Advantages and disadvantages of working at big versus small companies

I’m job hunting for a new IT job. What are the advantages and disadvantages of working at a big company versus a small company?

First, thank you for your question and good luck in your job search.

There are definite advantages and disadvantages of working at large versus small companies. From a large company perspective, some key advantages are: • IT hardware, software, process and methodology standards tend to be better defined in larger companies because they have the budgetary ability to have people on staff defining, documenting, and overseeing these standards. As a result, large companies are a great place to learn about IT best practices and IT standards in general. • By definition, larger companies have more employees than small companies. As a result, over time as people move to other companies, you can more quickly widen your technical contacts within your geographic area.

Key disadvantages of working at big companies include: • You tend to be assigned to a specific type of technology, application, and or responsibility. As a result, it can be difficult to gain a wide range of experience and skills. • Big companies are often criticized for having highly active office politics. If office politics are a turnoff for you or if you find them personally difficult to navigate, working within a very large IT shop can be problematic. Certainly small companies can have office politics also, but stereotypically, they tend to be reduced in smaller firms.

Key advantages of working for a small company include: • Because there are less people to perform needed tasks, there is a greater potential opportunity to work on a wider variety of projects and technologies. • Smaller companies often have more of a “family” feeling than larger companies. As a result, they can be a great place to work. • If the small company goes through dramatic growth, there is the chance to grow professionally with it.

Key disadvantages of working for a small company include: • There is less opportunity for promotion because, due to the power of large numbers, there are less internal open positions to apply for and less internal movement in general. • Software standards in small companies tend to be less formally defined. As a result, it’s more difficult to learn industry best practices and formal industry standard methodologies. • If you wish to move toward an IT management role, smaller companies tend to have less promotional opportunities than larger companies.

At the end of the day, both large and small companies can be great places to work and very advantageous for your career. What it comes down to is the: • Type of company where you feel most comfortable working • Job market and professional opportunities in your local geographic location • Personal and professional contacts that can assist you in finding employment • Type of company that can best take advantage of your technical skills

As one additional thought, as you move forward in your IT career, let’s say ten or fifteen years forward, your prior professional experience will have an enormous impact on your future marketability. Early in people’s careers they are primarily hired for their potential to provide value to the company. Professionals with many years in the workplace are generally not hired for their future potential; they are hired for their current knowledge and experience.

From a small versus large company perspective, if you have spent ten or fifteen years working in a large company, it may be very difficult for you to find employment in a smaller company. Conversely, if you have spent the majority of your career working in smaller companies, larger companies will be very reluctant to hire you because you have no large company experience.

The moral of this last thought is for you think carefully on the company size and industry where you would prefer to find your initial employment. Then, once found, if you decide the company size or industry does not fit your personality, skills, or interests, make a change sooner rather than later, before you become less marketable in other professional areas.

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at eric@ManagerMechanics.com or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.

Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to build your professional brand.

Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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