People often say that the first job you have is the one that will determine your next course of life. If you want to make movies, join a filmmaking company. If you have the next best idea for an app, apply as a junior application engineer to some of the cutting-edge start-ups.
But when you’re looking for your first job, what comes to the top of your priority list? Putting aside the basic requirements like salary, paid time off (PTO), and the nature of the job itself, what would working in your dream company look like?
For some, it’s joining the ranks of the top industry leaders (think Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple) and rubbing shoulders with the most brilliant minds; for others it could be starting small and finding your footing in a small- or medium-sized enterprise (SME).
An SME is a business with less than 500 employees, whereas a big company is categorised by its size and ability to dominate in their industry. Think of it as a David vs Goliath situation (size-wise), where SMEs are David, and big companies are Goliath!
Career opportunities are plentiful across all industries, from entry-level roles right up to managerial. Truthfully, you’ll find that the job descriptions are the same across all industries and businesses, no matter how big or small the company is.
Regardless of how many employees a company has or its annual profits, a writer is going to write, a designer is going to design, and an IT analyst is going to be the default go-to person for any IT-related issue (like helping people figure out why they can’t connect to the WiFi)!
So if the job scope and salary range are all the same, would jumping into a big or small company be more beneficial for your career? Ultimately, it all boils down to your preferred management style, benefits, career growth, and work-life balance. Let's take a look at the pros and cons for both to help you make a more well-informed decision.
1) A good benefits package/resources
A big company will have better access to valuable resources for each of their employee's learning and career development, and therefore in the long-term, it's their company and people who will benefit. Some corporate benefits may even extend to family members and go beyond, like the Campbell Soup Company, which provides kindergarten, daycare, and after-school programs for employees’ children under 12 years old.
2) The brand’s reputation adds value to your resume
Big companies are usually already well-known and successful in their respective industries, so having them on your resume could help boost your chances of obtaining future significant roles with other big players. Coupled with working alongside well-connected colleagues and bosses, it could also provide you with better exposure to a network of industry peers and leaders.
3) Structured, organised work
Every person has a clearly defined set of responsibilities and hat to wear (read: only a specific role you have to focus on), and the work is distributed equally to highly-skilled people who specialise in that field. Big companies often have established a clear-cut way of doing things, and there are guidelines and SOPs for everything, which ensures that there's little room for misunderstandings in who does what.
4) A competitive salary
Big companies usually have big pockets (how else would they be able to grow to that size?), and everyone loves a nice year-end bonus, including ample salary increments. The salary range can be very competitive too, to retain existing talent and attract valuable candidates. Case in point, a report by Bloomberg which found that in 2021, crypto people who wanted to changed jobs can command pay rises of 50%!
5) You can change careers without leaving
A big company provides more options for a career change, without you ever having to leave the company. As soon as there's a more promising job role made available, and assuming that you're suitably qualified for it, you can thus make the decision to switch up. The recruiter saves time, and you’ll also already be familiar with how the company operates and its culture – all that changes is your job scope and teammates!
1) Lack of exposure to other facets of the business
Although you have a clearly defined role and the luxury of switching careers within the company, you might not be able to explore other projects beyond your scope of work, or even to pick up new skills. For example, it would be difficult for a graphic designer to explore the role of relationship management because those shoes have already been filled, and big companies are less likely to select someone who's never been trained in that field before.
2) Hierarchical, top-down communication
Even as the world embraces a hybrid working environment or even fully-remote positions, the upper management still has the final say, which can be challenging for employees who prefer autonomy in decisions. Your boss says that you need to follow that 20-step manual on how to complete a project, even though you can do it in 3 steps? Your boss insists that you travel 3 hours to physically be in the office even though you’re much more productive at home because you have to follow company policy? All we have to say is: Stay strong!
3) Too many employees, too much competition
If you want to make your mark and be recognised for your achievements, it can be quite tricky to do so in a competitive talent pool, where everyone is fighting for the same thing (i.e. the attention of the boss!). Others may even try to tear you down in their climb to the top. Nobody likes catty co-workers, but unfortunately, it’s not against (most) company policies to be ruthless.
