The pros and cons of working for a small company

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An area some candidates forget to consider when going about their job search is company size.

I discussed the pros and cons of working for a large company in the last article. As a follow-up, today we’ll look at the pros and cons of working for a small company.

Pros

Impact

You have a big impact when you work for a small company. In a small company, it’s more obvious to see how your work fits into the whole and to know that your work matters. Furthermore, you will have a better understanding of how each department links together and how you rely on one another. Small companies also tend to have a flatter organizational structure and easier access to upper management. This type of structure lends itself to better visibility and more recognition.

Scope

In small companies, each position tends to have a broader scope of responsibility, therefore it’s a wonderful place to learn and grow quickly. If your boss gets overloaded or if the business grows, it’s entirely feasible that you could take on responsibilities, so you have a very real opportunity to upgrade your skills at any given moment. It’s also easier to get a feel for a smaller organization, so you have the chance to take well-informed initiatives thanks to your understanding of the business. They will be heard and appreciated because every small company welcomes the possibility of doing something better, faster or more efficiently.

Projects

Generally speaking, small companies are in growth mode and moving towards greater structure and efficiency. Policies are not yet cemented and systems are not yet implemented so it’s likely that there will be an abundance of special projects in which you can participate that involve cross-functional teams. This type of exposure can be a huge boost for your career and will make you attractive to other employers in the future, should you choose to eventually leave the organization.

Cons

Leadership

One of the downsides of smaller companies is inconsistent leadership. In larger companies, there is a pressing emphasis on succession planning and leadership development because the large company won’t risk taking a hit should a leader leave or become unable to perform their function. In publicly traded companies, everyone is accountable, including the CEO who is accountable to the board and shareholders. It’s therefore critical for large companies to be constantly training and developing new leaders. They simply can’t afford letting their leadership pipeline run dry.

This isn’t the case however for many smaller companies. For the most part, leadership rests on the personality of the company owner or president. Some leaders want to continuously improve and are committed to development whereas others rely on their skills and traits and don’t feel a sense of urgency about learning a more strategic leadership approach. Moreover, people in small companies tend to be promoted because they are good individual contributors and not necessarily because they have leadership potential.

Isolation

Another drawback with smaller companies is an isolation within each respective function. More often than not, teams are small and it’s possible that you will be the only one with your skill set. Therefore implementing best practices or working with the latest technology in your field probably won’t happen. In the short term, you won’t lose much ground in your industry, especially if you are diligent about attending conferences and participating in other such development activities, however in the mid- to long-term, around the 7- to 10-year mark, you do risk falling behind your contemporaries.

Competition

Finally, and probably the most common concern about smaller businesses: can this business stay in business? Running a business is a challenge especially in this competitive, global marketplace. Disruptors like Amazon, Expedia, Netflix, Uber and AirBnB are toppling giants in their respective industries and have risen the barrier for entry for the small business owner. Larger companies in many fields are consolidating and staying competitive by acquiring smaller businesses. Finally, unfortunately, some small companies are poorly managed and either miss a trend in the market or rely too heavily on one customer and find themselves in a precarious position when change knocks at the door, as it inevitably will. It is literally a jungle out there. Some small businesses have what it takes to weather the storm, and some do not.

Conclusion

I hope that taking an in-depth look at both larger and smaller organizations has helped you to clarify not only your preferences, but possibly what move you could make next to benefit and safeguard your career.