Q: I’m early in my career and at a bit of a turning point for my professional future. I currently work in an entry-level role at a large global organization. A friend of mine recently referred me for a job at the small company where she works. Which option is ultimately better for career growth? I’m torn on what to do!
A: As with most career things, it depends. Career growth is ultimately about you as a performer, so being aware of opportunities and letting people know that you’re interested in more challenges and increased responsibility is crucial in any size organization. There are different benefits to be had in companies at either end of the size spectrum. In a small company, people are often recognized for capability more quickly and usually have broader areas of responsibility. In larger organizations, employees are most often specialists, but their contributions can be seen by a greater number of people, which can lead to promotions into a variety of areas. Regardless of organization size, focus on the hard and soft skills you bring to the table; if you are a significant contributor with a focus on mission-critical tasks, a positive attitude, and the willingness to learn and support others, you can find career growth in all types of companies.
Small privately owned and owner-operated companies can be great for career growth in a number of ways. There is often more leeway and flexibility around opportunities for project work and role advancement, and you gain exposure to senior leaders and multiple aspects of the business. However, there can be limited roles to grow into, especially if there is little turnover and people above you are staying in their roles for longer periods of time. In large global organizations, there are typically tighter parameters around policies and procedures, job titles, reporting structure, and pay bands—which might be balanced by more robust training or mentoring programs and the ability to hone a specific area of expertise. If you don’t know what you want to do yet, a large company can be better because you have a broader view of the different areas of business.
At a small company, if you’re not mission critical, you may need to take a look at how long you can be there and how many levels you can grow. Examine how crucial your role and functional area are to the overall success of the organization. Is what you do critical to the company? If not, you may be better off in a bigger company where there’s more room for supportive staff functions. If you’re in a small organization, demonstrate your transferable skills and try to find your way into a mission-critical role. Being in a revenue- or product-producing position as opposed to a staff job brings more security. Of course, if you’re early in your career and entry level, it can be hard to prove yourself with the work you are doing; it’s not hard to prove yourself with your willingness to learn, commitment to deliverables, positive attitude, and ability to support others.
Some self-reflection should impact your decision as well. It’s like selecting what college to attend—did a large state university appeal to you or a small liberal arts college? A big part of this is knowing yourself and in what kind of environment and culture you thrive and succeed. Maybe a workforce of thousands sounds appealing to you, and maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you like the idea of wearing many hats at a small company, and maybe you don’t. Different people require different workplace qualities to thrive.
You are well-poised to succeed if you focus on being willing to learn and grow, supporting others, taking new opportunities that come your way, and finding ways to make your skills indispensable to any company, large or small.