When we’re looking for a new job, most of us will thoroughly read the job description and try to get a solid understanding of the duties and responsibilities of the role. We might also look up what the company does to see if it sounds interesting. But asking questions about their ethos and culture is often an afterthought (if a thought at all!). Of course, making sure we’re applying for suitable and appealing roles at the right salary level is crucial, but the everyday experience of working for a company is arguably of equal importance – and much harder to research.
One of the advantages of working with a recruitment agency is that we know your potential employers and will be able to tell almost straight away if you’re a good fit for the company (and whether you’d like it there!). We can answer your questions about what it’s like to be part of the team, and what social and cultural nuances you could expect if you worked there, so you can better assess whether it matches your personality, needs and preferences.
But first, you need to decide if you want to work for a big company or a small one. The differences are significant and have a bigger effect on a company’s overall culture than any other factor. Here’s our guide to understanding those differences so you can make more confident and informed decisions about potential roles.
1. Making changes and getting things done
One of the most fundamental differences between large and small companies is how long things take to happen. Typically, a large company will have more rules, regulations and restrictions and even small changes or decisions can take a long time to work their way through all the hoops. Smaller companies can be more flexible and agile in their working style and things can happen at a more rapid pace. Think of an ocean liner versus a speedboat when it comes to changing direction. There are pros and cons for each, of course, but you need to appreciate it makes for a significantly different employee experience.
2. Working relationships and individual contribution
As part of a large company, you can expect to know your own team pretty well, but it’s likely there’ll be people in your organisation (possibly in your own building, or even on the same floor) that you never have anything to do with. You can feel quite distanced from the leadership of the company and from its mission and objectives – essentially, you’re a small cog in a large wheel. If you’re someone who likes to feel part of the bigger picture, it can be challenging. But the scale of impact of larger companies is arguably more significant – so if you’re driven by being part of a well-oiled machine that gets noticed and has impressive brand recognition, you’ll thrive there. At a small company, you’ll know everyone from the administrator to the CEO, and will most likely have a better understanding (and appreciation) of the fiscal health and the immediate organisational priorities. If you want to feel you’re making more of a noticeable difference as an individual, this is the place for you. (However, if there are people in the company you don’t particularly enjoy being around, it’s harder to avoid them when you’re in a small office!)
3. Scope and diversity of your role
You’re more likely to have a very rigid set of duties and responsibilities at a large company. For example, if you work in finance, you might only be responsible for invoicing, whereas a controller in a small firm may get to work across a wider range of financial processes. It’s also likely that, in a small company, you’ll be asked to do things that are technically outside of your job description as they often need ‘all hands on deck’, or might like to test out something new without paying for additional resource. It means your role can be much more varied than at a large company, but it can dilute your professional direction if you take on too many disjointed projects. While your role might be smaller in scope and focus at a large company, you’ll likely become highly proficient at it and will then be more eligible for promotion, or to move on to another company.
4. Career opportunities, training and progression
In most large companies, you’ll have plenty of opportunity for development and progression. Many of them have specific programmes in place to help you scale the corporate ladder and will be happy to support your professional training and further education. There will naturally be less opportunities for promotion at a smaller company, and it’s likely that you’ll only be able to progress if/when the organisation expands (or if somebody resigns and creates a vacancy). Some smaller companies might be able to support training courses or qualifications – it's worth clarifying this before you accept a role if it’s important to you. You need to think about your longer-term professional goals and choose a company that has the infrastructure to help you achieve them.
5. Salary, perks and benefits
One of the biggest differences is in the employment packages. Typically, you can get a vastly more appealing offer from a large company in terms of pension, healthcare, holiday allowance, childcare, gym/leisure club membership, corporate discounts and other perks. There is also usually more wiggle room in salary negotiations than with a smaller company, who are more tightly bound by financial restrictions. Having said that, some small companies leverage their lower overheads and running costs to offer their staff above average salaries so they can attract talent that might otherwise only consider large companies. Smaller companies know they’re up against large corporate packages they can’t beat, so they tend to also go out of their way to create excellent (and flexible) working environments.
6. Job security
Often your job security is stronger at a smaller company where you are known and valued on a personal level. A larger company can make staff cuts and redundancies far more easily, although you’ll likely get a fairly decent compensation package. Having said that, a small company will need to flex with their income and, if times are hard, staff may need to be let go. The good thing is that you’ll likely have plenty of notice and support to find another role.
Be honest and realistic
If you’re partnering with a recruitment agency to find your next role, ask them about company culture and team fit as a priority. Be honest and realistic about what’s important to you, from the non-negotiables to the ‘nice to haves’. There’s absolutely no point making compromises on something you really want or need – it just won’t work out in the long run.
We are always more than happy to help our jobseekers explore what’s important to them beyond the job description. Wherever you’re at in your job search, you can give us a call on 01932 355000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to see how we can help.