Small company vs Big Company

Working at Small vs Big companies – The good and bad

Ever came across this question on whether to work for a small company or a big company.  How do you decide between small company vs big company ? What will you like and what will you dislike ?

Here are some thoughts from my experience over last 18+ years of industry experience. I have worked at big global companies like Intel, IBM as well as at startups and small/mid-size companies.

I have had mix of good and bad experience at both and following is what I felt as the good/bad experience.

Note: The good/bad is purely my judgement and need not be same for all.

The good of working at big companies

  1. Social benefits: Every one from your family to friends will know about the big company brand and in the social circle , you feel good and more respected. Even getting a housing/personal loan, benefits from banks, buying properties etc becomes easier as people know the brand of the big company and are eager to engage you. I found this very useful in early career stage but of lesser importance towards later years.
  2. Networking with a lot of great people: You will find a lot of good people — intelligent, clever, helpful — at work that will help you learn a lot. Some of these people can be your mentors and can help shape your future career while some others can be good friends for life time. You will also find a lot of bad people and experiences that will teach you how you should not grow up in your career.
  3. Lot of perks/benefits which gives you a good feel : There is lot of emphasis on additional perks/benefits. This includes cafeteria options, Gym, different cultural clubs/activities, transportation, team outings, bonus and similar stuff which comes in addition to your monthly pay check.
  4. Learn art of politics: I didn’t have success at this, but at large companies, ,you do realize that in addition to technical skills you need to learn several other diplomacy and political skills for growth. If you are good at this, there will be opportunities to learn and build a long term career.
  5. Job and Career opportunities: Most big companies will have multiple business units and job roles and a lot of them also support employees interested in laterally moving across job roles/business units based on their aspirations. I found it useful in my early career to explore different job roles and settle on my aspirations later.

The bad of working at big companies

  1. Bureaucracy: This is the biggest killer and with larger company size this becomes an increasing hurdle for several people. Lot of weak middle management, lengthy processes, meetings without any objectives/outcomes, useless trainings etc are energy killers for a lot of employees who are creative and want to do things more efficiently and effectively.
  2. Limited work responsibilities: You are part of a bigger community with several hierarchy. You will only get to know about your work responsibilities or may be a couple of levels above and close groups with which you interact. Many a times you dont feel the importance of your project or the end goal and other opportunities.
  3. Changing business strategies: A lot of times big companies work on several projects based on potential business opportunities but based on market changes and other business factors, strategies and project directions can change. I have at least seen couple of project cancellations and definition changes that can be frustrating some times.
  4. Career development: Your career development will be totally dependent on how you find your aspirations, mentors and how you work towards it. You will see lot of competition even among peers and no body will be keen to help you. Personally I have seen lesser cohesion between smaller groups towards a final goal.

The good of working at small companies

  1. Opportunities for aggressive learning and growth: Being a smaller team you will find more opportunities and more responsibilities. You will be able to do different things with more freedom and demonstrate your creativity and intelligence in different ways. With lesser bureaucracy/hierarchy, it is more easier to introduce a change that can lead to more efficiency/effectiveness of a project.
  2. Bigger sense of ownership: You will find lesser hierarchy and get to work more closely with several business groups including architects, marketing, customers, senior managers. This will help you understand bigger picture and also gain a bigger sense of ownership for whatever small work you are doing.
  3. Ability to work with great people: Most smaller companies have people who are selectively hired and would be truly great people and innovators. There is less of competition among peers as smaller teams works more closer towards a goal that will either bring success/failure to the company.
  4. Benefits, Work-life balance : These days most of the startups/small companies also do provide a lot of flexible benefits like remote working, health benefits and even other perks which a big company provide. In my experience, I never felt I am missing on any benefits that was only available with a bigger company.
  5. You will learn the value of hard work, responsibility and accountability much better: Your learning, your growth, career, ability to learn — all depends on how you work hard and take responsibilities and accept accountability for failures. Unlike a bigger company your work has bigger impact and you will learn the importance of these faster and if you dont not learn, you will fail faster as well.

The bad of working at small companies

  1. Job stability: The success/failure of small companies depend on less number of factors compare to a bigger company. If you are working for a startup, then if the product/idea doesn’t succeed, then it is highly likely that company can go down while a big company would have several options. However if you are technically strong and capable, my experience is that you could always find a new job.
  2. Flexibility in terms of work schedule: Most of the times you may not be able to just work on a fixed slot like in a big company. Based on your nature, project priorities etc, there might be times where you will have to spend extra hours or adjust your timings etc.
  3. Financial stability: If you end up working for a company that is not financially sound, you will also have other financial instability issues like a delayed salary payment or perks etc. This is something better to avoid before you decide to work at this place.

These are based on my experience and every one would have their preference to work at a bigger or smaller company.

For me working at a few bigger companies in my early stage of career helped me in establishing a working relationship with great people and gathering a lot of skills, while also seeing what is not that good. Later in my current stage of mid career, I enjoy working with a small/mid-size company. I find more opportunities, responsibilities and flexibility in terms of working and learning while also having to deal lesser with bureaucracy.

For more read my other blogs here


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