A few years ago, the top career choice for most young graduates from top universities was joining a well-established MNC. Banks, FMCGs, and oil & gas companies would hoover up talent from universities across Pakistan.
Today, things are different. The young talent of today does not feel quite the same way, and the stronghold that MNCs had over the professional aspirations of fresh grads is now beginning to loosen. Gen Z graduates today are not looking to become cogs in the wheel but instead want to be the drivers of change. Startups hand over the wheel to them to steer in their own way towards success.
The Changing Preferences Among Young Talent
The narrative is fast changing. A simple survey among university students revealed that over 42% of the students would prefer joining a startup, rather than an MNC, quoting a plethora of reasons such as a fun working environment, young leadership, exciting and rewarding work, and quick career progression.
As the MENAP region catches up to the world in the startup ecosystem, a number of young, savvy startups have made their debuts here, challenging the few big corporate names in the industry. Most are founded by relatively young people, raising funding in tens of millions of dollars, fast-tracking their careers, and making news.
Naturally, the fresh graduates, the millennials, and Gen Z folk gravitate towards these startups, aspiring to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
Over 80% of the students and fresh graduates agreed that they have witnessed and experienced an increased willingness to work in startups now than ever before. This is perhaps due to the amazing startup success stories that have regularly been making headlines in the MENAP in the recent past.
78% agreed that only a couple of years ago, startups were a road rarely taken by fresh, promising young grads.
The most stated reason for the youth’s openness to work at startups is the exceptional learning and exposure and exponential career growth experienced. Quite understandably, the “startup culture” is also found to be a huge attractive force.
Evolving Attitudes Towards Career and Work
Rabia Nasrallah, the People Manager at Retailo, a B2B start-up that has raised $9 million in only 9 months, commented on the startup culture and said, “What we need to understand is that our generation is changing. The talent that is emerging now is outspoken, bold, and far more critical and objective about things.”
“Careers are not merely about money to them, but also a crucial part of their self-image and sense of accomplishment,” she said.
Emphasizing the newfound individualism and non-conformist attitudes of young graduates, Rabia said, “They are not sheep, unquestioningly following the herd. They believe in working smart.”
“The startup culture gives them the space to be their own individuals, gives them autonomy, the freedom of exploring, and working in a way that works for them. I think start-up cultures are the only way to go forward, and eventually the culture that every company will adopt, whether willingly or unwillingly,” she added.
Having worked at a local reputable bank previously, Zainab Saba, the People Associate at Retailo comments, “Many people get quite a culture shock when they move from controlled corporate work culture to a start-up, including myself. They suddenly have this freedom to think, act and talk in a way that they weren’t used to.”
“They are encouraged to take initiatives, assume ownership and work flexibly, simple luxuries that they were never allowed to take before. While it takes them some time to get used to it, it is safe to say that almost everybody loves it,” she said.
Challenges of the Startup Life
Working at a startup is not without its challenges, of course. But each downside has a significant upside to it, making it worthwhile. The work can be overwhelming but you are also given the liberty of working in your own comfort zones and with flexible timings so it doesn’t get too much.
While the reporting lines may become blurry and cause confusion, the inter-departmental interaction and exposure are magnified, and the freedom to explore work outside the confines of your department is welcomed.
The paycheck, which is the concern of many young grads, might not be as hefty as what MNCs offer, but startups offer equity in the company, which can result in huge payouts. Many who stick around during a startup in its initial years are rewarded heavily when their equity matures, giving them a huge step ahead in life and career, in comparison to their peers in MNCs.
As a startup grows and establishes a presence, some form of structure and sanity naturally seeps in. Gradually, the startup becomes streamlined, doing away with the chaos, while retaining increased freedom of expression and ownership.
Startups are actually great opportunities for young grads to learn from experienced leaders, get an inside lens into the hustle of building a winning company from the ground up and receive the necessary grooming for them to become the leaders of promising young startups of their own tomorrow.