Start-Up to Corporate: Three Experts on What You Need to Know, and What to Avoid to Make the Leap

Navigating through career pivots can feel exciting and - let’s face it - a little treacherous, especially when you’re making a drastic change in organizational culture, size, or environment.

We spoke with three leaders – Laura Brounstein, Nicole Loher, and Benish Shah – who are well-seasoned in navigating transitions from start-up leadership to corporate, and vice versa; they shared their knowledge of common pitfalls along with their best advice for avoiding these stumbling blocks.

In our conversations, these experts shared their tips for the big questions like role definitions, structure, and culture, as well as making the most of opportunities you might otherwise miss, like office attire and corporate perks.

Curiosity is Key

Maneuvering successfully starts long before you actually make the leap; it begins with making the right leap and making your way through the process in a way that serves you. Nicole Loher, a communications leader in the climate and public policy spaces and an adjunct professor at New York University and Fashion Institute of Technology recommends, “Ask [yourself] why you’re making the switch and be honest about it. Really interrogate your hopes and fears about moving into the corporate world. This should help inform the questions you ask the [potential] team.”

Asking insightful questions can also help set the tone for your first few weeks, and ease the adjustment and culture shock, whether you’re making the move from start-up to corporate, or the reverse.

Benish Shah, marketing executive who has navigated tech start-up environments as well as established higher education and corporate spaces, shares “You forget there are hierarchies, and it requires an adjustment period. Then, you go to early stage startups and have to re-adjust no hierarchies and shift how decisions are made.”

“When you move from startup to corporate, the structure can feel stifling! Typically at start-ups, you're hired because 1) you're a sniper or 2) you're a generalist. You can see a problem within a general scope area and move quickly to get that done. To Benish's point, that typically goes away when you move into the corporate world and you're expected to be a specialist. When moving from corporate to startup, the reverse happens, but you can easily be distracted with uncovering resource deficits and how to solve them. If your leadership isn't focused, your role can feel a little unstable.” Nicole adds.

Shah continues, “Ask about cross-functional collaboration, be clear about what outcomes you are responsible and accountable for, and focus on understanding whether you can handle being in an environment where you are not encouraged to fill the gaps you see, or find holes in processes that aren&