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The Job Seekers Guide to Large Companies vs. Small

Unsure if you want to work for a big or small company? Use this job search help. [TWEET]

Depending on how you slice it, an argument can be made on whether working for a large company is better than working for a small company. A large organization may sound appealing with it’s hierarchies, budgets, and pensions — but are you missing out on something more?

A small company offers a slew of distinct benefits and intrinsic rewards that some large organizations just can’t beat. But are they really better? Consider the below job search help when dealing with this dilemma.

One of a million — or one in a million?

The number one thing I get asked about in interviews is, “what’s the culture like?” Finding a culture that fits you is crucial to your job satisfaction. If you feel like you fit in, you’ll feel more comfortable. If you feel more comfortable, you’ll perform better. It’s a win-win. Having a sense of belonging is a basic human need according to Maslow — and I think it’s right on as it relates to a career.

At a large company the culture is more formal than not; governed by rules and policies. People act conservatively and the way that employees are treated is in a general fashion. As a result, employees might feel like one of a million - like an employee number, not an individual.

At a smaller company, culture is formed organically. It’s often the brain-child of a founder and tends to be more authentic than its corporate cousin. The culture is likely going to be casual with less rules (or no rules!). At small companies, employees are treated like the individuals they are and as a result, you’ll probably feel incredibly comfortable in the workplace.

Who wins? Small company! At a smaller company you can be an individual and with that sense of freedom you can (and will) do your best work.

Training vs. learning

At a large organization, training is a way of life. They typically offer formalized new hire training as well as a multitude of ongoing education and professional development courses. From mental health training to negotiation skills, you could have access to free libraries of courses or be sent to a top institute to learn new skills. Bottom line: big companies have budgets. In fact, they have training departments.

Small companies have learning initiatives. There may be some semblance of a training program such as on-boarding, product training, or education budgets for employees - but it’ll definitely lack the structure that a big company offers. And the budget. But what a small company offers is learning by doing otherwise known as on the job training. At a small company you have less employees, few specialists, and a lot of hustle. As a result, employees get to help out in areas of the business outside of their domains — and learn new things of which they might not have ever had access to. At my first startup job I was hired to do HR but what I ended up doing was: HR, Office Management, Executive Assistant, Writer, Social Media, and when we renovated I was the Construction Project Manager. Now that’s what I call on the job training.

Who wins? Large company! On the job training is phenomenal and may open you up to new skills you never knew you had, but structured training beats it. Having access to “free” education via your employer is priceless.

Let’s talk about money, honey

I often hear that at bigger companies you’ll get paid better, but that’s not necessarily the case. This is a “yes and no” type answer. At bigger companies you’ll get an attractive total compensation package, meaning they’ll set you up with a combination of salary, bonus, benefits, retirement plans, and/or stock options. The thing about large companies is that compensation is managed in a structured, methodical way. All jobs will have salary ranges and so your ability to negotiate your earnings outside of the predetermined range may be next to impossible. Large companies often do salary freezes, too, meaning raises can be few and far between. I once went three years (and two promotions) with no salary increase.

Smaller companies have to fight to be more competitive so you’ll be at market - if not higher in your earnings. You’ll have a good compensation package, but retirement options are not as easily come by — especially pension. The great thing about smaller companies is your ability to negotiate your value through proven success. It’s all at a closer range so if you are underpaid and deserve a raise, it’s not unreasonable to ask for it (and get it.)

Who wins? Large company. You had me at pension.

Creative Freedom

Freedom. The word itself will have entirely different meanings at a large company versus a small company. If I were being facetious, I’d say that freedom doesn't really exist at a large company. At a large company, you may have variations of experiences that may be perceived as freedoms, but its relative freedom. You will have various choices and depending on your contribution level you’ll be able to make an impact - but I don’t know if you’d ever call it creative freedom. As an employee you will be managed quite closely - the time you take for holidays (or even breaks) and again, you may feel more like an employee number than anything.

At a small company you have a much wider spectrum of freedoms. Freedoms with time. Freedoms with creativity. At a small company you can drum up an idea at 9 a.m., pop into the CEO’s office and pitch the concept, and get a new initiative approved by end of day. Because you’re encouraged to be yourself at a small company, you naturally become more creative and thus - freedom. Smaller companies are more focused on their purpose and vision and tend to be Results Oriented Workplaces - never clock-watching.

Who wins? Small companies because: creativity always wins.

Choosing the right sized company might sound more like a Goldilocks’ test – but you’ll know it when it feels right. My job search help to you on this: it comes down to your personal values and lining them up to what a company can offer.  

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Write your resume like a pro.

TopResume's resume worksheet is just like the one our pros use. Download it now for free and start getting more interviews!