Better Work For A Large Company Or For A Small Company?

If you work as an employee, do you work for a large company or for a small company? If you have worked for both types, which do you prefer?

Speaking of looking for a new job for better pay, a former colleague just told me an opportunity at the company he’s working now. Because he knows I do a good job, he invited me to interview for it.

That company is a small company, with fewer than 50 employees. My current employer is a large company, with more than 10,000 employees.

I worked for small companies before. My two previous employers both had fewer than 20 employees. With fewer people in the organization, there is less bureaucracy. Things get done fast. Employees have more input to the business. You are not pigeonholed into a defined role. If there’s a need to do something and you are up for it, you can just do it.

At my previous employer, I showed the owner how he was fleeced by his insurance agent "financial advisor" in our 401k plan (the owner had the largest balance in the plan). I found him a new 401k provider. When we switched, everybody was happy. To do that at my current company? They have dedicated teams and outside consultants. There is no chance they will listen to me. I don’t even bother.

Because by necessity I had to take on multiple roles as an employee at a small company, it made me more versatile. I think I perform well at my current position at a large company because of my past experience at smaller companies.

However, life as an employee at a large company is much more comfortable. You do your more narrowly-defined job and let others worry about other things. Pay and benefits are much better. Bosses from CEO down are spending shareholders’ money. Saving money isn’t going to add it to their own pocket.

There are many internal job opportunities at large companies. Many of these jobs aren’t advertised. If you are tired of working in one team, just move to another. At the same time, for someone outside the company, it’s much harder to get in.

Should I jump at this opportunity? It’s going to be a difficult decision. I think I will like the work better but I won’t be compensated as well as I am now when I take into consideration of everything: salary, benefits, work hours, and job security. Follow the heart or the pocket book?

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  1. Money Beagle says

    I went from a company that had 50,000 employees to one that had 15. I’ve worked at companies with bigger and some in between. In the end, I’ve found that (no pun intended) size really doesn’t matter. You have opportunities if you make them in companies both big and small. You run into good bosses and bad bosses in companies of both sizes (in the case of the company with a handful of employees, my ‘good’ boss partnered with another company, the owner of which was a terrible boss, so things can change overnight). It’s almost doing what you think is best now and try to make the best of it moving forward. Most of what happens ‘next’ is out of your control so don’t put too much into that part when making your decision. Keep us posted.

  2. JC says

    I went from a company that had 20,000+ to one that has 115+ and growing. I actually received a 30% pay raise so the decision to leave wan’t that difficult. It was the best decision of my work career as I am enjoying my work now and have learned so much. One of the big things is employees are treated better at this small company; they try to make it feel like an extended family.

  3. Ace says

    I agree with the sentiment that every company is different. One disadvantage that I’ve found to small companies is that there is little room to move up. I started out of college working for a smaller company (about 60 full-time employees). The work was great. I instantly had a lot of responsibility and autonomy, and actually got credit for my little part of the world performing well. However, I discovered after just four years that I was already reporting to the vice president. Her brother was the president. Their father was the chairman. You can see where this is going.

    I liked my job, but didn’t want to reach the pinnacle of my career only four years out of college. The positions above me would only be vacated by death or retirement. I was stuck. In larger companies, it seems there’s always a promotion to be had or a position to move up into. Not always the case in small companies.

  4. Denver Todd says

    I work for a large company, but in a local division where I have virtually no say in how anything is done, and no advancement opportunities whatsoever. So when you say a large company, you should qualify it by saying it is a larger location of a large company. I think people who work at our headquarters live the good life with pay and advancement opportunities, while people who work at a local outpost experience none of this. For example, I doubt that anyone can go anywhere within Starbucks without moving to Seattle.

  5. Celtic86 says

    As long as you aren’t unhappy in your current role, stay where you are. Your heart will wait. I believe you are in your 40s which means you should be in the accumulation phase of life (retirement assets-wise). There are many risks in smaller companies that go along with the feeling of being the valued Swiss Army knife. Sure, you can make a killing but a quick acquisition later you can also be on the street (and with the unspectacular success rates of startups, figure your odds). Tick off the wrong mis-manager and same thing. It’s harder to get from under poor mgt in a small company, and despite JC’s example, most pay less and that’s especially true if you’re an impact player at a Fortune 1000. I have quintupled my earnings in just 15 yrs in my chosen space, moving from a small company of less than 40 employess and moving to companies of 5k+. I haven’t a single regret and will do my volunteer work and teaching work once I’m retired. Until then I’m going to keep working my butt off so that I can afford to – and staying with large companies.

