling noteworthy issues in various industries that you might want to consider interning at.


Pro #1: Easier to land the job

At a small company that is on the rise and hasn’t peaked yet, you are more likely to be able to land an internship. For starters, fewer people will know about the company, decreasing the number of applicants you are competing against. Furthermore, smaller companies are usually actively looking to expand their team, and may be willing to offer an internship (and later job) to those who are younger and a little more inexperienced. You can learn valuable skills in any internship, so it may be worth considering interning at a startup to ensure that you have the opportunity to intern, period.

Pro #2: Varied responsibilities

As I touched upon previously, start-up companies can offer you an exciting internship filled with a variety of opportunities and responsibilities. Because they’re smaller, start-ups usually have less defined roles for regular employees. For example, an employee may have their regular responsibilities but also serve on the innovation team or build out marketing materials. Interning at a small company means that you will probably be able to assist in more ways than one, and in the process, gain even more experience and skills. If you’re someone who enjoys a varied work day , pitch in on different matters, and have more clout in general, you may really enjoy interning at a startup. 

At a startup, you can also make a significant impact as an intern. Whether it’s suggesting changes regarding how the organization is structured, or presenting the co-founders with your vision of company-wide improvements going forward, you can have experiences working at a “higher-level” that you won’t have in a large corporation. As you continue to seek other internships and jobs, bringing up examples of how you made a real, lasting impact at a startup can be impressive and unique.

Con #1: Less recognition

Everything can’t be all sunshine and rainbows, so there are a few cons to interning at a startup. One is that smaller companies aren’t as easily recognizable as current big shots in a field. A potential future employer might not recognize the company you interned for, and thus overlook the really cool work you did for the company. The truth is, names still matter, whether for college or jobs, so interning at a startup might not add the same pizazz to your resume as a large company.

Con #2: Less structured 

Start-ups are less likely to have a well-developed internship program where you’ll be taught the secrets of an industry. Many smaller companies are still in the process of trying to figure things out themselves, so they may not be able to offer you as much insight into how to succeed in a field. It is also unlikely that you will be able to get a paid internship, so if financial compensation is something that matters a lot to you, interning at a startup may not be for you. Furthermore, if you’re someone who tends to need a bit of a push to get going and motivated, you likely won’t get that at a startup. Your experience interning at a startup will rely heavily on what you decide to make of it, so if you’re not the proactive type, you may not enjoy the ambiguity that will fill your days. 

The main takeaway here is that interning at a large company and a start-up both have their pros and cons. Which one you should aim for will depend on your personal goals and your personality as well. When deciding where to intern, think about your work style. Do you like to be free to plan out your own day and explore new options? Or, do you like to be given a list of to-dos that are more focused on a specific area of interest? Try thinking through questions like these and use the pros and cons listed to guide your decision. No decision is right or wrong, so go ahead and choose the one that fits best! Do you have tips regarding where to intern? Let us know below!

What did you think? Let’s chat. Comment below!


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