4) Change happens slowly
With multiple layers of stakeholders and managers, implementing change can come slowly because of all the necessary clearance and red tape it needs to go through. The project may not even receive the green light at all, or with much different results than what was originally planned for.
5) Stuffy and tight security
By security, we mean the IT side of things: Computer passwords, VPNs, two-factor authentication, RFID badges, biometrics, etc. When employees work from home or in public spaces, there’s a heightened risk of top-secret internal information that could accidentally be leaked or hacked into – a definite nightmare for any big company.
1) Flat/bottom-up communication
In a small company, you can expect to have more straightforward communication, where decision-making and feedback flow faster (read: everything is a lot less bureaucratic!). Because there are few barriers to communicating with your superiors, talking to them will feel like you're chatting with any other regular colleague.
2) Small and close-knit team
We know you might just hate us for saying this, but a small team can really feel like a family. In the sense that everyone has the capacity to get to know each other better, there’s stronger camaraderie, plus struggles and accomplishments are shouldered and acknowledged equally.
3) Greater learning opportunities
This may mean that you end up having to do the job of 2 to 3 people, but on the bright side, it's a whole lot of new valuable skills you get to learn! For young adults who are just getting started in their careers and still aren't sure about their path in life, this is one of the best times to develop, grow, and utilise new skill sets that could put you on the right track for your future career to come.
4) High-impact achievements towards the company
When the company you work for is small, your achievements will have a bigger impact on the company's overall strategy, direction, and goals. Plus, you may be more likely to experience a high level of recognition and ownership for what you do. In fact, each time someone in a small company were to accomplish something, it usually calls for a small gathering and celebration!
5) Better creative freedom
Little to no upper hierarchy means greater creative liberty to experiment with new ideas and projects. Seeing your work come to life and watching people interact with it is fulfilling to say the least. You may even have the opportunity to offer personalised touches to clients who will appreciate the kind gesture and the fact that you're willing to go the extra mile.
1) Fewer perks and benefits
Compared to a big company, a smaller company may not be able to offer as many employee benefits, except for the bare basics. If some of your employment terms seem to be more different than usual, do cross-check the details with your local labour laws to ensure that the company isn’t cutting corners, like discreetly giving you less paid time off.
2) Remuneration may not be worth the number of hats
With many hats to wear and responsibilities to juggle, you’re bound to feel overworked and underpaid – which is the truth because you’re doing the job of more than one professional. In such cases, you would want to negotiate for a higher salary or added manpower before you burn out!
3) Difficulty obtaining promotions or higher positions
A small company has a small organisational chart, which makes it challenging for you to get a promotion. Once you reach a senior position, the next best might probably be the CEO's seat, and would they really step down?
4) A lack of structure requires quick thinking
While you can try your best to implement SOPs and guidelines where necessary, not everyone will be on board. The words 'ad hoc’ and ‘urgent’ will crop up so often that it becomes the new deadline, replacing anything you’ve planned before. This calls for (sometimes extreme) flexibility, and an ability to change courses immediately, even if you’re halfway through something else equally as important.
5) Limited resources
This could be a major barrier for small businesses, as you may need to work with outdated technology or systems for the company to operate. Personal growth-wise, smaller companies place a lower emphasis on this, so any professional training or additional learning would need to come out of your own pocket.
The company you’re attached to could have 50, 500, or 5,000 employees, but that really doesn't matter; your decision should come down to your own priorities at the moment, as well as your career goals for the next few years.
Do you enjoy the rush of working in a high-paced environment and learning something new every day? Or do you want to develop and hone your skills better, in addition to focusing on your immediate responsibilities?
Regardless of the company's size, one thing that will get you through any door is your attitude: Be proactive, sharp, patient, and willing to learn. Even if your first few jobs are in a small company, a strong attitude can carry you forward and onwards into the company of your dreams. Good luck!