Are You Better Off Working For A Small Company Or A Big One?
The two job descriptions look the same. They’re asking for roughly equivalent experience and education and outlining similar day-to-day responsibilities. The catch is that one is with a Fortune 500 company with thousands of employees and the other is with an up-and-coming enterprise with a staff of 22. When things like salary, benefits and commute are equal, how do you figure out if a large company or a small one is a better fit for you? Here are three questions to ask yourself when trying to choose a path.
1. Are you a specialist or a jack-of-all-trades?
Whether you prefer deep or broad on-the-job experience affects your choice of employer size. The smaller the company, the more hats you’ll be asked to wear. When you join a small marketing team, you might be doing bits and pieces of email marketing, social media management, product marketing and demand generation. If you’re the admin at a small company, your role might include client relations and onboarding new hires, but it will likely also involve reordering paper towels and dish soap for the break room. If you aren’t comfortable with doing some of everything (including tasks not in your job description), you may be better suited for a company big enough to offer specialized roles, where employees zero in on a specific area of responsibility only (say, project managing updates to the brand’s main ecommerce website) and there is little overlap with other job titles. In this scenario, you’ll trade cross-functionality for building
subject matter expertise.
2. Are you flexible or process-focused?
There comes a time in every successful company’s life where it grows to the point of requiring codified processes and policies. Imagine an organization of 500 employees without anyone dedicated to HR or without a formal vacation policy and cringe at the madness that would ensue. Some people are comfortable working without guardrails and some prefer to have a source of truth (a company handbook, a set of accepted procedures) to consult to avoid reinventing the wheel. If you value autonomy highly and embrace the prospect of being told “use your best judgment” when you ask about the per diem for meals and incidentals while traveling for business, you’ll be fine at a small company where best practices are only formalized on an as-needed basis. If you’d breathe easier knowing that there are specific guidelines to follow, aim for an organization that has grown to the point that it has documented its whys and wherefores out of necessity.
3. Do you prefer following a path or creating one?
We’ve all seen crazy org charts that look more complex than four centuries of the British monarchy’s family tree, but the upside of an org chart, no matter how convoluted, is that it shows you where you fit into an organization and gives you a sense of what upward mobility looks like. You can trace the path from project coordinator to project manager to director and so on. You may not choose to follow it, but you have a clear reference visual of the hierarchical ladder. Small firms tend to be flatter, which means fewer clear-cut paths for advancement. After all, if you’re an accountant who reports directly to the CFO, it’s not realistic to think you can grow into her role after only two or three years on the job. Moving up in a small company is often dependent on the company’s growth and the creation of new roles at the managerial level for you to step into and new entry-level hiring to replace those who have moved up. In even the healthiest of SMBs, there’s no guarantee this will happen on a timeline that coincides with the
one you had in mind for your own career path and, while you may have the flexibility to custom design your next role, you may also be stuck in your current slot long after you feel you’ve outgrown it simply because there’s no viable internal move to make. If you’re someone who wants to grow their career within a given company and would prefer to avoid moving out to move up, you’ll be better off at an org that has more layers.