Big Company or Small Company?
March 3, 2008 3:56 PM   Subscribe

Big company or small company?

I've been working for progressively smaller companies for the last few years. My last company was tiny, and I enjoyed it a lot...until I was laid off with no warning. Now I am considering offers from a large company (worldwide) and a very small one. What are the pros/cons? My heart says small company, due to the good experiences I had in the past and the fact that I like the people, but my brain says bigger company has more resources, opportunities, etc. I need to decide by tomorrow, please help! All other things are equal, salary, benefits, etc. I'm a project manager.
posted by sweetkid to Work & Money (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, also , how does the current economy affect this decision?
posted by sweetkid at 3:58 PM on March 3, 2008

This is a really difficult question to answer in any general way. You give no information about the companies or any of the reasons you are considering them. Everything being equal, I would join a smaller (growth) company in my industry due to my belief that in a smaller company there is much more intimacy with those you work with, and hence a better chance to make the relationships that will ensure growth in said company.

Generally speaking however, there are pros and cons to either. I would base my decision on my initial impressions of the companies that are offering me a position. I assume that during your interviews you asked questions regarding your position and the growth potential at the company, If you didn't ask these questions, you should.

Sit down and gather all the information you have at hand and really look at it, this will get you much further than simply weighing the benefits and pitfalls of size.
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 4:12 PM on March 3, 2008

I would go small company. You have a better personal experience at work, and, should it expand, a better chance of getting promoted etc...
posted by gadha at 4:12 PM on March 3, 2008

How many customers does the small company have? Is it dependent on venture capital funding, or does it have a more reliable revenue stream? How quickly is it growing?

All you can do is research both companies as best you can, and then go with what you think is the best choice. Best of luck.
posted by davetill at 4:18 PM on March 3, 2008

It really depends. Working for both, you already know how each works. There is definitely a grass is greener on the other side mentaility. Bigger companies often pay well and have good "standard" benefits (ie dental, health, drugs, etc) and if you DO get laid off usually give good packages. Smaller companies tend to offer flexible hours, neat perks (ie drinking at the office on friday afternoons, letting you bring your dog in, no dress code) and perhaps equity that can make you well off later if the company takes off.

If you're young, single, have few debts, and willing to take a bit of risk, the small companies can be a blast that you'll talk about later in life when you're working in a conglomerate to support your family. If you've spawned, then you need to think about the kid before what you want, unless all else is equal.
posted by hylaride at 4:24 PM on March 3, 2008

Big companies are typically great for team players who like benefits, cost-of-living increases and long term security. Little companies are usually great for cowboys who like excitement, making an individual contribution that matters, possible big money, and lots of career possibilities (including getting laid off).

Where are you at in your life? This should answer your question pretty fast.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:30 PM on March 3, 2008

Some people seem to be confusing small companies with start-ups. If you've mostly done the small company thing, try the big company! A big company will offer a more defined career path, more support, more interaction with the world.

There are two kinds of small companies, small-and-stagnant and small-and-growing. I worked for one small company for 5 years, it was fine, but there was never going to be a new challenge to take on or a way to grow because I was already doing the only thing I wanted to do (or could do), and the company was only going to make incremental changes and wasn't growing or changing. That company was 5 people by the way. I now work at a company with 6 people, but it's a growing company. We're not always growing in terms of headcount, but we're growing in terms of the things we do and the room there is for me as an individual to have a big idea and see it come true. Now I see that working at a company that wasn't growing meant that I couldn't grow either.

This isn't a choice between a big company and small one. It's a choice between a specific position working for a specific person doing a specific thing one place, and all that stuff someplace else. If the big company is going to make you wear pantyhose, then that's an actual thing you can compare. But the size of the company isn't a thing by itself, it can only influence other factors in your decision like environment, career path, etc.
posted by Mozzie at 4:58 PM on March 3, 2008

Response by poster: The smaller company is definitely growing. I would be a new project manager.
posted by sweetkid at 6:30 PM on March 3, 2008

Best answer: Bearing in mind that sometimes pros and cons are subjective, and that these are generalizations that don't apply to all small or large companies, and bearing in mind that we're talking about a Project Manager position... here's my list. I haven't bothered listing every Big Company Pro as a Small Company Con.

