Choosing Your Next Employer: Why Big or Small Can Be a Tough Call

Choosing Your Next Employer: Why Big or Small Can Be a Tough Call
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With a rapid economic recovery looking less likely and a real possibility the economy could begin shedding jobs again in July and August, even the most talented candidates many find their career transition taking longer than expected and their target companies out of reach.


In this uncertain economic environment, it’s wise to broaden your aperture and consider employment opportunities at a range of organizations, while paying particular attention to what size company best suits your personality, style, and work ethic. You may think a big company name looks better on your résumé and may offer more stability and training than a small firm, but sometimes a smaller or less prestigious firm may offer you more responsibility earlier in your career.


Additional benefits of a smaller firm may include more access to senior people, greater influence on the future direction of the company, an opportunity for significant equity ownership, generous nontraditional benefits, and more flexible work schedules. Moreover, a manager in a smaller organization often finds herself overseeing a complete customer relationship, where the customer has a single-point of contact within the organization and the manager has lots of authority to make key decisions and align resources to meet customer expectations.


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By contrast, larger organizations often have the resources, structure, and culture to do a better job integrating new employees, providing growth opportunities, and offering a wider range of amenities such as on-site child care and fitness facilities.


Regardless of company size, too many newly arriving managers receive a minimal amount of initial guidance. For example, a recently retired senior military officer who joined a small defense contractor with a geographically dispersed workforce reports being told little more than “hire, train, and grow the business” by his new civilian bosses. This new manager would have appreciated and benefited from a more detailed onboarding program that could have increased his understanding of the complexities associated with playing a leadership role in a bottom-line-driven organization. In his words: “In the absence of guidance, you tend to revert back to your previous experience, and it’s not always transferable.” 


If you’re considering a smaller firm, remember to do your financial due diligence. Talk to as many people as possible – including clients, competitors, and current employees – about the position and the firm. Try to have conversations with the company’s leadership team, including at least one director, to get a feel for their values, passions, priorities, and debt load, and to gauge the depth of their client list. Reasonable questions to ask include: Do the owners and directors have personal funds committed to the business? Are they taking a salary? Are current employees owed back pay or deferred compensation?


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As you complete your due diligence, bear in mind that there is a strong correlation between job security and overall job satisfaction. As a result, the most difficult aspect of joining a small firm or startup may be the adjustment to feeling less secure than at a larger, more established company.


Another important factor in any employment decision is the availability of mentors you would like to emulate. Although some very successful people claim they never benefited from the guidance and advocacy of a mentor, the reality is that most people who make the leap to senior leadership positions have been aided by a more experienced executive who guided them through the rocky shoals of office politics, unwritten rules, and management idiosyncrasies.


Career transitions are never easy, especially during a simultaneous recession and public health crisis. But remember, careers rarely develop in a straight line – every connection with a potential employer is an opportunity to build confidence, increase your business savvy, and grow your network.


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About the Author

Capt. Jim Carman, USN (Ret), CAE
Capt. Jim Carman, USN (Ret), CAE

Capt. Jim Carman, USN (Ret), CAE, serves as MOAA's Vice President, Council/Chapter and Member Support. He is a Certified Association Executive and served as a Navy pilot for nearly 25 years.