Product manager working with team on project creation

For those just entering the tech industry, working at a startup can seem like an enticing proposition. After all, if the startup succeeds, it could translate into a huge payday thanks to your equity (you will secure equity, right?). But the startup world is a complicated place, and if you want to become a startup employee, you’ll have to weigh some very distinct pros and cons.

Working at a Startup: The Pros

Startups usually have small teams, at least until they hit a growth spurt. If you’re a dynamic tech professional who wants input on a project or service’s strategy (and a huge stake in the outcome), a startup might be right for you; the smaller the team, the more responsibility and sway you’ll have. It’s a refreshing change from working for larger companies, where you might be placed on an extended team of dozens (or hundreds) and focus only on a small aspect of a product.

Startups also offer the aforementioned equity, and even a fraction of a percentage can translate into a massive payday if the startup succeeds. Early employees at tech giants like Google, for instance, became millionaires when the company finally went public.

Last but certainly not least, startups offer the chance to work on something potentially groundbreaking. Many founders have dreams of truly changing the world, or at least a particular industry. Working at a successful startup allows you to impact how millions of people around the world get something done. There’s plenty of opportunity to learn—and to pioneer new technology and processes.

Working at a Startup: The Cons

While some people love the fast pace of startup culture, it isn’t for everybody. The tight deadlines, relative lack of resources, and huge deliverables can quickly lead to burnout if you’re not careful. Plus, there’s the issue of job security: depending on its funding, a startup can quickly go down, leaving you jobless. It’s much riskier than working for a big, stable firm.

If the startup doesn’t succeed, your equity will also vaporize. Some longtime startup veterans have a great rule of thumb for anyone debating whether to work for a startup: when looking at the offered compensation package, disregard the equity. Would you still work for that startup with the salary and bonuses they’re offering? If so, consider taking the job. But signing onto a startup based on the potential equity payout can eventually end in tears.

For many tech pros, a startup’s relative lack of structure could also prove too much of a downside. Some employees like structure and a clear hierarchy of command; others do much better when left to their own devices. Before participating in a startup, ask yourself if you’re okay with its management style and company culture.