Many graduates thinking about their first job would ideally like to start at a large, well-recognized corporation; the type of company where, if they say the name, their friends and family will know exactly what that company does. In the food industry think Pepsi, General Mills or Kraft. These are the organizations that are actively recruiting at graduate job fairs and, without a doubt, there are positive aspects to working in such organizations early on in your career.
First let’s talk about the good reasons for working at a large organization.
1. Brand Association
At the very least there is the benefit of brand association. A recruiter who sees experience on your resume from a large multinational is going to assume they have a well-trained candidate with solid experience in front of them. It is a long held opinion (myth?) that large organizations can afford to spend money on sound recruitment practices and training so the assumption is, if you made it in to the organization in the first place, there must be something good about you.
2. Networking Opportunities
Similarly, having a big name brand as a former employer can do wonders for your online professional presence. If you are from a recognizable, large, multi-national organization, then the number of your potential, online professional contacts is very large and can be used to boost your online professional brand in your own country and beyond.
3. Learning Opportunities
Most large, for profit, companies are publicly traded. As such, they are inevitably tied to public reporting requirements, legislative changes, and are well funded so that they can afford to stay on the cutting (if not, bleeding) edge of technology, management practices and product development trends. They have money to hire good talent so, while not everyone there will be a Harvard genius, it is more likely a large company will have the budget to pay for top talent at the senior level. If you are the kind of person who is prepared to learn from others and is interested in best practices, these organizations are fantastic places to cut your teeth and absorb the practical applications of the theoretical knowledge you gained at school from seriously smart people.
4. Job Stability
Another positive factor for being in a blue chip is the stability and job progression available to you if you are a well performing employee. Unless something dramatic happens in your sector or there is a major economic downturn, your job is far safer at a large organization than one that is smaller with a less established reputation and funding sources. If you are looking for defined career progression within a specific field (as examples, accounting, HR or sales) then large organizations offer this structured and predictable career progression over time.
5. Opportunities for Travel
Finally, and in my personal opinion, one of the most important reasons, if you work for a global organization, then the opportunity for working abroad is always there. Working in another country while being looked after by your employer, receiving a regular paycheck, and belonging to a network of other expats once there, is priceless. If you are naturally averse to risk, but have always wanted to experience life in another culture, working for an organization you have been with for years in a different country offers an amazing opportunity to travel while maintaining financial and personal stability in your life.
Now let’s take a look at reasons why working at a large company might not be good for you:
1. Risk Aversion
As with all positives, there are negatives. Large blue chips can stifle creativity. Having the funds to develop heavy-hitting marketing campaigns creates a reluctance to take risks. A strong control on branding leads to an unwillingness to try new products because “failure” is too expensive. Less well established or well-funded companies have to think creatively out of necessity. As the old proverb goes “necessity is the mother of invention”. If your ideas typically fall in to the “out of the box” category then maybe a large, structured, organization might frustrate you.
2. Getting Stuck in a Silo
Along the same lines, large organizations can afford to silo their employees; meaning that they don’t need one person to fulfill multiple roles. If you are employed to be, say, a graphic designer to work on product labeling on one particular product line at a large company, chances are you’ll never be called on to give your opinions on their global website, packaging on other product lines, or promotional collateral. In a small organization it is far more likely you will be required to wear multiple hats. You may not reach the depth in complexity that you would achieve at an extremely large organization in one specific field, but you will develop a much broader skill set and, consequently, your business problem solving skills are likely to improve.
3. Disconnect from Senior Leadership
The opportunity to observe strong leadership is truly priceless for your future career. In fact the opportunity to watch any kind of leadership, good or bad, represents an amazing learning opportunity. I don’t wish to imply that your supervisor or mid-level manager is not a good leader, however, if you are working for a large corporation, you’ll never see the high flyers in action and so you will never fully understand why one decision was made versus another or have any real influence on the direction of the organization that you work so hard for.
4. Being a Small Cog in a Big Wheel
Linked to the disconnect from leadership is the fact that it is harder to get noticed in large organizations. Becoming a high performer may not be sufficient to get you noticed. You will need to market yourself internally to get the attention of decision makers within the organization. You may have contributed an amazing amount of work at the beginning of a project that you then pass along for someone else to complete, they get the glory and because your input was earlier in the “food chain” it is not widely acknowledged.
5. Golden Handcuffs
While this may seem like no problem at all, many people who are not happy in their humdrum jobs are terrified to make the move because their current role, though stifling, does pay well, offers great vacations, benefits and other perks. You will need to weigh up whether waking up every morning (or at least, most mornings) feeling motivated to go to work is less or more important than the desire for a higher than average salary or a Cadillac of a benefits package.
There is no right or wrong answer to the ‘small versus large company’ question. There are good and bad employers of all sizes, just like there are good and bad teams at great organizations and bad ones. The best thing you can do is to arm yourself with as much information as possible before making a decision. See if you can connect via Social Media to others in the team or department you are thinking of applying to. If you are invited back for subsequent interviews after the first, ask questions about challenges currently faced by team members, or the culture within the team you’ll be hired in to and their relationship with other departments they must collaborate with. If you get blank stares in response, or interviewers start looking at their shoes – you might want to give it a miss….