Large vs. Small Companies

Today's blog post is written by Kathleen Hoehn.  She is a Marketing Technology Consultant working out of Atlanta.  According to her Twitter she's a "modern marketer by day and aspiring local trivia champ by night".  She's a 2013 Marketing graduate from Michigan State University and would love to connect on Twitter or LinkedIn if you want to learn more about Marketing Technology or Demand Generation. 


When I was internship and job searching in college it seemed like me and my peers had one thing in mind when it came to desirable companies: the bigger, the more powerful, the shinier, the better.  I didn’t think critically about it because it was everywhere from our business school sponsors, case studies in our capstone classes and the student groups we strived to be on the e-boards. These are the types of company I thought I needed to be a part of to be successful in my career.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this! I followed that path and enjoyed my first role out of college with a Fortune 500 company.  As an intern we were treated to great projects, insight into the entire global company, luncheons with the CEO, and a little wine-and-dine that is that shiny part of the big company appeal.  I also experienced the not-so-glamorous parts of big companies: politics of upper management, cyclical business and its impacts to you and your cohorts, restructuring the business and others making decisions on your career without your input.  This of course won’t happen in all big companies, but when it happened to me it gave me the opportunity to pursue the Marketing Technology career that I desired ended up joining a Demand Generation Strategy startup.

I’m very fond of working for a small company these days and don’t know if I see myself going back to corporate life.  For those who are still breaking into your careers or those who may be thinking of exploring what else is out there I want to shine a light on all the options that YOU have when deciding where you want to take your career.

LinkedIn has defined company sizes you’ll see when you look at a company page (https://developer.linkedin.com/docs/reference/company-size-codes) For my purposes I’ll describe my pros and cons of the following company sizes:

  • Small 1-50 employees: You know everyone in the company
  • Medium 51-500 employees: This started out as a small company, but is growing to where you may not know everyone outside of the OGs you started with
  • Large 501+ employees: These are the companies you definitely don’t know everyone or the entire structure and strategy of each team

Small Companies

Pros: This is the type of company I’m at now.  I wear multiple hats and am encouraged every day to be learning more because the company is growing every day.  I get to tackle new problems regularly and be a “hero” when we knock it out of the park.  It’s satisfying to see my direct impact on the company growth and know that when we hit our goals that it couldn’t have been done without my work and my teammates work.  I know everyone in the company personally and we work closely with our CEO, CSO, and EVPs.  There is very little limitations (“red tape”) on what we do and have a very loose definition of HR since we’re so small. There’s an entrepreneurial feel to our work, lots of ownership, and friendship with my cohorts.

Cons:  As a direct result of being a small company and the opportunity to wear multiple hats there’s likely to be growing pains when success comes.  The new projects may come faster than new hires do.. but the work still has to get done.  There may not be clear direction to new projects or previous documentation that can make your day-to-day a little more difficult when you have to invent the process and then create the documentation.  Ownership and deliverables fall on your shoulders if you’re wearing multiple hats and if you’re the subject-matter-expert (SME) of the company you may not have anyone above you to advise you on the intricacies of some of the work you’re doing.  This is when your industry connections, drive, passion and perseverance are most important!

Medium Companies

Pros: These are most likely companies that grew from small companies.  In my experience in exploring these types of companies one can still be a SME but amongst a team of similar people.  As you’re conquering new territory it won’t fall all on your shoulders to be the only person to solve a problem.  As companies get larger the employee benefits increase from the working environment to the intangible benefits/401k offerings we need as we approach 26 years old.  Often the small-startup feel still remains while offering different career paths and a little more of the HR solidarity that a small company may just be developing.

Cons:  There still may be growing pains to navigate as the company gets bigger.  The cons with a medium can be a mix of the small company and large company cons when day-to-day you may have similar outputs of a small company but the process trying to adapt to being a larger company.

Large Companies

Pros: Glamor! Glitz! Fame! Just kidding—playing on my intro about big companies.  Nonetheless there are a lot of great reasons to work for a large company: defined business structures, career paths, large team budgets, great benefits, and being a part of a company that has a large impact and (for the most part) stability.  In my experience in marketing at a large B2C company we hired small and medium size B2B companies to do some of the specialized work we needed.  My experience gave me insight to a lot of different things but it wasn’t necessary for me to be an expert at each of those items.  This allowed me to focus on the things I was expected to be the SME for and gave me the responsibility to manage the relationships with other internal teams or external teams that we relied on for execution of projects.

Cons: With larger, more defined business processes will come lots of red tape.  Anyone in a large company knows the politics around getting headcount and the legalities of “reqs” which are a behind-the-scenes HR process that could prohibit getting that candidate you REALLY want.  And even though there may be stepping-stone opportunities in the company there may be a technicality that prohibits an internal role switch.  In my experience failure wasn’t always viewed as growth from the higher level, mostly because there are many more people above you that are relying on your tactics working.  This may mean less room for experimentation, and if you’re interested in introducing a new idea or a different approach to a top-down strategy you have to work a little harder and really make a case for something you’re dedicated to that may not be adopted.

I hope this outline gave you more insight into the different types of knowledge and responsibility you can have based on the size of the company you work for.  Of course every company and role are different, but keep these in mind as a baseline when you’re exploring.  You may want to be very technical and "deep in-the-weeds" or maybe you have an understanding of strategies and are looking for more of a collaborator type role.  As always, play to your strengths, work on your weaknesses, and you’ll find success!