Graduate jobs: Why work for a small firm?

#1

I thought I’d write something about working at and applying to small firms for graduate jobs. There are a great deal of differences between the working culture (and the work you’ll be doing) at large employers compared to small ones.

Applicants seem to consistantly focus on getting graduate jobs at just the largest employers, when often jos at smaller firms may be much more attractive. But why is this?

A myth seems to have been perpetuated within graduate recruitment that its only worth applying to large employers - possibly because it is only the large employers who can afford to swamp graduates with advertising and market themselves at graduate jobs fairs, etc. Large employers tend to offer the largest starting salaries too, which is often all graduates look at when making applications. What graduates seem to forget, is that salaries at small firms often increase much quicker than those at large ones. Whilst big city employers’ run graduate programmes with clear-cut rules for promotion (usually offered after several years), small companines (who are free from such binding structures) just promote people who do well. If you are successful in a small firm, you are likely to be rewarded much faster than at larger firms.

In the UK, almost two-thirds of all job vacancies are offered by small firms. Furthermore, unlike the largest employers, who can receive up to 100 applications per vacancy, small firms tend to receive far less applications for jobs - so graduate’s chances of interviews and employment are statistically much, much better at small firms than large ones.

Working for a small firm

People at smaller companies may make less money and enjoy fewer perks than their big city counterparts, but they are much more likely than big-company employees to describe themselves as “extremely satisfied” with their jobs. One advantage in small firms is the increased recognition from managers, and the increased team spirit that isn’t part of working life at large companies. Smaller firms tend to be more supportive, less bureaucratic and more willing to hire workers embarking on new careers. If you are the kind of person who has ideas and can come up with new ways of doing things, its much more likely that a small company will listen to you and take your ideas on board. At a large company, just finding out who to suggest ideas to can be a hassle, let alone scheduling a meeting to talk about them.

In large companies top level management often don’t know entirely what certain projects do, yet they decide on which projects to keep running. In small companies, people know about each other much more intimately. Whilst this means that news of a work-based romance may spread across your office within a few hours, it also means that your hard work and good ideas are likely to receive the recognition they deserve. Work particularly hard or have a fantastic idea in a small company and the owner is likely to find out about it by the end of the week. In a large company, you might never even meet the owner or any senior staff at all.

Right for the job

Small employers tend to spend longer deciding whether a person will fit into a job, whereas large ones are more likely to force someone they like into a job, and then be surprised when the don’t enjoy the job they’re doing.

Small enterprises tend to foster camaraderie and family-like atmospheres. Most small outfits are privately held, which means there are no shareholders to answer to. Being private therefore, allows actions to take place much quicker than at large firms.

Recruitment Processess at large firms

Large companies have highly structured recruitment processes that streamline applications and reject irregular applicants. If you are coming from an unusual background, you will find it hard to get interviews at large companies, but small ones recruit with a different criteria. Small companies tend to get a great deal fewer applications and spend much longer analysing each application.

If you have enthusiasm and impress your interviewer enough at interview, you are likely to be hired, even if it is on a “try it and see” basis. This could never happen at a large employer - there is no room for experimentation.

Small companies place less emphasis on formal requirements like previous title and industry experience and instead chose people they think can do the job.

Perks

Top level companies offer perks that smaller companies just can’t hope to compete with, such as cars, equipment and company sponsored MBAs, but much of this is just face value. A talented individual can progress to the top much faster in a small organisation, and take home a much higher pay cheque than those at larger firms. Conversely, working at a large firm gives you experience in A-list business, which is very different from SME (Small and Medium Enterprise) business.

Experienced workers may prefer to work for smaller firms because of the more stress free lifestyle, but there are key benefits at major firms for those trying to land their first job.

Starting a career with a big name firm does give your CV a certain weight that smaller brands just don’t have. If you want to be “marketable”, then there is something to be said for starting off at one of the big city top dogs, even if it’s only for a few years. Clients are notorious for asking recruitment companies to look for candidates with premier-city experience.

