The differences between large and small companies are sometimes (but not always) clear cut. While large companies tend to offer more robust employee benefits, such as workers’ comp insurance, health insurance and better retirement plans, for instance, some smaller companies and startups make the conscious choice to invest heavily in employee benefits programs that are highly competitive.
So, while the trade-offs I talk about in this article are common, understand that they are not universal, and there are many great examples of businesses large and small that break the mold. Rather than think of the pros and cons of small and large companies as stark differences, we’ll examine the trade-offs typically faced when choosing an employer.
Opportunity for impact vs. resources and support
In large corporations, you’ll generally find abundant resources to support you. Your interview process may put you in front of half a dozen or more prospective colleagues or managers. Your first day will include a heavily planned and process-driven onboarding experience. It’s not uncommon in very large companies to go through weeks of training and orientation before you really get down to doing the job you were hired for.
Once you’re in your role, you’re likely to find the handbook for your job is highly detailed with processes predefined for you and your weekly, monthly and quarterly success metrics clearly articulated. Many professionals feel secure and confident in this environment, as it provides a sense of security in the knowledge that, if you do the work in the right way and hit the success criteria, you’re doing a good job and may even see advancement opportunities come your way.
A trade-off for resourcing, support and clarity in a big company is opportunity for impact. As one of many doing a highly scripted job, it can be hard to stand out and can lead to a feeling that you’re one cog in a big machine.
By contrast, smaller companies typically rely on workers at every level to be more independent, develop their own processes and solve problems on the fly. Creativity is essential in small businesses and startups, and those who like to find their own way or exercise creative license in their work tend to enjoy the freedom and flexibility that comes with having a more nebulous role.
At the same time, I’ve seen how those who rise to the challenges of the business stand out easily in a small company.
In my own career, I’ve seen many smart, motivated young workers rocket straight from entry-level roles in startups to directing growing teams on the basis of their initiative, creativity and boldness. In more mature small businesses that are less growth oriented, however, it can be easy to get stuck at a career ceiling unless someone in a more senior position leaves the business.