  6. Wai Yip Tung says

    I think you mostly answered you own question, at least the analytic parts. The
    rest is really depends on one’s personality and life situation.

    For me, I moved from giant company to a tiny one. They managed to match my salary but not their substantial bonus. Hopefully the small company can afford some upside that may be fruitful in the long run.

    This morning I find myself happily doing janitorial work with one other coworker. We cleaned a bunch of mess left over in the kitchen from last night. It just dawn on that there is far more team work engaging me in this company than ever before. As psychologist will tell you one’s happiness hinge upon the social relationship far more than anything else. So I choose the small company and I’m very satisfied so far.

  7. Kyle says

    My thought is a small company may give you more say in how things are run. If you work for a company of 20 people everyone can go to a meeting together and get their say in. Then again its going to be vital to keep good relations with everyone as their isn’t a big HR department to police conflicts.

    A large corporation has its plus too in that it can negotiate big time with insurance companies to provide employees with affordable health insurance. They are also more likely to have diverse business lines that may give one a better opportunity to transfer departments.

    They both have their pros and cons depends on what one is looking for.

  8. Unknown says

    I’ve only worked for big companies, but have never really regretted not working for a small one. I have a friend that has pretty much done the opposite by only working for small companies. I’ve only had 3 jobs since graduating college – he has had many more than that. We both work in IT. Whatever you do, don’t ever go to work for a company that makes money by billing clients for the hours you work. This setup is disastrous for any employee with a life outside of work.

  9. Nish The Dish says

    Hi TFB,

    I don’t think it is the size of the company, rather it is the size of the opportunity.

    Let us take the example you brought up, changing the 401K provider, which I am assuming you mentioned because you are proud of what you did for the company. That feeling you got when you made a difference to your company is what you should be aiming for. If you do not feel like you can do that at your current position, and the new position gives you that opportunity, then go for it.

    You will be happier. Usually at any half decent company, when you make an impact like that you will be rewarded. Then life will be really good.

    I enjoy your blog, and I really appreciate what you do here.

    Good luck.

  10. Tony Hung says

    I work for a large company right now in NYC, and I got a job offer from a small company which is only a few miles from where I live. My problem is that im not sure if I should stay at my current company, which I don’t much enjoy since being an Iphone developer, there aren’t any projects at the moment and its a very long commute.
    If I take this new job, its a very small pay cut (4k) but i save on commuting expenses(3k per year) and there is more work available,
    Any thoughts?

  11. Janith Randeniya - Let's Learn Finance says

    From my experiences, working with a small company exposes you to many more aspects of that particular business. You tend to pick up more things with the extra practical experiences you get. With the larger companies, you might not even know what’s happening in the room next door!

  12. Reed says

    I know I’m a bit late to the party and I think you’ve made your decision by now, but I’ll throw my 2 cents in for future readers.

    I think it largely depends on your personality. Right out of college I worked for a large company for about 14 months before moving to a small company close to home. The large company had things figured out so the structure was there and there was no scrambling around to figure out how to get things done. My work for the smaller company meant that I was doing more (more skills developed) but also had to do more because there was no one to serve certain functions (i.e. janitorial, maintenance, pest control, shipping and receiving, even scanning and faxing stuff). My personality is that I like to do one thing and dig into it; oftentimes, losing track of time. At the larger company that was easy for me to do. At the smaller company my wheels spin because of the increased responsibility but also because you don’t feel like you are accomplishing what you need to do. Other people may enjoy multitasking and the option to pick and chose what they do first; I don’t.

    As far as the teamwork comment goes, I would have to disagree. I found that people are going to be the way they are no matter if it’s a large company or small company. As a Scientist, I work with plenty of introverted people who aren’t even sure what teamwork is.

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