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What Size Company Should You Work For?

Updated on November 9, 2015

Choosing What Size Company You Want to Work for

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Size Really Does Matter

There are a thousand variables that go into choosing your dream career path. Aptitude and talent are the first things to come to mind, but the size of your dream company is also incredibly important.

If you’re going into business you naturally have a lot to think about. Companies come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. And each company has a personality. Finding your dream career is like choosing a significant other. You need to have the same goals, be willing to work hard at it, and your personalities need to “vibe”. AKA you need to get along.

A big indicator of the kind of personality a company will have is its size.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both big and small companies. The things you need to think about include upwards mobility, benefits, specialization, stress, and your own skills. And you cannot base your entire process of choosing a company around this one variable. There are good startups and bad startups. Great big companies and terrible big companies. Before choosing a company you need to thoroughly research them to make sure it’s the right environment for you.

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Startups

The startup environment is volatile. With huge numbers of startups failing it can be a risky place to jump in and start your career. In general they’re small, sometimes with a dozen or less employees, and they’re trying to grow fast. In the end the goal of a startup is to become a big business as quickly as possible.

The startup environment is creative. It’s based around coming up with new solutions to consumer (or business) problems. They want to disrupt the market. Because of this combination of goals and creativity a startup is temporary. No startup will stay a startup forever. They will either grow into a sizeable business, or they’ll die.

“Startup is a state of mind. It's when people join your company and are still making the explicit decision to forgo stability in exchange for the promise of tremendous growth and the excitement of making immediate impact.”

— Adora Cheung, cofounder and CEO of Homejoy

So why do people get on board with startups?

A lot of people join a startup because they see its potential. They see an opportunity to get rich when the company gets big. Others are attracted by the inherent creativity that goes hand in hand with this kind of business. Still others like to wear many hats in their workplace. When you work for a startup you’re doomed to have a lot of things to do, and not enough people to do them. This leads to employees gaining a wide skill-set as they’ll be working on a variety of programs and projects.

Why do people forgo working for a startup?

Because by nature a startup doesn’t have a lot of money. This means you’ll generally make a little less, be understaffed, and it can be significantly more stressful. This kind of environment isn’t for everyone. You don’t have the opportunities to specialize that you get at larger businesses and you often have to work on projects that don’t perfectly fit your job description.

Pros and Cons of Working for a Startup

Pros
Cons
Could Go Either Way
Opportunity to develop a variety of skills
Less benefits than you can get elsewhere
Lack of structure - opportunity to build your own structure / possible inefficiency
Creativity
Smaller income
Influence - you have a significant influence on company success
Dynamic - opportunities for personal growth
Work-life balance
Sink or swim attitude
A lot of opportunities for collaboration
Stress and pressure
High risk, high reward
Flexibility
Understaffed
 
Potential for high rewards
Potential to fail
 
Room to make mistakes
 
 

Small Business

People often use the terms 'small business' and 'startup' interchangeably. In reality they are very different concepts. Where a startup is designed to become a big business and eventually make a whole mess of money, a small business is independently owned and operated, organized for profit, and not dominant in its field.

Small businesses are just that, small. They’re often family owned, but not always. But the size of these businesses is important because it usually means you’ll get to know everyone who works there. From the receptionist to the owner to (usually lone) accountant.

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Why work for a small business?

Small businesses are very different from startups. But one thing they do have in common is the appeal of flexibility and wearing multiple hats. Unlike startups the work-life balance with small businesses is usually much more, well, balanced. It is also more likely that your accomplishments will be acknowledged because of your personal relationships with your coworkers.

Why do people choose not to work for small businesses?

9 out of 10 small businesses fail, so there is some inherent risk there. Even a small business that has been successful for the last ten years can go under because of the influence of outside influences. If rent on the office goes up, a new player joins the market, or we hit another financial crisis a small business might be in trouble. There are also less opportunities for personal growth because you’ll be facing limited opportunities.

Pros and Cons of Working for a Small Business

Pros
Cons
Could Go Either Way
Less bureaucracy
Risk of failure as a company
Knowing everyone in the company
Variety of responsibilities
Your failure is visible
 
Flexibility
More influenced by changes in the economy
 
Work life balance
Smaller payout
 
Job security
Less impressive benefits
 
Less hierarchy
 
 
Control over your career
 
 
Visible successes
 
 
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Corporate America (or Working for a Large Company)

Working for a larger, and better established, company comes with a lot of perks. But, as always, there are also a lot of cons. Large companies have a lot of variety based on industry and management style. No two companies are the same.

Why work for a large company?

One of the main perks of big businesses is that they’re established. They usually already have a way of doing things and set strategies. Because there are usually numerous employees your impact on the company is less palpable. This means it’s a lot easier to take two weeks off. There’s always someone there to pick up your slack. Big companies can also afford more training so there are always opportunities to learn, but usually only within your specific job description. Because you’re only doing one kind of work you have the opportunity to truly master that particular set of skills. And in many companies there are opportunities to move linearly. For instance from one part of the marketing department to another. Big companies also have a lot of perks you don’t see at smaller companies. Gym memberships, company cars, free drinks, catered lunches, travel, and company events are among these perks. The company structure is more obvious and there are big financial perks.

Why don’t some people like large companies?

Large companies come with a lot of people. Obviously. But more employees means more need for structure and more politics. This results in stagnation. Change is usually slow and departments often end up overly-siloed. This results in a lack of collaboration and sometimes fierce frustration. While you’ll get to know your immediate coworkers very well you won’t have as many opportunities to meet people across departments. And often coworkers work in different cities, which causes an entirely different set of problems. While individual roles may be creative in nature you often have a limited reach of influence.

Pros and Cons of Working for a Large Company

Pros
Cons
Could Go Either Way
More formal training
Siloed departments
More specialization
Higher potential income
Less mobility
Less risk-taking opportunities
Better Benefits
Overly structured
 
More opportunities for travel and other perks
Less collaboration
 
Recognizable names for your resume
Politics
 

In Conclusion

No two companies are made alike. Every startup, small business, and large corporation is made differently. But there are some generalities that can be made based on the size of the company. So when you’re looking at your career path keep in mind all the variables, beyond your personal skills, that will affect how happy you are with where you work.

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