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Any Answers answered: Big fish or big pond?

24th Aug 2016
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big fish small pond

AccountingWEB members chipped in to help an accountant in industry tackle an age-old career conundrum: Is it better to work for a big company or a small one?

The question

ConfusedAccountant2016 (CA) came onto AccountingWEB looking for advice on this subject. “I work in a medium size multinational listed company”, she started. “I've got a mid-level role managing a team of three. I've been offered a role to be FC of a very small company. Around £1m turnover and I'd be the only finance person. 10% pay rise. They work in a sector that I'm really interested in.

“There are no promotion opportunities in my current role. However, I wonder if it would be a bad move? Would it be hard to go back to a bigger company if it went wrong? I'm scared about being the only finance person too as it would involve doing all the boring stuff like payroll and invoicing. But I could get involved in their bids and projects.”

The conversation continued further down the thread, where CA also voiced her concerns around the lack of a company pension and the risk of giving up a solid role for a job with a six-month probation period.

However, the responsibility afforded by the new role and its opportunities for growth, for both her and the company, made the position extremely attractive.

Member advice

Addressing the point about the payroll and invoicing CA may have to take on as part of the new role, AccountingWEB regular and small business finance director tom123 said: “I think you will find that plenty of FDs still end up doing stuff you describe as 'boring'”.

He also advised that she needs to be “certain the company is on some kind of growth path to avoid getting stuck.”

WhichTyler wrote that a way to tackle the lack of opportunities in her current role might be to discuss the issue with a line manager. “I would have thought that a multinational listed company would have all sorts of 'bids and projects' you could get involved with. If boredom = time on your hands, can you talk to colleagues across the business and see if they have anything coming up you can help on?”

However, CA replied that although she currently works on “lots of interesting bids and projects”, the nature of her role is now becoming very routine.

“I feel like I'm in a queue behind people who have been there longer when it comes to being promoted”, she continued. “I think being the person who actually makes the ultimate decisions will be a new exciting challenge.”

Bernardmichael encouraged CA to spread her wings: “You've asked yourself the obvious questions (What about the downside if the company fails. How would this effect your future earning capability). However if you have no dependents life is a ball. Take the risk as all different experience is useful and broadens your usefulness to a future employer”.

Industry view

According to Matt Weston, director of specialist accountancy recruiters Robert Half, there are benefits for working in both small and large companies.

“It’s believed that the growth potential at a small company is greater due to the fact that there is scope to do more – i.e. employees are not necessarily confined to job titles as everyone tends to ‘muck in’. Your successes also have greater visibility since you are more likely to be working with senior members of the team, rather than reporting solely to your line manager.

“However, small companies also have their cons. There often aren’t as many opportunities to specialise and develop niche, technical skills, and at the same time the opportunities for advancement are fewer and further between.

“Larger companies naturally have more resources, and as such have larger budgets set aside for training and development. There is also more structure, which suits some more than a flat structure. These structures can provide the foundations for many newly-qualified accountants and those early on in their careers to build a solid foundation to build their careers.

“The decision to move should be based on your career goals and the type of working environment in which you are likely to thrive. Rather than fixating on employee numbers, ask whether you can see yourself working there and whether or not it will be a good fit – as long as you continue to learn and grow in your job, it doesn’t matter whether it’s at a small or large company.”


AccountingWEB caught up with CA to find out how she was getting on, and found her grateful for the help from AccountingWEB members. “It’s a dilemma many of us face in the profession, and it’s great to get ideas from people who work in the same industry”.

She confirmed that she would be taking up the new role, and was excited about the strategic opportunities afforded by it. “If you want more responsibility you often have to go smaller. I’ll be reporting directly into the new CEO, and will be involved in a lot more of the operational things that I don’t get the final say on at the moment.”

In terms of challenges the new position may present, the major concern for CA was not having as many people around to seek advice from. “In my current organisation you have specialists on hand to ask, so I will have to do a lot more figuring things out for myself.”

While smaller things like not having as nice an office and the lack of perks that big companies have may be irritating at first, CA is excited about her new role, and AccountingWEB will be catching up with her in the new year to find out how she is getting on.

Have any other AccountingWEB readers been faced with a similar conundrum? And do you have any tips for CA on starting her new role?

Replies (6)

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By Golfemmo
25th Aug 2016 14:10

Unfortunately there is no right or wrong answer. I have enjoyed roles up to divisional Finance Director within large multi nationals. A have also enjoyed roles up to CFO within SME's. The larger companies have excellent support systems and, when necessary the funds to employ "experts" when they are needed. However, the impact of what you do is less than in an SME. Within an SME what you do can and does have a major effect on the organisation. You are no longer a cog in a large wheel However, you will be at the "coal face" a lot more. It comes down to what you want at different periods within your career.

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By BrianPine
25th Aug 2016 17:06

I suspect that anyone working as the only member of the finance team in the vast majority of companies, with £1 million annual t/o, would be a 'glorified' bookkeeper - irrespective of job title. Unless the company is a 'one off ' I can't imagine that there'd be that much higher level work such as involvement in bids and projects !

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By BrianPine
25th Aug 2016 17:06

I suspect that anyone working as the only member of the finance team in the vast majority of companies, with £1 million annual t/o, would be a 'glorified' bookkeeper - irrespective of job title. Unless the company is a 'one off ' I can't imagine that there'd be that much higher level work such as involvement in bids and projects !

Thanks (2)
By plantramsingh
25th Aug 2016 18:06

My background is in engineering and I'm now in General Management but this is the story of my life. Five years in an oil & gas employer of 3000+ staff with 400+ in my division, to 3 years middle management in a contracting firm of <200, then 10 years in a micro firm with 4 persons, but it was an executive management role where I had the leeway and opportunity over the years to grow and diversify the firm to >40 staff in 6 functional departments, with up to 2 layers below the middle management level. Tremendous opportunity, no regrets - but moving to a smaller firm must come with a steep stepping stone and scope to leave your mark in a substantial way.

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By Counting numbers
26th Aug 2016 09:53

I like working for a small company. I have worked for both over the years but I find you have more ownership of your role in a small company. Most small companies are also interested in your ideas and these ideas can be a lot easier to implement too.

I say go with the small company. I also think it looks well on your CV as you get much more experience in every aspect of the business. In the hiring process I think it will give you the advantage in the future. As Matt Weston says above, everyone tends to muck in. With the right small company you are really part of the team and you can make a difference. While larger companies have more resources you can get caught in waiting for things to happen and the red tape. It can be a bit more flexible in a small company. The right person will use their intuitive and figure out things for themselves. It will give you the foundation to go on to bigger and better things.

When I worked for a larger organisation (17 offices) I thought there would be great procedures and processes in place. It couldn't have been further from the truth. No management skills at all.
That's just my experience and thoughts. Best of luck.

Thanks (1)
By Tom 7000
30th Aug 2016 11:57

It all depends on the Boss of the small company and his attitude....

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