Career Satisfaction: Does company size matter?
Is it better to work for a small or a large company? This is an important question when considering changing jobs. To help answer, we spoke to two people who have worked for both, each with slightly different experiences.
For anonymity purposes, we’ll name them Aidan, who has recently moved from a large to a small company, and Emma, who has moved from a small to a large company.
Here’s their insights:
What was your reason for switching to a big/small company?
I always knew I wanted to work for a small company because they seemed more intimate and I’d have more opportunities to make a change. I knew getting experience in fund management would be difficult but luckily, I found an opportunity with a large company.
But I quickly found out it wasn’t right for me, so when a rare opportunity for this small company came about, I had to take it.
I worked at a few large companies previously, including the one I’m at now. At the small firm, there was a lack of benefits and flexibility. There was no flexible working (location or hours), bonuses were minimal, the pension scheme wasn’t very good, and no childcare vouchers were on offer.
In my job now, they offer very good benefits. I’m able to work different hours or from home, and they’re understanding of taking time off for appointments. A lot of these perks I just expect these days.
How did you find the interview experience for both?
At the small firm, the interviewer spent more time on culture fit – asking off-the-wall questions. They wanted detailed responses about my motivations for applying for the role and knowledge of the company.
My interview with the large company felt more of a box-ticking exercise about my skills. They didn’t ask many questions about my knowledge of the company or why I wanted the job.
The setup was similar in both - I had an interview, an assessment, and another interview. However, the interview with the small company lasted longer with more difficult questions.
They looked for personality type, since I’d be working so closely with the same people. At the large company, they asked questions about my skill set and less about my personality type.
What were the main differences between the two in terms of….
At the large company, it felt as though I was just a number, the people didn’t seem as interested in me as a person. I was just there to do my job. People were also uninterested in what was happening in other departments.
At the small firm, it was quite staid but people were content. You never had to work past 5pm, and I think they were afraid that wouldn’t be the case somewhere else. They would also take extra long lunches – quite old fashioned. But it was a comfortable place to work.
At the large company, they compliment and reassure you on your work a lot. It surprised me and I didn’t know how I felt about it at first. Now I’ve come to like it, and it helps motivate me.
At the large company, there was less formal training. I learned on the job. We also needed to be prepared to do the work of teams - this was stressful and was poorly managed.
In my current role, there is more structured training before I take on extra responsibilities. This means more downtime and the need to come up with work to do, which has been an adjustment.
There’s no chance of micromanagement in my job because my manager is at a different location. It's very different from small companies where you’re working right next to your manager – which could be suffocating for some.
In searching for a job, do you put the company or role first?
Company first, then the role. I’ll only leave my current job if there’s a chance to move to my desired job in a company I value.
Always company first. The people and the culture are what I deal with every day and have the biggest impact for me. I used to look at the job description when I started out but learned through experience that the company reputation, benefits and culture are most important to me.
How did communications differ?
At the large company, it wasn’t common practice to introduce yourself to anybody outside of those in your team.
In my current job, I’m encouraged to meet and talk with everybody at the company – no matter what their status is or department they’re in. I know more people at my work now, even though it’s a much smaller company.
My company now is global, which means dealing with different time zones, making communication more difficult. If I need information, I need to allow a 5-day notice before I can expect the information. It takes a while to get used to this.
At the small company, I could talk to anybody – no matter their position in the company. However, in terms of company news, we only heard about things through word of mouth. We weren’t kept up with company news formally.
In my job now we have weekly calls, company meetings, and so on to keep us up-to-date on company news and projects. Along with the outside events that everyone is invited to, they make you feel included.
Do you feel the opportunities for career progression are similar?
At the small company, my manager was honest in that he expected me to stay in this role for two years and after that would encourage me to move up in my career, whether within or outside the company. They also encouraged me to start a qualification that isn’t relevant for my role but will help me in my career goals.
At the large company, I had to actively develop my career on my own. It was a very structured movement up the corporate ladder. It wasn’t possible to move to a different department – you knew exactly where you would go next.
The large company has been honest from the start about expecting me to only stay in my position for two years. After that they’ll expect me to move to a new department or role of my choice.
There is constant restructuring and people leaving, meaning there are a lot of opportunities. If you want, you can also travel with work.
Where did you feel had a stronger team environment?
They’re very different. In my old job, we only worked face-to-face with our team members. If I had to collaborate with someone in another team, it was an unspoken rule that I should call or email – even if they were a few desks away.
At the small company, I think the people are more driven by company goals and feel closer to their team and everyone else.
I would have to say there is more of a team environment at the large company. It offers a small office environment with the comforts of working for a large firm, which I enjoy. It’s a global firm that offers good benefits and job security, but our office is small enough that I know my colleagues well.
What have been the biggest challenges in this switch?
Making the decision to switch jobs, I had to consider that the small company doesn’t have high employee turnover. It was a rare opportunity but it also meant my career movement would be limited.
I put this aside because I agreed with the company values and policies and felt this was most important.
A challenge for me is the large number of products – they change weekly so you can never be an expert on them. Also, being on such small teams means that the smallest problem has a big impact. If one person didn’t pull their weight, then you had a lot of extra work to do.
Would you go back to a large/small company?
Not from my experience, although I went from a very large to a very small company. I’m not sure what it’s like at a company in between the extremes.
Yes, but I would do my research beforehand. I would talk to people and figure out the company first. In my old job, I liked that I could get involved and get my hands dirty – and I was encouraged to do so. I also learned a lot in that job – my role was so varied that I learned more in one year than I did six years in a previous job with another large company.
However, I would never move just for money. I did that once and realised it was a big mistake. With my current job, I wanted security in my salary and job, but I also knew I liked the company and the people, since I had worked there before.
Does size matter?
Emma’s and Aidan’s experiences demonstrate that the size of a company alone should not be the deciding factor when considering a new job. Both small and large companies can offer good benefits, a strong team environment, career development opportunities, and so on.
For example, while fast career progression may seem more prevalent in larger companies, varied work experience across multiple departments is common within small companies. Both provide essential experience and opportunities.
The takeaway from these interviews is it's the nature of the company itself that matters, not the size. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a career move or a higher salary without taking company practices, policies and culture into consideration.
‘Size isn’t everything’, so the saying goes. But In the context of a prospective employer, it’s almost irrelevant.