Big vs. Small Companies: What to Expect When Starting a New Job

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New Job? What To Expect When Starting at a Big or Small Company

When choosing to work for a new company, size matters. Aside from having a big name — or a not-so-big name — to put on your resume, whether you work for a large or small organization can make a difference in how you experience your new job and what you get out of it. If you’re undecided about working for an established Fortune 500 company or a relatively unknown with a huge growth potential, here’s what you need to know.

Pros of Working for a Large Company

Before anything else, let’s clear up a few things first. For a company to be considered “large,” it must have at least 500 employees. As of 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau counted 16,055 large companies in 938 micropolitan and metropolitan areas around the country. That translates to around 17 per area, which isn’t much when you look at it from that angle. However, what these organizations lack in quantity, they more than make up for in other aspects:

  • Large companies tend to have solid systems in place, which hold the entire organizational machine together. If you need to take action on anything, chances are there’s already a clear-cut procedure outlined somewhere in the company handbook.
  • Large companies offer better compensation and benefits. Since the organization is profitable enough to expand in the first place, they’re probably also profitable enough to retain top talent.
  • Large companies usually won’t fall apart because of one major mistake by upper management. In most cases, those mistakes can be resolved without significant impact on overall operations.
  • Large companies provide more opportunities to advance laterally or upward. Should you decide to pursue a career in a different direction but don’t want to leave the company, either, you likely can do it without much trouble.


Cons of Working for a Large Company

Of course, not everything is rainbows and roses with large companies. The moment you become the proverbial cog in a gigantic machine, you realize that:

  • Large companies can stifle you with their bureaucracy. It can be frustrating to, say, request for supplies you need today when the person who approves requisitions is currently on a one-month vacation.
  • Large companies can make it difficult for individual employees to stand out. Sure, you may be an overachiever by any metric, but if the company is brimming with overachievers, getting your voice heard among them can be a challenge.
  • Large companies can downsize as they please. If they decide to lay off an entire department for any reason, only to realize they need it back years later, they can always rely on the strength of their brand to attract hordes of fresh, bright-eyed talent.
  • Large companies can make you feel disengaged from your work. If what you do amounts to only a tiny contribution to the organization, it can leave you demoralized and more likely to seek other places where you’ll be acknowledged for your work.


Pros of Working for a Small Company

As of 2010, there are roughly 6.79 million small companies in the U.S. That means your chances of getting employed by them are 423 times higher than that of the larger ones. It also means that, should you get employed by a small company, these are the benefits you can enjoy:

  • Small companies are more flexible in general. For example, if you’re in a startup online marketing agency, you may be churning out blog posts one day and building entire websites from scratch the next.
  • Small companies foster camaraderie. Since you interact with everyone else on a daily basis, there’s a stronger feeling that you’re in this together.
  • Small companies encourage transparency. Because everyone sees what everyone else is doing, there’s also a stronger feeling of accountability for everything you do.
  • Small companies have looser rules and regulations. Until management smoothens those out, you’re free to do as you please — as long as you do what’s expected of you and then some.
  • Small companies make you feel more invested in your job. You don’t just reap the fruits of your labor — you see firsthand how they impact the company as a whole. No wonder 36 percent of small business employees report as “actively engaged” in their work, as opposed to 29 percent from larger businesses.


Cons of Working for a Small Company

As with larger companies, small organizations have their downsides, too:

  • Small companies often offer inferior compensation and benefits packages compared to larger ones. If you prioritize money over experience, that’s obviously a no-no.
  • Small companies can force you to take on heavy workloads and longer hours. Because they’re short on helping hands, they’ll make the most of their available employees whenever possible.
  • Small companies are more vulnerable to the influence of toxic bosses. Their actions may cause only a tiny ripple of negative effects in larger organizations, but in smaller ones, these bosses can inadvertently whip up entire tsunamis to swallow everyone whole.
  • Small companies can be stifling for those who have problems with co-workers. If everyone literally works in the same room, there’s no point transferring departments to get away from unsavory people.
  • Small companies magnify both your successes and failures. If there’s something you’ve done or should’ve done but failed to do, people will notice and talk about it.


Keep in mind that these are generalized characteristics of small and large companies. It’s possible for a 300-strong company to offer a compensation package that’s miles better than that of a 500-million strong organization. Likewise, as in the case of Google, a corporation can offer flexibility that rivals that of smaller businesses. Regardless of which you choose, always do your homework, assess your suitability for a job and the company offering it, and you can make an informed decision from there.

About Sarah Landrum

Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks, where she shares advice on creating a career you love and are successful in. Her writing has appeared on The Muse, Levo, Forbes, Entrepreneur, Business Insider and has earned her a title as one of the top Career Experts to Follow by ICS. Subscribe to her newsletter for exclusive tips on growing your career and finding happiness in your career and life.
  • Ibrahim Celebi

    Hello Sarah, this was a great blog post and i really enjoyed reading it. I am also working in a start-up company and can say that, benefits of small companies are much more than big companies. I especially aggree on camaraderie issue. I really like to be together as a family.

    I also wrote a post exactly on same topic. You can check if you want:

    • Sarah Landrum

      Thanks, Ibrahim! Glad you liked it! Thanks for sharing!

  • Shawn Dexter

    Hey Sarah, great post! Gonna check out your blog right after commenting on this :)

    Having recently worked for startups and big corporations, I have to say that the gap is beginning to thin — of course, this may hold true only for the tech sector.

    I’ve been surprised at the compensation packages being offered by the smaller companies.

    While Small companies are catching up on their shortcomings, I feel like the large companies are still struggling to decrease the gap on theirs :(

    • Dorothy Tannahill-Moran

      Thanks Shawn, I’m sure Sarah is pleased. I’ll pass this on to her.

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