A company's size makes a difference

December 2005

Office BuildingsLarge companies generally offer more job security than smaller ones but the latter can offer the chance to experience more in a shorter time. Adrian Hibbert, who has worked for both large and small companies, looks at the advantages and drawbacks of both.

In 1999, I joined a large company to develop a software product which would be sold into a new market for the company. The new product would exploit an opportunity identified by the business development team. If the product was good enough then a new company would be established dedicated to the sale and marketing of the new product.

All objectives were met in 2002, and a new company was established to sell and market the software product. Overnight I moved from a large and established organization to a small and embryonic one.

In this article I'm going to look at the pros and cons of working for companies of different sizes based on my experience.

Harder to get noticed in a large company

Working for a large company can sometimes leave you feeling undervalued perhaps because you have had no real feedback that the work you are doing has contributed to what the company does. A pat on the back and a verbal well done from a manager is not always enough and can sometimes feel patronising.

In a small company what you do is more likely to get noticed and you will know this because success and failure is felt throughout the company. Contracts will be won or lost depending on how well the team performs. A small company cannot afford to pay for someone who is not delivering value for money.

Make the most of chance to buy shares

In a larger company your package may include a yearly bonus or profit share. This may still apply in a small company, but if it does not, see if you can buy shares in the company.

Success will come from your hard work and your contribution to the team. The beneficiaries of that success will be the shareholders when the company is sold or floated on the stock exchange.

Of course the downside of buying shares is that you could lose your investment, so you do need to be sensible. Any share option scheme is also an excellent benefit to both employer and employee.

Less job security in smaller companies

A small company will not be as cash rich as a big company. This means time is of the essence and has an impact on job security. The number of contracts which can afford to be lost is far fewer than that in a cash rich large company. Priorities will change more frequently than in a larger company and the overall pace will seem faster. It will also seem more disorganised and the days will seem shorter, but chances are you will be working more intensely and possibly longer hours.

If the company is really small, a good measure of the state of the company is how many contracts have been won over the past two months, and how long the company can last if no more money comes in.

Jobs defined tightly in large firms

In a large company your job description defines what you do. In a small company, what you do will be defined by what you are able to do and what needs to be done. Because of this, working in a small company can allow you to experience a lot more of the business world outside of your own profession.

Small employers rarely have a dress code

Because of the pressures on a small company to ensure there is enough money to pay salaries, dress code is not likely to be high up the priorities list. A small company needs responsible people who do not need to be told what to wear and when to wear it.

In a large company, dress code is likely to be stated and more formal for a number of reasons. Perhaps one of these reasons is that a large company has taken time to grow to that size and therefore has been around for a long time. Attitudes to working attire have changed over time with a tendency towards a smart-casual look in the modern office.

As a small company increases in size, its culture will grow with it. For example, sooner or later there will be an incident which results in the introduction of a dress code, or there may be customer management failings which need formal procedural guidelines introduced to prevent it happening again.

These changes are inevitable and stem from the fact that the larger a company becomes the more manpower it requires. The more people working in a company the greater the need for documented procedures to ensure that the services are delivered to a consistent high quality.

Success is more visible on smaller scale

If the company makes it through the early days, the team at the heart of the company will become rock solid. Those who did not fit in or cannot take the pace will have fallen by the wayside. If you are a member of that core team then you will also reap the benefits of the company's success. These benefits will be financial as well as to your career.

If the company does not make it through the early days, and you have been there from the beginning to the end, you will have experienced far more working for the small company than for a large company in the same time period. If you can harness that experience in the employment market place, you should have little difficulty finding your next job.

This article was written in December 2005 by Adrian Hibbert (www.rockcottage.plus.com).