Big Tech vs Startups: Rethinking the Tech Talent’s Career Compass

Choosing Big Tech or startups to work for used to be an easier decision. But it’s no longer the case. In fact, the balance of hiring power could be tilting towards startups due to post-pandemic layoffs and budget constraints at Big Tech firms. This shift marks a “Great Restart” in compensation norms, compelling Big Tech to recalibrate their approach to talent acquisition.

It’s harder to choose tech companies to work when one is competing against a staggering 327,475 individuals in the tech sector who have been laid off from the first quarter of 2022 through the second quarter of 2023.

The job market is flooded with talent from Big Tech, as evidenced by the fact that 69% of MAANG (Meta/Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Alphabet/Google) engineers who experienced layoffs or left their positions after May 15, 2022, remained without current job prospects as of March 15, 2023.

Rehired MAANG engineers subsequently resorted to changing employers within the tech industry, with 28% opting for another tech giant and 6% transitioning to early-stage startups—a remarkable 82% increase from 2021, the study added.

These were the significant findings in SignalFire’s State of Talent Report.

The Wall Street Journal reported as early as May that one e-commerce startup claimed that 15% of the 65 workers it hired in the past year had been laid off by Meta, Tesla, Amazon, Google and other tech giants.

Startups are now well-positioned to leverage this power shift by targeting passive talent who have weathered the storm of Big Tech layoffs. These individuals often represent loyal top performers who now find themselves shouldering additional responsibilities following workforce reductions within their teams. 

In the midst of this upheaval, astute global mobility specialists find themselves presented with a remarkable opportunity to snap up exceptional performers. A McKinsey study sees the threat of generative AI enhancing the way STEM, creative, and business and legal professionals work rather than eliminating a significant number of jobs outright. 

With no clear path, tech workers are more open than ever to pursue more than the traditional path of working for Big Tech. Working for startups is no longer a hard choice, as workers are left with no choice but to find opportunities to carve their own destinies.

The journey was not without its challenges. Startups come laden with risks, and financial stability is far from guaranteed. For workers, they’re making a conscious choice that aligns with their values, aspirations, and the pursuit of their full potential.

As they reflect on their journey, they realize that sometimes, the path less trodden leads to the most remarkable destinations. 

Global mobility professionals find themselves in a unique position where they can help workers find jobs and choose the upside potential in working for startups versus big organizations with mature stock options. However, they need to identify and address the blockers holding people back before they can help their talents move forward. These obstacles include:

Lack of opportunity: High performance doesn’t equate to high potential. Last year’s performance doesn’t necessarily indicate if someone possesses the skills and mindset required for future success. Focusing solely on past high performers neglects others who could shine with the right support.

Learning gets lost: Knowledge needs practical application. To fully benefit from learning, individuals must have the opportunity to apply new skills. Without practice, learning can go to waste.

Poor alignment: People thrive when their roles align with their behaviors, skills, and motivations. Mismatched roles lead to disengagement and lower performance.

Toxic leadership: Overly bottom-line-driven leaders can demotivate teams and hinder potential by neglecting purpose and vision.

Unleashing potential requires a comprehensive view of one’s entire organization. Make companies see how employees resonate with their organization’s purpose. Is their culture conducive to their talent’s career goals? Everyone can contribute to making an organization a success in  the following ways:

In its study, Korn Ferry came up with what it calls The Potential Code that can help global mobility managers see where assignees and their international talents would be a good fit — or at least where it thinks they can influence companies to retain their talents instead of firing them. 

The six core elements of the Potential Code are Leadership, Purpose, Culture, Motivation, Teams, and Alignment. 

Good leadership unlocks potential. Their leadership style matters, with visionary, participative, and coaching leaders fostering productive, engaged teams. Leaders who prioritize purpose, challenge, collaboration, and optimism create positive workplaces that motivate individuals to reach their potential.

Strong sense of purpose. Purposeful organizations experience an 8.1% increase in average return on assets. It galvanizes teams, imbues work with meaning, establishes a standard of excellence, creates a common language, and fosters perseverance.

The cultural space to thrive: Culture significantly influences productivity, innovation, and motivation. Prioritizing psychological safety, experimentation, and positive feedback creates an environment conducive to potential. When everyone becomes a Chief Culture Officer, collective stewardship enhances culture and unleashes potential.

Employee engagement leads to higher revenues: Motivated teams outperform, with higher engagement leading to 2.5 times higher revenues. Leaders play a pivotal role in motivating their teams, creating opportunities, eliminating bureaucracy, empowering employees, and setting clear expectations. 

Aligned roles open opportunities. Matching individuals with roles based on behaviors, skills, and motivations triples ROI and boosts engagement. Nurturing potential in current roles opens opportunities for future growth.

When deciding between a career in Big Tech or joining a startup, tech talents should carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages of each path. Both options offer unique opportunities and challenges that can significantly impact one’s career and lifestyle.