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It’s a problem that everybody struggles with, regardless of their level of seniority. When you have to make the choice between a larger company or a smaller one, which will be more suited to your personality and the way you like to work?
Like many questions of this nature, the way you answer this question will be personal to you. There are pros and cons to both types of business, and the type of company you choose will depend on what you prioritise when choosing a new type of work, whether that be the company culture, your enjoyment of your work, salary prospects, opportunities for progression, and the scale of office social events. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the main points to consider about both larger and smaller businesses.
The most obvious advantage of being at a smaller business is perhaps best encapsulated in the saying about how it’s better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big one. In short, your work is going to be much more easily and readily noticed in a smaller business, and therefore you’ll have the opportunity to establish yourself as a ‘lynchpin’ figure very early on, giving you the leverage to negotiate for improved salary, training opportunities, rapid career progression with more direct responsibility for business metrics, and other things. You’ll likely be in direct communication with senior management figures and you’ll have responsibilities that would usually be associated with Directors at larger businesses, simply because the scale of the business is much smaller. This allows you great opportunities to gain critical experience tied to management, which is, of course, highly valued on your CV.
A smaller company is also generally less bureaucratic for obvious reasons, meaning you’ll probably have more autonomy to influence proceedings and the company will have the agility to make those changes reflexively and easily as market conditions change. Many people also enjoy working at smaller companies because it’s much easier to see the results of your hard work, as opposed to a larger business where it’s possible to feel like you’re just another cog in the machine, and not truly valued.
On the negative side of the balance sheet, it’s not uncommon for smaller businesses to have fewer resources to invest in general benefits such as employee training or company away days. Small businesses also mean that it’s really important that you get on with the few colleagues that you do work with – if you don’t, your working week isn’t likely to be enjoyable. Although you’ll likely be attaining valuable new skills and responsibility as part of your day-to-day working life in a smaller company, opportunity for formal internal promotions tend to be fewer as there are less roles available or necessary.
There’s another downside to working for a smaller company that isn’t exactly politically correct but nonetheless matters: your failures will be much more visible. There’s no option of your mistakes going unnoticed as they might do in a larger business, and while the increased responsibility you’ll have will earn you more recognition, this might be reasons both positive and negative. Finally, although this is not always the case, it’s well known that smaller companies tend to have less job security than larger, more established businesses. This is because their profit margins tend to be smaller; larger companies tend to be able to leverage bulk buying for supplies and are likely to have tried and tested business strategies in place.
One of the most obvious advantages to working in a larger business is that businesses don’t grow without a good reason. There is likely to be a tried-and-tested business structure in place which will mean you’ll know what your job is, how it fits into the business, and what your success in the role will be measured upon. This can be important for people who like to have a clear idea of their goals and can also help you manage your time better in the workplace so as to make a positive impression. It also means your role can usually be much more specialised than in a smaller business, where you might have day-to-day tasks to polish off which aren’t particularly what you like doing or specialise in.
Very large companies will also typically have a plan for career progression, meaning you’ll know exactly what you need to do to progress. This can be very valuable for you if you tend to be more ‘metrics-minded’ and like to know exactly how well you’re doing in your role against a defined target. And because larger businesses tend to combine many varied operations, it’s possible to change roles while working for the same company – in other words, you can progress your career horizontally as well as vertically. If your company is a global one, you could have the opportunity to move abroad. This, coupled with increased job security, can mean picking the right larger business can represent a true career path rather than just another stepping stone.
Large companies also usually have more financial flexibility due to the scale of the profits they make and retain. This means they are more likely to offer you useful working benefits such as a company pension scheme, a company car or health insurance. They are also much more likely to be able to offer you real, consistent training options while on the job. Not only that, but because of the scale of larger companies, you’ll be able to learn from a variety of different people and get an experience of how a number of different business functions interact. In every large company there are likely to be some outstanding performers who have enviable experience, particularly at more senior levels of the business. So, if you’re good at networking, you may make some invaluable connections which will help propel your career.
However, on the negative side, it can be a lot harder to make your mark on a larger company, with layers of bureaucracy and long-established norms to smash through. Decisions often need to be checked at several levels of the business before being made, meaning necessary changes can take longer to make. You’re also much less likely to be noticed by senior leaders, which might not always be for lack of trying. And you almost certainly won’t ever know all of your employees, or even very many of them. It can be quite a demoralising feeling to think that someone might be making a decision about your working future, whether or not you get the key workplace promotion…and you’ve never even met them! Similarly, if you’re feeling down, it might take a long time for the company to notice that something is amiss - and longer still to get the problem solved. Be prepared to work long and hard if you want to feel indispensable in a larger company.
Finally, it tends to be tougher to feel like everyone is part of the same company culture in very large companies. If good corporate values and integration processes aren’t in place, there’s a danger of different teams forming their own tight-knit groups, with minimal outside interaction, resulting in a diminished cooperation between business operations. Your experience of a company might be completely different to somebody else who works there at a similar level, and this kind of disconnect between operations can cause a drop in morale. This contrasts with smaller companies, where everybody, regardless of their role, feels like an important part of the team and knows where the company is headed and how they play a part.
Ultimately, this choice will depend on what you value in a workplace, and therefore will always be personal to you. Hopefully seeing the list of pros and cons of each type of workplace here will help you weigh up this difficult decision and make the right choice. However, if you’re not sure even after reading this, there are a few questions you can ask yourself which will ensure you’re in the right mode of thinking. These include obvious factors like ‘what will my pay be?’ ‘what benefits are there beyond the basic package?’ but should also focus on future development – ‘what options for career progression exist?’ ‘how secure will my job be?’. Weigh the answers to these questions up with your personal situation, and hopefully you’ll make the right choice. Whether the company you choose is a big one or a small one, if their values don’t align well with your own, you won’t be happy – and therefore, taking the time to work out what your priorities are is a time investment worth making.