Why you might want to work at a small-sized company
Call me naive, while I was in college, I never learned or tried to learn, for that matter, to learn the differences between small and large companies. I didn’t hear much about small companies. In my opinion, most of the companies who exhibited at my Career Fair or were on campus hosting networking events, tended to be mid-sized to larger-sized companies (unless I was completely blind to the small-sized ones).
As a senior, I mostly applied to larger companies and didn’t think to apply to smaller ones.I looked for companies with bigger names that were more like household names. I thought might as well. It made sense to apply to large companies because of their brand recognition, and I thought there was more security with them. The thought of applying to small companies never really crossed my mind.
I currently work at a small company. I previously worked at a larger company. At the moment, I prefer working at smaller companies because of the environments they offer. I’ll further dive into the reasons why later in this post, but right now, my personality, my work style, and I want for my work corresponds with what smaller companies are like.
When I decided it was time to look for new job opportunities from my first job out of college, I came across smaller companies with positions that interested me. Honestly, that was the first time I researched and assessed the differences between small and large companies. Before committing, or applying for that matter, I figured it’d make sense for me to understand what I was getting myself into. In some of my previous posts, I discuss the importance of asking questions and doing your research before making big decisions and committing yourself to monumental things, like your choice of college, graduate school, and your job. If I was going to apply to small-sized companies, I wanted to make sure it was right for me and what I wanted. In my research, I learned that smaller companies were much more fitting for my personality.
In this post, I’m going to highlight some of the qualities (and what you might deem as benefits) of small companies. In no way shape or form am I trying to deter you from pursuing opportunities at larger companies. While we’re in college, we hear more about the mid-sized to larger-sized companies, for they’re much more prevalent on college campuses and tend to have seemingly stronger relationships with the schools. My objective is to shed light on what you (like me) didn’t learn or try to learn about small companies in college.
Some questions I hope to answer in this post are the following:
What are some characteristics of small companies?
What should I expect from a small company?
How is a small company different from a large company?
Ultimately, is a small company right for me?
Shall we begin? Let’s jump right into some characteristics of small companies.
A small business can be defined as an independently owned and operated company that is limited in size and in revenue depending on the industry. Small companies are either solely owned (by one person), or there is a partnership in place (between 2 or more owners). A startup that employs 10 people is an example of a small business. A local accounting firm that employees 200 people is an example of a small business. Pretty self-explanatory - small companies have smaller teams of employees, who aren’t a part of unions, and there are usually limited or fewer locations than larger companies. For instance, a large insurance company, made-up of 5000 people, might have 45 branch offices, whereas a local, small insurance company, might be made-up of 100 people, and have two locations.
Now, what could I expect from working at a small company? How are these characteristics different than large company?
1) Jack or Jane of all trades - Your job responsibilities at a larger company are usually well-defined. You have set responsibilities that you are given and are expected to execute on those responsibilities. There’s usually more than one person in a specific team or department. Each person has specific responsibilities, and everyone in the team or department fulfills these responsibilities, so it runs as smoothly as possible.
Rather, in a smaller company, you may have a role and certain responsibilities that you need to adhere to, but you might also take on other responsibilities given business need. Your day-to-day might involve doing work beyond your responsibilities if the business needs your help in that area. A good way to look at it is considering where you might be able to help to move the business along. At small companies, I like to say the mentality is all-hands-on-deck. Everyone pitches in depending on what need is.
Large companies allow for more specialization in your work. If there’s a specific position you’re interested in pursuing, larger companies tend to have positions for those. At smaller companies, there are fewer bodies, less resources, so you’re less inclined to see these narrow-focused roles.
2) Build your course - I think one of the neatest qualities of small companies is the ability to pave the way for yourself and find work within the business that really interests you. Given that you most likely become a Jack or Jane of all trades, you will get exposure to all facets of the organization. You have the opportunity to find out what areas of the business where you want to put your effort. You can get yourself involved with what you like to do - as long as you’re contributing to the progression of the business.
As I said earlier, you typically have set responsibilities at larger companies, so veering into other areas of the business isn’t as easy and may require you to apply to another position outside of your team or department. You don’t have as much visibility into the other facets of the business, so you can’t easily jump into the work. Whereas at a smaller company, you can involve yourself in other areas of the business and take-on responsibilities that interest you.
3) Build processes - You will find solidified processes on how to do things at larger companies. The processes are usually vetted by several people and instituted company-wide, so everyone adheres to the same processes. At larger companies, you will find solidified structure and process - there are predetermined ways how to do things. However, I like to say if you really like process, like me (I love process and thinking of processes), small companies are great because you will frequently have the opportunity to develop or institute processes rather than working a process that’s been in place for awhile. Smaller companies might not have certain processes. Processes are developed when there is a need for them.
4) Less bureaucratic - Typically, at larger companies, there are more hurdles you need to cross to get decisions made or approvals on things. You will usually see more of a hierarchy where you, as an associate, might report to a manager, who reports to a supervisor, who reports to a director. Business matters or questions will flow through this chain of command before decisions or approvals are made. At larger companies, it takes longer for things to get done since there are several people involved before a business matter or question gets to the person with decision-making or approval power. At smaller companies, you’re less inclined to find hierarchy meaning there isn’t as great of a chain of command. In many scenarios, the person you report to has decision-making or approval power, which makes it easier to talk about business matters and get things done. As a result, business matters usually move quick at smaller companies.
Also, responsibilities are much more defined at larger companies, which might mean there are a handful of people who handle specific tasks and in order to get them done, you need them.Whereas, at smaller companies, there’s more of a all-hands-on-deck approach. As I mentioned, you might find cross-pollination between teams when things have to get done where at larger companies, you might need to wait until the person who handles the specific task is available.
5) More collaboration - Less people, additional responsibilities, and greater crossover among teams allow for more collaboration at small companies. There is a great deal of interaction that happens between employees, so business decisions are made thoughtfully but quickly to fulfill the ultimate goal of moving the business along. At larger companies, employees are more likely to stick the responsibilities they’re given, and most of the interaction happens at the team or department level.
At this point in my career, I prefer working at small companies. I like having the creative freedom to develop and participate in the development of processes versus them already being instituted. I think, especially at my age, to be engaged with business strategy. I also enjoy how quickly (though thoughtfully) decisions are made. Decisions don’t have to go through multiple channels of managers and supervisors to be approved. Decisions are made in a timely manner to move business along. I prefer to be a in a fast-paced environment or else I’d be bored, and we all know it’s not good if I’m bored...I don’t mind shifting gears throughout the day depending on where there is a company need. It keeps me on my toes, which I absolutely thrive off of.
Now, a small company isn’t right for everyone.
The question to ask yourself is: Is a small company right for me?
That’s a question you need to ask yourself and really assess. Are you looking for a smaller work environment where you might be reporting to a high-level contact in the company vs. a manager who reports to another supervisor? Are you okay with making your own path, or do you want one that’s already built for you? Same goes for process. How do you feel about doing work outside your day-to-day responsibilities to move business? These are things you must consider before jumping into working at a small company.
A small company might not be fitting for your personality, and that’s perfectly okay. However, it’s important to know what your options are, weigh them, and really think about what makes sense for you and what you want for your work.