Is It Better To Work For A Small Or Large Company?

Josh Didawick

Josh Didawick

HR Professional

Career planning is something that we all do, regardless of how much thought we deliberately put into the process. Even someone who is extremely happy in their job routinely has to make decisions that could affect their career.

These are a few of the uncertainties people find themselves in throughout their career.

Sometimes included in this line of questioning is what I call the fish or pond question, “Do I want to be the big fish in the small pond or the small fish in the big pond?” Rather than concentrate on the financial considerations in this type of decision, this article thinks about the decision from a career growth and planning perspective.

One of the major shifts in the working world over the last few decades is that workers have become more mobile. According to a recent study by LinkedIn, members of Generation X that graduated college between 1986 and 1990 had two jobs in their first ten years of working.

Millennials that graduated college between 2006 and 2010 are on track to have more than four different jobs in their first ten years in the workplace.

To be fair, some of this is can be attributed to changes in the economy. Those same millennials graduated into one of the worst job markets since the Great Depression. Some of those job changes may not have been the employees’ choosing.

The manufacturing and industrial sector actually showed some of the least job-hopping of the different sectors, but it was still 60% higher than the GenX population. What is clear is that the younger generation has shown a propensity to move around between jobs, and even industries, in a way never seen before.

Statistics are helpful in understanding generational differences, but when it comes down to individual careers, they are not necessarily helpful. When people are deciding about career moves, which it sounds like millennials will be doing more than their predecessors, they sometimes find themselves deciding whether to be the big fish in the small pond or the small fish in the big pond.

It's important to understand are your own personal preferences, as well as the pros and cons associated with each move.

Big Fish, Little Pond

Titles can be fairly important when someone is reviewing a resume, but in terms of gaining experience, it is better to gain a wealth of experience with an unflashy title, than have a great title that does not provide the accompanying experience.

Smaller organizations (little ponds) often provide this type of opportunity. Startups may fall into this category, but there can also be well-established businesses that stay small. In smaller organizations, people tend to have to pick up a variety of responsibilities as a matter of routine. When there is a small number of employees, it is harder to have job descriptions that specifically spell out each and every role and responsibility. Some people do not like to work in such ambiguity. Others will thrive and should seek it out.

Another benefit of being in a little pond is that you are more likely to get exposure to, and understand, the entire pond. Without layers of bureaucracy, people working for instance in operations may have to interact with sales, accounting, HR and even the C-suite.

This type of exposure allows people to make positive impressions. When opportunities arise to move around within the organization, working in a small company gives you exposure and knowledge and can help in branching out to other areas of the business.

Little Fish, Big Pond

As exciting as the small pond seems to some, many people are going to get their thrills from splashing in a bigger pond where they may have to start out as a smaller fish. For some it may be the prestige of working for a large company or the perceived stability. By and large, being a small fish in a big pond can lead to greater expertise through specialization.

Larger organizations tend to have more available resources to hire staff. As staffing grows, one of the results is increased specialization. Whereas someone in a small firm may have been pulled in different directions to meet production demands or client needs, that person will typically have more focus in a larger organization.

Another thing to keep in mind is that large employers often have more resources for growth and opportunities for people to progress in their careers. Whereas a smaller company’s learning opportunities may be on-the-job or less programmatic, many larger organizations are going to offer formal programs to develop their human capital. This may include assistance in continuing education, formal leadership development programs, mentoring and programs that allow employees to work in different sections of the business.

Many of these experiences can give employees some of the small pond benefits to go along with the features a larger organization offers.

It is human nature to think about our careers, where we want to see them go and how to get there. Figuring out where to work can be a difficult decision to make. If at some point you are faced with the decision to go be a big fish in a little pond or a small fish in a big pond, it probably means you are doing something right. You already have multiple opportunities, so now you can weigh the pros and cons from a strategic perspective, all the way down to the specifics each company is offering. You have to trust your instincts and go where you feel most energized about contributing and find the fish pond fit that works for you.

About The Author

Josh Didawick
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Josh Didawick

Josh Didawick is a seasoned HR professional and consultant with extensive experience creating and guiding organizations’ HR strategies, as well as coaching individuals committed to successful careers. He specializes in taking on complex organizational issues to affect positive change and high performance. For individuals, Josh helps them put their best foot forward when seeking that next career, promotion or milestone in the workplace. Josh has had several articles published and presented at conferences on HR-related topics.

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