big company vs small header

Work for a big company or small?

Find a job

It's an important question - do you pursue a career with a large company (with international recognition, impressive pay packages, and lots of corporate perks), or go after a position with a smaller company or start up that will be more inclined to let you jump in with creative and business input?

The two routes have different things to offer, so in the interest of helping you decide, let's take a look at what a smaller company might be able to give you that a big company can't.

The Pros

  • Noticeable successes
    When the company is small, your impact is noticeable, especially when you've been brought in to perform a specialist role. This means that your hard work will be recognized, and you can have a real impact on the business. You may get the opportunity to help mould a company's strategy or direction, and see your ideas become reality. But warning! This means that as your successes and achievements are documented, so are your failures.
  • Varied roles
    Small companies only employ as many people as their budgets allow. This means that often employees are expected to pitch in - maybe you'll have to take a turn making the coffee, or spend an hour a week doing your own photocopying. But this also means you will likely get the opportunity to help out other employees with their work, giving you the chance to broaden your skills and get valuable experience.
  • Camaraderie
    Smaller offices mean tighter knit teams. You'll likely be working closely with a small group, and when you spend forty hours a week with your colleagues, bonds form that can last a lifetime. These connections are beneficial on a personal and professional level.
    A close working environment can also ease pressure for graduates new to the working world - after all, it's easier to ask questions and request help when you are close with your coworkers.

The Cons

  • Training
    In comparison to some of the larger Graduate Schemes and training programmes, opportunities for actual qualifications can be limited at smaller companies. While large companies can afford to send graduates on training courses and to conferences, smaller companies may not have the resources for that. Graduates are expected to learn on the job, and that can be a bit more pressure than you may be looking for.
  • Career Path
    SMEs may be less established than larger firms, and career paths may not be as clear. While at larger firms graduates may be on the way to the next level within several years, at smaller firms the opportunity to advance may not come as quickly. And when it does, it may be a larger leap than you are prepared for.
  • Job Stability
    The big corporate graduate recruiters have established themselves over decades, sometimes centuries, but smaller companies can't offer the same stability. New hires might be the first to be let go when the contracts or clients don't come in and the money dries up. It is a risk with all employment, but the odds of things going that way are higher with a smaller company.

How do you choose?

To give yourself an idea if you'd be better suited working in a large firm or a small company, try answering the following questions:

  • Do you make friends at work, or do you like to keep your work and private lives separate?
  • Do you prefer large parties or small gatherings?
  • Are you a leader or follower?
  • Have you got a career in mind, or are you looking to develop a set of skills?
  • Are you comfortable with sudden changes?
  • Are you confident winging things when necessary?
  • Do you prefer routine?
  • Would you prefer a slow, steady career path, or do you like the idea of big, unpredictable leaps?

Thinking about these questions should give you a bit of an idea of what you could expect of your day-to-day life when working in either a larger firm, or a smaller company.

If you think a career with a smaller company is what you're after, check out our listing of SME graduate jobs, and keep in mind that many smaller companies do not advertise their openings and take a more relaxed approach to recruitment. Graduates interested in SMEs would do well to check company websites for job postings, and to query companies to see if they have any openings.