Should you work for a small business or a large company?

We get asked this question a lot.  Many of our candidates aspire to work for a large company, attracted by what they consider to be the best way to climb the career ladder.  In the UK however, the vast majority of businesses (as many as 99.9% according to the Federation of Small Businesses) are classed as small- or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and employ fewer than 250 people.  SMEs also employ more than half of the UK workforce. So it is worth looking at working for a smaller company too – after all, you don’t want to rule out the vast majority of opportunities for jobs in Stockport.

There are benefits to working at both SMEs and multi-national corporations, but which one is going to be right for you?

Working in a large company

Many people choose to work in large businesses because of the career opportunities that come with it.  There are often in-house training schemes in place, or structured schemes in place so you will know exactly what you need to do to move up the ladder.  Larger organisations can also offer better options to change course in your career too and move sideways into different departments – small businesses often can’t provide this as more functions like accounts or marketing are likely to be outsourced and there’s more risk involved too.

As you’ll be in a larger business with larger teams, there are also more opportunities to specialise in your role – while a small business might have just one person looking after the company accounts, a larger business can employ specialists for different tasks.  If you’re the type of person that likes to have variety in your job though, you may not be so suited to becoming so specialised. If you have an aspect of your job you really love, a large company will offer the opportunity to pursue it and become a real expert in your skills (and that means you can command a higher salary in future). You’ve also got the advantage of working for a known name – if you do decide to move on in the future, working for an industry leader can be a big boost to your career.

Working at a large company can also offer more job security too as businesses are less at risk to fluctuations in the economy due to their more diverse range of products or clients.  However, with more layers of management in the business, you might that decision making is slower so if you’re the kind of person who likes to get things done and wants to affect changes in your workplace this might not be for you.

By virtue of the fact that they are big companies, many people love the fact you get to mix with all sorts of people. However, this won’t always be the case. You may find you’re only working with your own department – others might be in a different office, on a different floor, or even in a separate city entirely!  Larger businesses also tend to have a more corporate and professional culture too – your time will likely be more structured and you’re less likely to get the same kind of office banter you might in a smaller, close-knit office.

Working in a small company

Small companies can often put people off because there are more limitations to how you can progress in your career, but this isn’t always true.  You’ll get the opportunity to grow your role with the company, taking on more responsibility as it comes your way. You might not get the structured, well-defined promotions that you would in a big business; career growth will be more organic and flexible to the company’s needs.

Speaking of flexibility, the ability to take on many different sorts of responsibilities and turn a hand to many different things can be a real benefit to a small business – you’ll be able to get involved with lots of different projects and gain a much wider range of experience than you would in a larger business.  This goes for training opportunities too.  A large company might have structured schemes in place, but a smaller business will likely offer training as and when you need it, meaning it will be much more relevant to your needs. And if there’s something you want to undertake, you’re well placed in a small business to speak up and make your case for going on a particular training course.

That goes for other things too. Fewer layers of management means decisions are made much faster.  And you’re going to be working much more closely with the boss, so even if you’re starting at the bottom, you can still contribute ideas and help to see the business grow.  Unfortunately, smaller companies aren’t always as secure places to work – you’ll have fewer clients and be a bit more vulnerable to economic downturns. Of course, small businesses are able to act quickly to take advantage of gaps in the market too, so there’s definitely no reason to say that they can’t be as successful.

When it comes to the company culture, things are more close knit – all departments will be working towards the same goals so you might find a much greater sense of team spirit with a small business.  You’ll get to know everyone in the company really well, but it might feel a bit intense or cliquey when you first start, trying to get your head around everyone’s in-jokes.

So which should you choose? 

Well, it all depends on you. Some people working for a smaller company as it gives them opportunities to get involved in a variety of projects and gain a real sense of satisfaction from growing with a company.  Others prefer the formal structure of a large company.   But it is not always so clear cut.

We have found some larger companies similar in culture to smaller companies as they are still owned by the founder, are family owned, or they have a close knit departmental team. Other smaller companies we have worked with had a formal structure from the outset because they’ve got big ambitions to expand.

Still confused? 

Don’t be. You can use a job interview to work out whether the company culture, career progression and management style are for you.  If you have always worked for larger companies, you might find that the smaller company interviewing you is ideal, but if your career history is with small businesses, that’s no reason to rule out a job with a big company either. There are all sorts of businesses in Stockport, so you’re bound to find the one that’s perfect for you.

Originally published April 2014.