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Key decisions: Big company vs. small company

Book open Reading time: 4 mins

When I left university I was faced with the dilemma, did I swish into the lobbies of the big corporations and begin my journey in a prestigious organisation, or place my hopes and dreams for a career on the vagaries of a start-up. 

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While I think it can be a false dichotomy between multinational and start-up, the decision was and still is not an either/or for me. Having spoken to lots of Bright Network members over the past couple of years, it is clear is that there is not nearly enough information on the topic as to whether you should plump for a big company or small. 

In truth, when thinking about company could be right fit for you, size is just one of the things that you should consider, along with the culture, location, people, options for career development, to name but a few. To help you on your way, we've summarised a few insights to factor in to your thinking…   

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Big companies 

There was a time (albeit a very long time ago) when those companies that are rather large in size now, were once small entrepreneurial businesses with grand ideas.  Big companies are big because, putting it simply, they are good at what they do and have been so for decades. They also have the ability to employ a diverse range of minds - some of the smartest, most dynamic and most ambitious. 

Joining an established big business as a graduate means that from day one, you will be surrounded by lots of different people, all with different skills, talents and interests.

It also means that you are in a very good position to learn as much as you can, as fast as you can, by surrounding yourself with the best in the field.  You will tend to work in a clearly defined role, giving you the chance to become more specialised. At the same time, training and development opportunities can be more plentiful in bigger companies, but of course it varies from company to company and sector to sector. 

Another excellent reason to join is that big companies tend to have clearer structures and development plans, so you can map out where you might get to after two years, five years and so on and so forth.  Of course, things do change in all companies,  regardless of size, but you should be able to get a macro idea as to where a career could take you. 

Furthermore, having a well-known employer on your CV is certainly a strength. Much like the impact of strong degree and university, the kudos of an established name will hold weight when it comes to moving on and upwards. Even if you want to join a small start up or even venture out on your own or as a freelancer, a big name gives your CV a stamp of quality that will be valued.

Of course, a good reference from that employer will be the most important thing when it comes to finding a new position so the name alone will not carry you. 


Quite simply, your success in a start-up or SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) will depend on you. In adult life (or rather just 'life') success is not measured by A*s. You will have to prove to your colleagues, above and below as well as the overall business that can add lots of value. 

While success of any business should not rely solely on its people, when you're in a small business or one that has plans to grow into something big, people are key. A small business will flourish will the right people and culture and every person involved can contribute to that.  Entrepreneurial businesses require go-getting, resourceful people who are not afraid of getting their hands dirty.

As Bright Network member Oliver Cassels, a graduate of the New Entrepreneurs Foundation class of 2014, said, in a start up 'there is no time for drama kings or queens. It's hard and hands on. If you're not willing to get stuck in, then a bigger company with defined roles will be a better fit for you.'  He added; 'It is a useful skill to become comfortable with and even embrace the concept of uncertainty.' 

Dedication, innovation and ambition does not go unnoticed in a start up. This attitude will get you noticed - for all the right reasons.  That said, the hours can be very long and unlike at a bigger company your salary and benefits package will potentially not look as rosy as your friends who work in more established places.

That said, many small or start-up businesses reward staff with share options and in some cases flexible working but it really does vary from place to place.

Whatever you decide...

The most important thing is that it's a place in which you feel you can grow and thrive. So much of that is about personal choice and only you will know if it's right for you.  A great way to find out what will be the best fit for you, is to do as much work experience as possible. 

That way, you'll get exposed to lots of different work cultures and teams and so you'll be able to get a sense of where you belong when it comes to the world of work. Make sure you continue to build your network as much as possible to ensure you've got the right connections when it matters. Need some tips? Check out our Bright Advice for Networking

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