Large company pros:
- Easier to go a long time without doing any real work (This is a pro because it's your choice)
- More opportunities for travel and formal training
- Defined policies and procedures, so you often have a head start on how to do things
- An HR department can sometimes solve boss/subordinate issues that you can't. For example at some large companies you can just go to HR and request a transfer without ever needing to confront/deal with your boss about a problem
- You can get transferred to different departments and learn different things from people who know what they're doing
- More job structure so you know exactly what is expected of you to do well
- Large company experience added to a resume of small companies only will improve the resume
- Bigger company usually means there is someone to pick up the slack if you go on vacation/get sick/need personal time.
- More opportunity to lead bigger projects
- The benefits are probably better, even if you don't think they are
- The cafeteria is probably better
- When you say, I work for so-and-so, people will have heard of it
- It's easier to find other things/events/people to blame a late or over-budget project on.
- Easier for an average/poor performer to get a raise every year.
- More people to meet socially
- More people to learn from and emulate
- Better chance of getting the really cool toys sooner
- Day care
- Easier to move to another city without having to job hunt

Large company cons
- While it's necessary, bureacracy really does get in the way of getting things done quickly and efficiently
- Bigger company means more people complicating projects, goals, and deadlines
- Competition from other PMs for the cool projects
- Meetings. Many, many meetings where nothing gets done or decided
- Risk-taking and change iniitiatives are not recognized or rewarded quickly
- Many people around you may be getting by without doing any work
- Some people find it necessary to stand out from the crowd by attacking others. In a big company you can build a career on this and call it "pointing out risks." In a small company everyone knows you're an asshole.
- Similar to the above, it's easier for people to do mean things to you if they don't know you as well
- You may have to deal with a PMO, which can be a pain
- The performance evaluation process can be soul-destroying

Small company pros:
- You get to do a little bit of everything
- Initiative and just getting things done are more easily rewarded
- It's easier to break rules. If you're good at your job, then everyone knows it, and cuts you slack. In a big company there is more pressure to discipline rule-breakers since there are many people who only see you as a problem
- You have a better chance of influencing the leaders of the company
- It's easier to get a chance to do something you've never done before.
- There is a better chance of a bigger payoff by getting in on the ground floor
- Less constrained atmosphere--possible impromptu parties in the office for example
- As time goes by your experience counts for more and your influence grows more quickly

Small company cons
- You sometimes get asked to do things you would never have to do at a big company. Some of these you might feel are beneath you.
- For a poor or average performer, your job security is much worse
- Even for good performers, there is more job security risk
- It's less stable. (And remember growth is not stability either) If you like to know what you're going to be doing tomorrow and the next year, stability is better
- You're closer to the owners, and therefore more likely to get involved in shady business practices if there are any
- You're closer to the owners, and therefore recognizable as someone who is taking money directly out of their pockets just by being there. You'd better be doing something useful all the time.
- More chance of little stupid things going wrong and disrupting your work: running out of supplies, equipment breaking down with no one to repair it, cleaners not showing up
- More chance of you having to do someone else's job while they're away
- Harder to take any vacation during a key project
- Familiarity breeds contempt. And after a few years at a small compay, you will be very familiar with everyone.
- You don't have a defined way to get a raise. You just have to go ask the owner for one. Again, since it's coming right out of her or his pocket... you really need to justify it

I worked as a PM for both a Fortune 100 company and a company with fewer than 30 employees. My best experience... was in a medium sized company. Go figure.
posted by lockedroomguy at 8:07 PM on March 3, 2008 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I've worked for small companies that were every bit as lumbering and dilbert-like as the worst corporate stereotypes. I've worked for departments within large companies that acted basically just like skunkworks startups. And vice-versa. Past a certain point, size is not a predictor of anything useful.

So ignore that red herring, and take the job you actually want.
posted by ook at 8:16 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I spent my formative years at a start up that did well, then got a transfer internationally to a huge global company who bought them. I work for a large-ish company now. I loved a small company when I was younger, had the opportunity to make my own direction and genuinely have an impact on the business. Now I have young children, a mortgage and the resultant commitments. In this position, I like the idea that if I am laid off my experience in big companies makes me more employable - low risk - and I enjoy the stability and better perks of a large company, now that I have a lot in my life outside of work.
My plan is to go back to small companies when I am more settled and my kids are bigger/mortgage paid down.
posted by bystander at 2:55 AM on March 4, 2008

If you go with a small company, make sure it's profitable first.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:20 AM on March 4, 2008

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