Big company or small: Which is best for your career?

Travel cost calculation concept
Simon Gray
Share this content

Whether you’re in practice or industry, one of the decisions you’ve already made, either consciously or subconsciously, is on the size of organisation you currently or prefer to work for. But when it comes to career opportunities, is it big or small that’s best?

As a former professional recruiter and now through my business Career Codex this is a discussion that continues to crop up on a regular basis. The decision to work for a larger or smaller organisation can have implications for your long-term career. For example, in my recruitment business my first filters when reviewing CVs against a client’s requirements boiled down to two things – sector and size of organisation.

The bigger companies I used to recruit for preferred to hire from other large organisations and perhaps unsurprisingly this was the opposite for smaller businesses. Employers are often naturally risk averse when it comes to making recruitment decisions. Hiring someone from an organisation of a similar size reduces the time for the new hire to acclimatise and can reduce the risk of the appointment not working out.

What comprises a large or small organisation is down to personal perception. Someone who has spent time working in a £5m turnover business with 30 employees would likely view a £100m turnover organisation with 200 staff as large. However for someone employed by a company with a turnover of £1bn+ and 5,000 staff, the £100m entity would be a much smaller proposition.

Where you choose to position yourself is up to you and on a personal note having started out my career with one of the largest accountancy practices in the world, I’ve since found my groove in the SME space.

Perception is not always reality and if you’re unsure where you fit, taking the time to experience both larger and smaller environments could be time well spent. This can be particularly important at the outset of any career in finance because as your career progresses and you climb up the ladder in terms of responsibility and remuneration, opportunities can become harder to find and are more hotly contested.

To use an analogy, the air at the top of the mountain can become a lot thinner, which makes pausing to take in the view part way up, all the more important – if nothing else to make sure you’re on the right mountain.

Here are three things to consider when it comes to size of organisation and your future career:

  1. Larger organisations can often offer more career progression opportunities. With more layers you are less likely to hit a ceiling than in a smaller organisation where it can sometimes be more difficult to move upwards.
  2. In larger organisations it’s likely you’ll specialise earlier. In a 1bn+ organisation you’ll hold only a few pieces of the puzzle at a time. In a smaller organisation you could find yourself in charge of more pieces and the responsibility of putting the jigsaw together far earlier on in your career.
  3. Making decisions can take longer in larger organisations. There tends to be more people with an interest in a particular course of action, which can make deciding on the direction of travel more cumbersome. In smaller organisations with less people, decisions can often be made a lot quicker.

The above doesn’t always hold true and in life there are exceptions to every rule. What really matters is what you prefer and where you feel most comfortable, and the best way to decide is by experiencing things for yourself.

I loved my time working in a large organisation at the start of my career, but I had limited ability to influence the direction of travel the business took or to manifest change quickly. The SME space offered more flexibility and the ability to influence decisions, and this is where I’ve chosen to advance my career. The compromise has sometimes been the ability to progress without the need to make a move externally, but for me this is all part of the adventure.

Nowadays, owning and running my own business is a completely different proposition altogether. There are no promotion opportunities, but I have complete flexibility and am 100% in control of my own destiny.

Whether you prefer to be a smaller cog in a larger wheel, a bigger cog in a smaller one or decide to create your own wheel from scratch comes down to personal preference.

There is some argument to suggest that it can be easier to move from a larger to a smaller organisation, as opposed to the other way round. However, in my experience, for those determined to advance and prepared to take a different approach to stand out, there are always a wealth of opportunities.

In summary, what comprises a big and a small organisation comes down to personal perception. Gaining experience in both is one the best ways to decide where you fit and where your preference lies. Whether big or small is best for your career and your future, is completely up to you.


If you found this article useful and would like to connect with me on LinkedIn.


To read previous articles in this series, please visit my content series page.   

About Simon Gray

Simon Gray

Simon Gray FCA is a chartered accountant, former professional recruiter and founder of Career Codex.

He is the author of Super Secrets of Successful Executive Job Search – Everything you need to know to find and secure the executive position you deserve.

To listen to the Career Codex podcast, please click here


Please login or register to join the discussion.

There are currently no replies, be the first to post a reply.