December 08, 2000, 1:31 PM — A JOB AT A PRE-IPO start-up company used to be the hottest ticket in the high-
tech industry. Now qualified job candidates are passing on dot-com opportunities in
favor of more established technology companies that offer a stable work environment,
regular hours, and a path to professional development.
With open positions far outnumbering the able bodies needed to fill them, qualified
workers are looking hard at what they'll have to give up if they take on a job at a
start-up. The upside is still strong: Companies often double or quadruple their stock
prices when they offer shares to the public for the first time, making stock options
worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in a single day. But to make it to the IPO,
start-ups push workers to the limit, asking for long hours, a high degree of personal
commitment and investment, and nonstop ingenuity -- all for the chance of someday
striking it rich.
The fast-paced start-up environment used to be fun: pool tables, video games, and
free food and drinks gave staffers a brain break during work hours, which often
extended into evenings and weekends. But today many workers, especially young college
graduates, are opting out of the dot-com rat race in favor of regular work hours, a
career path, and training that a more established company can provide.
According to a report conducted by WetFeet.com, a career information Web site,
fewer than 17 percent of graduating college students plan to pursue jobs at Internet
start-ups, even though they rated Internet and dot-com companies the hottest industry
In a survey of more than 800 college seniors, students rated training, mentoring,
and a supportive and stable workplace as their top criteria for evaluating employment
opportunities, ahead of salary or stock options. In fact, graduating seniors rated 401k
plans, health care, and annual bonuses as more important than stock options, which came
in sixth out of a possible eight economic incentives. Training was the biggest draw of
more traditional employers, beating out casual dress, an office, and weekends.
Even among seasoned professionals, pre-IPO jobs are losing their appeal, and not
just because of the drop some public Internet companies have seen their stock prices
take in recent months, which depresses the value of employee stock options. Workers are
waking up to the fact that working for a start-up can cost them dearly in unpaid
overtime, personal relationship strain, and sacrificed hobbies, vacations, exercise,
and other stress-busting activities.