Small businesses are better suited to all-rounders

As with most small businesses, employees are less specialised, with work duties extending beyond what their education may reveal. In a small business, there is more room for growth and creativity. You can start in one area of business, but may be able to transfer quite easily into another if it turns out you have a particular skill or preference for this type of work. Although big name firms do give your resume weight, working for a small firm will give you a more diverse job experience with increased responsibilities that may turn out to impress employers more than a company name. Furthermore, if you plan to start your own company, there is no better experience than working for a small-size firm to learn the basics of what you’ll need to do.

The general mentoring experiences among small businesses are usually quite different than that available at big name firms. Graduates that have lively enquiring minds and are genuinely interested in the industry they are working in will find that managers and bosses (even owners) have much more time to talk to you than employees at major firms.

The amount of information and quality of education available at small companies is literally yours for the taking. Furthermore, when asking for references after a job move, the chances are much higher in a small company that the reference will be accurate, and quite possibly that it will come from the boss, or a much higher manager than at a large company (where it will probably come from the HR team).

Are the possible benefits of working at a larger corporation are disappearing?

Job security and benefits such as medical coverage and pensions are gradually disappearing at large firms. Larger companies are the ones who can afford to save with outsourcing, and who are out of touch enough with their employees to see no issue laying a large percentage of their workers off for an extra million in an executive’s salary.

A small business owner is a business owner who wants to support their loved ones, but in all likelihood would not stand to make money by laying workers off. They may be better off keeping good employees happy. Working in a smaller firm means that there might not be a health spa or office restaurant, but you can get these outside the workplace (and the longer working hours at larger companies mean that staff rarely get to use such luxuries anyway).

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Personal preference affects what it takes for an individual to feel comfortable communicated their ideas and resolving issues important to them and their projects in the workplace. The inability to communicate in your work environment is one of the most negative aspects in many employees’ lives. While many do feel comfortable doing so in a large business, those in small business will have more opportunities to resolve issues quicker by having increased and personal access to those who might be able to help.

As much as size matters, the structure of any business must be taken into account. Regardless of the number of employees, the best work experiences occur where there are good people surrounding you. A good team can literally make or break a job. When making your applications consider you own personality and personal work preferences. The largest firms may seem to offer the largest salaries and be the most prestigious when it comes to graduate jobs - but are they really the best option for you?

Good luck to everyone applying for graduate jobs!

#2

I generally applied to larger firms due to their reputation. If I chose to move jobs later on, I was always of the impression that it would be easier with a well-recognised firm on your CV. My thoughs only though!

#3

I agree with that. I think I mentioned it above… certainly the training you get from large employers can be better regarded by future employers. It all depends what kind of career you want though - how long you plan to stick around at firms - how much you care about working in a ‘friendly’ office versus how much you just want a good CV, etc, etc, etc.

It’s not better or worse to work for a large or small employer, but certainly a lot of grads are missing a trick by focusing only on major employers. Not everyone wants to work in such rigid, strucutred environments… but then no everyone wants to work for small ones. The choice is yours!!

#4

I did my industrial placement at a small IT company, and would agree with all of the above.

The amount of responsibility you can pick up very early on in a small company is vast, and you do get to see all angles of the job - from the entry roles right the way up to the board.

I’m now moving on to a large company when I graduate - but I’d whole-heartedly recommend the ‘small company experience’ to anybody :D.

#5

I can absolutely recommend working for a small firm. From my experience, I’ve been put to use from day one at small firms, whereas big firms get you doing various admin tasks and boring stuff that needs doing. If you want actual experience, small firms are the best. If you want a big name on your CV on the other hand, choose a big firm.

#6

One of the things about smaller firms that appeals to me is that you can prove yourself at a number tasks and develop yourself all-round (citz said this too). From my own experience of working for a large firm, you are so specialised that you only do one task and there isn’t even an opportunity to try your hand at something else, because somebody else is employed to specialise in just that role.

Conversely, a large firm can offer unparalleled training opportunities and client experience- doors which are closed to small firms.

#7

I agree that working for a small firm is better, eventhough they can offer you less training because of money restrictions, you have the chance to prove yourself and get promoted more easily.

Graduate Jobs, try Careers & Jobs for loads of opportunities, especially Jobs for Graduates

#8

superb article thanks redspurted