Working for a Small vs Large Organization

Glassdoor, a website that provides information on salaries, employers and other user-generated intelligence, is a company based in Sausalito California. In a recent entry in their blog, Donna Fuscaldo wrote about some of the key differences , in her experience, between working for a small versus large organization:

All businesses aren’t created equal. What may be normal for a small company could be strange for a large one. But when deciding where to work, those distinctions matter. From culture to job function, here’s a look at ten differences between working for a small firm and its larger brethren.

Getting the job is different

Even getting hired at a small business is different. According to Anita Campbell, Chief Executive of Small Business Trends, chances are landing a job at a small business is going to be a much quicker process. “In large companies it’s not unusual to go through five, six even ten interviews before you are actually given a job,” she says. (My observation: I find this generally is the case. Most small businesses have too much to do and too few people so that even if they wanted to do multiple interviews, they have too few senior people to engage in multiple-hurdle hiring. The upside is that one can meet almost all of the key people in a small business and thus better assess personal fit with the core leadership, a possibility generally not possible in large organizations.)

The bigger the more bureaucratic

Everyone knows that when you work for a large company there are more hoops you have to jump through to get anything done. Small businesses, on the other hand, tend to have less bureaucracy, less organization and less complexity, says Kim Ruyle, vice president and managing principal at Korn/Ferry International. In a small business “it’s simpler to navigate the organizational maze to know who makes a difference,” says Ruyle. (My observation: what I like about smaller organizations is that it is possible, even necessary, to get your arms around all facets of the organization; in large ones, it is almost a negative if you stray from your area of focus.)

It’s a family affair

If you work in a large company, its likely you’ll only get to know the people you work with day in and day out. At a small company you’ll probably know everyone from the receptionist all the way up to the boss. “There’s going to be more personal relationships,” says Campbell. “If you get along then it may feel like a family, but on the other hand if you don’t get along, you don’t have the distance of a big company.” (My observation: it is important in smaller organizations that results and merit are the main drivers of who succeeds and not who you know, are friends with, or that your last name happens to match the boss.)

You get to wear more hats in small businesses

Working for a small business can give you much wider exposure to job functions, because everyone tends to wear more than one hat. For instance a comptroller in small company may have his or her hands in budgets, forecasting and creating financial statements while in a large company he or she may only be responsible for preparing financial statements, says Downs.

Better working conditions

Small businesses typically have less rules and thus more flexibility in the work life balance they offer. They know they can’t provide the same benefits that a large corporation can, so often times they will go out of their way to make the working conditions really good, says Campbell. (My observation: in my experience this one can go both ways; as Fuscaldo notes some smaller businesses have to work harder to retain talent and thus might have more flexibility and creativity in working arrangements. But some very large firms, like SAS are well-known to have progressive employee working conditions.)

More specialization at large firms

At a large company you’ll get the chance to specialize and more fully develop a specific expertise or job function. If you want a career in the tax side of accounting that can be great, but according to Ruyle it may be less appealing to the person that’s seeking a broader perspective of the business.

Opportunities abound at big companies

Most of the time at a large company there’s more opportunities to grow. After all large companies typically have a structure in place to move up the career ladder. That doesn’t mean you will be stuck in a dead-end job at a small firm. According to Ruyle many companies start out small only to grow into huge enterprises. (My observation: depending on the sector, though, many smaller businesses need to hire talent to grow because growth is ultimately the best way to prosper; many large firms are cutting costs because they can’t figure out how to grow the top line.)

Exacting change

Many people go into a career not only to make money but to make a difference. Chances are much higher that you can create change at a small firm. “A publicly traded company has documented processes and procedures for doing everything,” says Downs. At a small business things can “change on a dime,” she says.

Mission is more than the bottom line

Every business is created to make money, but at a small company it’s not only about pleasing shareholders. According to Phil Marsosudiro of management consulting company Marsosudiro & Company, at small companies the owners can have multiple goals. “A small business may have other priorities like the environmental benefits or other social benefits,” says Marsosudiro. (My observation: I would say that small businesses are more likely to still have the original passion and drive that created the company in the first place still front and center whereas many large businesses have become disconnected from their roots because they’ve been around for years and managers come and go.)

More job security

When you get a job at a small company, often times you are considered part of the family, so letting you go may not be as easy. It can be “painstaking,” for the small business owner, says Downs. “Sometimes at larger companies there will be a mandate from someone at the top that cuts will be this deep and they don’t know the people personally.” (My observation: I would not say smaller firms have great security; but I also would not assume large firms offer any more security these days. Instead, I would say that all things being equal, the range of hands-on and practical experiences in a smaller firm, and the chance to handle bigger business decisions at a younger age, makes the development one experiences at smaller firms potentially more marketable than a narrower and more removed role at a large corporation. Imagine the business experience a 30 year-old working at a start-up is getting compared to a 30 year-old toeing the corporate line somewhere.)



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