It can be difficult to wade through the popular hype around startups – great snacks! equity in the company! cool atmosphere! table tennis! – to get at what it’s actually like to work for one. While the benefits on offer can be tempting, most people don’t realise what working at a startup entails. Besides the well-known differences, such as longer hours and higher stakes, the startup environment feels fundamentally different from that of a typical corporation.

For starters, the maze of cubicles and private you’ll find in most large companies is noticeably absent in startups. Instead, you’ll find colourful, open-plan spaces. Cubicles are replaced by long desks with no division between employees. This leads to a space that feels distinctly collaborative and egalitarian.

This setup is actually quite representative of what it’s like to work at a startup – you’re in close quarters with your colleagues, working side-by-side on projects rather than in the hierarchical structure typical of more established organisations.

Startups are often praised for their worker-friendly work spaces: large break-out areas, table tennis, and quiet zones. Don’t let these fringe benefits fool you, though. There’s a reason startups offer these benefits, and it’s not just to attract young talent.

Startups often demand long hours, which means these quiet zones and large kitchens are where employees take breaks at the time when most people are on their way home. After these breaks though, it’s back to work – often until 11pm or later. This is of course not true of all startups (my office is nearly always empty by 6pm) but it’s certainly worth asking what hours will be expected of you before taking a job.

Startup life is dynamic and active, and a typical day at a startup doesn’t really exist. Projects change quickly and frequently. Sometimes the goal of the entire company pivots instantly, as the market changes and consumer interests shift. To be successful at a startup, you’ve got to be willing to roll with the changes and adapt constantly.

I work for carwow, a comparison site for brand new cars. In the past six months, we’ve grown from seven to 19 employees, which has meant massive changes in how we operate and having to learn to scale our operations to meet the needs of our customers and employees.

Carwow

When I get into the office at 9am, I work through our backlog of customer service enquiries – returning phone calls and answering emails. Once I’ve done that, I line up the day’s social media posts, which include content from our blog, and interesting, relevant news from around the web.

Afternoons vary widely and depend on what’s going on at the company that week. Some days are PR-focused, while others are spent learning the ropes of our paid search campaign software or helping out other departments on their projects. This is typical of the startup world – if you’re after stability and consistency, look elsewhere.

If, however, you’re looking for an exciting challenge that beats large corporations’ graduate schemes hands down for creativity, fun and motivation then look no further.

Sarah Bourke is the Customer Service Manager at Carwow. When she’s not helping our customers navigate the scary world of the internet, Sarah spends her time exploring her new surroundings in Brixton.

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