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.


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