Choosing Your First Job: Size Matters
Setting the Stage
After years of studying, internships, and time spent mastering your craft, it’s time to finally pursue a full-time job. It’s competitive out there, but you’ve put in the work and you’re confident about your chances.
You go through a couple interviews and they go well. Some time after, you hear back from recruiters with good news! Just like that, you’ve got offers to consider and deadlines to meet. You’re on the clock. Now you just have to decide which opportunity is going to be optimal for you and your goals.
This may sound simple, but it can often be extremely difficult. Some people out there describe this decision as the single hardest part of the entire job hunting process. Common advice includes to ‘follow your gut’, and while this can be useful, I believe this decision is significant enough that it’s well worth breaking down further.
How do you compare and assess what opportunities are best for you?
There is an infinite amount of factors that play a part in this decision and there’s certainly no right answer to this question. However, I believe this in the context of your next full-time position, there is one extremely important factor that is often overlooked: company size.
With a million different things on your mind, it’s easy to overlook something as simple and obvious as the number of employees. However, I believe that it plays a crucial part in analyzing what type of company is best for you.
It’s worth noting that the trade-off between small and large companies is not concrete and is fairly subjective. There will be larger companies that feel small and there will be smaller companies that may feel large. A lot of this has to do with culture, another key factor in your decision. For the purpose of this article, let’s control everything else that’s in play and focus solely on the matter at hand.
Throughout the rest of this post, we’ll be exploring the affect of company size on your choosing your first full-time position, particularly as it applies to professionals early on in their careers.
Let’s dive into comparing some general observations about both large and small companies while checking out the pros and cons of each.
These are the companies that you probably hear about most frequently. I’m talking about Google, Facebook, Apple, and most of the other established, public companies that you’ll name off the top of your head or hear about on the news. These are often the most actively pursued options by job seekers, and for good reason.
Let’s start with prestige. Being able to put a well-known, prestigious company on your resume from the get-go is undoubtedly an advantage when you decide to move onto greener pastures. You’ll be head-hunted often and you’ll have your pick of the litter when the time for a change finally arrives. Not to mention, it gives you an immediate credibility boost both in business and social settings.
The compensation isn’t too bad either. In general, it will likely be much more liquid than you would see if you joined a start-up. This means that you’ll have more income to work with out of the gates. Not only is this pretty sweet for general lifestyle, but it also serves as your baseline for future employers to match or improve on.
Did someone say lifestyle? Oh yeah, that’s pretty great too. Depending on where you go, larger companies can have some excellent benefits and amenities. I hear Apple offers in-house massages these days…
Back to the work itself, there is more resources and talent around you at large companies. If you want to pick someones brain or talk to a domain expert in something, you may have the opportunity to do that without even leaving the office or campus.
Lastly, jobs at large companies are usually more stable. They would like to keep you there for an extended period of time and often have incentives in place to make this option even more appealing than it already is. You will have an opportunity to work on projects and report to a manager with reports on your progress. Pretty standard stuff without too much volatility.
It’s hard to define what makes a company small. In large part, it’s going to be relative to your other job options. For this reason, I won’t define what makes a small company explicitly, but I will dive into some generalizations about them.
First off, the lifestyle may not be quite as cushy as it is working for more established companies. This isn’t always the case in terms of amenities; you see some smaller, private companies with pretty outrageous offices. However, being on a smaller team means that you will have to work harder. The probability that there is a healthy work-life balance is directly related to company size. If you’re working for a smaller company, you better be passionate about what you’re working on or else you might get burnt out quickly.
In this same vein, another effect of smaller team size is an increased need for versatility. Instead of serving a small niche, you will likely be asked to do a number of different things. These things can range from one-off tasks similar to your established job to requests that are entirely foreign to you.
When it comes to compensation, smaller companies usually take a more illiquid approach. This means that your financial gain will be in-part, tied to the success of the company. This is extremely motivating, but often much less stable.
Lastly, working for a small company or team empowers you to make more of an impact than you would working for a large company. This is in part because you’re doing more things. You’ll have your fingerprints on more projects. You’ll have bigger responsibilities. You will essentially have the opportunity to see the concrete impact of you work.
Stability vs. Impact
All of these general attributes of large and small companies can make a difference. Above all else, I want to focus on the stability vs. impact trade-off.
We talked about how stability is more prevalent at large companies. We also touched on smaller companies empowering you to make more of an impact with your work. So, which is right for you?
As a simple heuristic for your decision, I propose the following:
If you want a position where you can grow and progress while making a good salary and establishing yourself, a larger company sounds like the right fit.
If you are more impatient and you want to make an impact immediately, then you probably won’t be satisfied at a larger company. You may need to accept a bit more risk and work on projects with a smaller team in order to do your best work.
Some people want to work for a successful company; others want to make a company successful
No matter which option you identify with more, you can take solace in the fact that nobody knows what’s best for you, but you. Furthermore, what’s best for you now may not be what’s best for you 6 months from now. We are consistently adapting, growing, and evolving; the optimal situation for our career and general wellbeing is no different.
Before you go, note that I’ve made some fairly rigid generalizations throughout this post. Unfortunately, it’s not this easy since companies do not all follow these stereotypes according to their size alone. You must take culture, leadership, and the context of the role into account in order to get a more complete picture.
Despite this, I hope that I was able to offer a simple heuristic along with some insights for deciding between larger and smaller companies. I know from experience that the decision is a difficult one. Do your best to take an unbiased look at each opportunity and when all else fails, just do this.