When helping guide people in their career to make their next move, one of the first questions I ask is whether you have a preference between working for a large or small company. Some people have a fixed opinion on this whereas others have none or have not even considered the point.
Ultimately there are many pros and cons to both scenarios and there is no right or wrong answer. People's preferences are often based on prior experiences with one or the other and the right way forward will very much depend on the stage of your career you find yourself. I would always argue to keep an open mind as not all big companies are the same and certainly no two smaller businesses are either. But there are some definite themes around the benefits of one over the other. Here are some things to consider.
Systems & Procedures
'A large company' is a very generic label for a business that may be global, publicly listed or corporate in nature. This means there may be management boards and/or shareholders into which you will ultimately report which, in turn, means that reporting lines and expectations will be very obvious and your career development plans clearly defined. Processes are (theoretically) well structured and there will be tried and tested systems and procedures in place, all of which should help to make your day to day job easier.
BUT this fixed way of doing things can frustrate some people. Writing reports, filling out timesheets, getting sign-off for everything...all of this can be seen to hamper your actual day job! Working in a smaller company means you can focus on what you do and what you are good at. You can give clients your full attention without the need to rush back to the office to get through your admin.
Chance to work abroad
The advantages of working for a large, international company are obvious when it comes to pursuing dreams of living and working abroad. Moving overseas with a company is an easy way to achieve such life goals and overcomes issues such as visa eligibility, etc. Transferring to a global location with the same company like this can be reassuring and take the stress out of many elements of moving abroad.
BUT perhaps relocating overseas is just not something on the horizon for you. And if it is, who cares? There are plenty of companies out there and multiple places in the world to move and work!
It's not just the international element of working for a big, global company that presents you with career opportunities. Training & Development programmes to help you reach your career goals are often unparalleled in a bigger business compared to those offered by their smaller competitors who are unlikely to have the same resources.
Working for a large business operating across multiple sectors with many different service lines undoubtedly means you are also presented with far more opportunity to sidestep or diversify your career than you would be working in a small firm.
BUT perhaps you have zero intention of pursuing a different career?! If you are happy with exactly what you're doing and your career aspirations firmly revolve around your current role and the obvious trajectory ahead of you, then the chance to diversify what you're doing becomes irrelevant.
In terms of day to day career progression, 'Training & Development' may not be as structured in a smaller firm but on-the-job exposure and the chances of gaining knowledge from hands-on, practical experience are limitless. The opportunities to gain more client access, for example, and more responsibility earlier on in your career are increased in a smaller business. Working as part of a hierarchy that is fixed such as that in place at a bigger company leaves little room for entrepreneurial spirit. Who is to stop your career flourishing at double the pace in a smaller company with no glass ceilings to worry about? This entirely depends on company plans for growth mind you. Working in an old-fashioned, independently owned business who is not progressive or innovative in their approach can well and truly stall your career for good. If you work at a small firm, take a bigger picture view on where they are heading.
Working for a large firm may be considered a safer bet in an unstable economy. The scale of services offered in a large business means that by default, they are hedging their bets when it comes to a sustainable business model. Working across multiple sectors as well as vertical and horizontal markets ensures your employer should not come unstuck financially; when some sectors are quiet, they are carried by others and vice versa.
BUT it is also the larger firms that are more likely to make mass redundancies and staff cuts if things get tough, often with no warning. Besides, smaller businesses operate like specialists because that's what many clients like. Inch wide, mile deep; that's the appeal for clients who want knowledge and expertise. Think about it! As a result you are also likely to be far more important to your employer than you might otherwise be in a big company where you may be regarded as just a number.
Working in a large company often means you have a very respected and experienced professional at the helm; someone who is a high-profile figure in your industry who has earned the right and beat the competition to lead from the front at a well-recognised and successful business.
BUT you may never even meet him or her! The reporting lines in a large company mean you may only get access to your line manager and maybe their manager but that's it. You are unlikely to have any insight into what is really going on at the top. Working for a smaller business often means the direction of a company is far more visible. Business plans and performance are transparent and communicated to every staff member on a level you will never experience in a big firm.
Money money money
You are likely to benefit from the bells and whistles you'd expect from a large firm when it comes to a benefits package. That is, the extras may include a bonus or car allowance, private health insurance, life assurance, fantastic pension and potential share options. You are also more likely to be in line for an annual pay review (and hopeful rise!) without compromise. Smaller businesses don't tend to offer such benefits and pay reviews may be more sporadic, depending on the employer.
BUT owners of smaller businesses often take this into account when it comes to remuneration and offer a higher base salary to compensate for the lack of benefits otherwise. This ultimately means more cash in your pocket each month versus company profits being steered into pension funds or private health insurance you may not really be interested in.
So, to 'go large' or not?
Ultimately, every company is different and what can be said for one large firm may not be said for the next, etc. Nonetheless, having worked with hundreds of companies over my career from one-man bands to large PLCs, there are definitely parallels to be observed when it comes to work environments and what people are looking for or turned off by.
This said, as mentioned already, my advice would genuinely be not to rule any company out based on size alone. It could be a guideline for thought when it comes to final short-listing but in all honesty, my number one observation when it comes to what drives people away to their next employer actually comes down to the manager! Which is just pot luck. Whether your employer is a small or big company, managers definitely come in all shapes and sizes! But that's a topic for another day....