“Dear Pete: Big company or small company? What are the pros and cons of working for each?”
Here’s the short answer: Size matters.
Working for an employer with 27 total employees will be a very different experience than working for an employer with 27,000 total employees. It’s similar to attending a major state school with 50,000 students versus a small liberal arts college with less than 1,000 students. As a result, spend some time reflecting on what you liked or disliked about your collegiate environment. Here are four benefits (in general) of working for a small company (i.e. less than 100 employees) and four benefits (in general) of working for a big company (i.e. 100-10,000 employees, or more).
Benefits of working for a small company:
- Greater individual impact. Smaller employers often give new employees more responsibility at the start, simply because they have fewer people on staff. This can be rewarding since you can wear a lot of different hats, run your own projects, and even start projects of your own, all of which make it very easy to see the impact of your work.
- More day-to-day variety. In many cases, your day-to-day responsibilities can be much more diverse at a smaller organization. Many smaller employers also give their employees more freedom to determine how to get their work done.
- More intimacy with colleagues. Because there are fewer employees, it’s more likely you will get “face-time” with key executives and that you will get to know most of your colleagues when working for a small employer.
- Faster growth potential. Smaller organizations usually have less bureaucracy and less complicated organizational structures. As a result, you can usually move up faster in a small organization; large organizations usually have much more deliberate (i.e. slow) processes of promoting from within.
Benefits of working for a big company:
- Greater organizational impact. While your personal contribution might feel more significant at a small organization, the impact that your employer can have on the world is usually much more significant at a large organization, simply because of a much greater supply of resources (i.e. more employees, more financing, more equipment, and so on).
- More name recognition. Working for a large organization that is a household name provides some advantages. First of all, you get to align yourself with the organization’s brand next time you look for a job. (Sorry, this will probably not be the last time you will look for a job!) Secondly, small employers usually don’t have as much name recognition within an industry.
- Greater stability. Larger organizations are usually much more well-established and stable than smaller organizations which tend to have less predictable futures. However, anyone who worked at CircuitCity or Lehman Brothers knows that this is not always true.
- More opportunities to change directions. Larger employers often have offices worldwide and are actually multiple organizations (sometimes in totally different markets) operating under one large umbrella. As a result, once you get inside a huge organization, there can be many more opportunities to move to new cities, branch out, and change professional directions. On the other hand, smaller employers often have fewer office locations (sometimes just one), and they often play in a very specific niche.
These are all broad generalizations that are definitely not true across the board. While you could likely achieve great success and satisfaction at a big company or small company (if you are in the right industry/position and working for a great organization), it’s worth taking some time to think through your ideal company size. Many job-seekers ignore small companies altogether, simply because they don’t know what’s out there.
Don’t limit your job search just to organizations you are aware of through traditional advertising. In many ways, it is actually much easier to break into a small company. It’s easier to connect with the real hiring decision-makers at a small company, and those individuals can usually move on hiring decisions much more quickly than people at a big company.