Some start-up opportunities can be life-changing. If the idea behind the company is wildly innovative, the audience for it is quite large, it is highly profitable and the management team is experienced and committed to your development, it’s tough to argue against it. That said, those situations are very rare, so in 98% of cases, I would suggest you start your career at a large company.
• Branding. For your entire career, you’ll be known as someone who went to “X” college and started your career with “Y.” If the company or organization is known and respected, it will give you significant credibility. Related to this, when you go to make your first career change, the fact that you work with a name-brand organization will also matter. All things being equal, most people would rather hire someone from a company they’ve heard of versus one they haven’t.
• Training. Quality large organizations offer outstanding training to their new employees. You will learn the philosophies that have driven their growth. You’ll often have mentors in your discipline who are true experts — and are willing to help you become one. These opportunities will accelerate your learning curve and prepare you for success in your current job and future ones.
• Flexibility. If you like the company but find in 12 months that you don’t care for your specific field or role, if you are a strong performer, you’ll often be able to move into a new role without leaving your first job out of college after one year. This is a tremendous advantage, as your decision to call it quits in your first job after one year would be difficult to explain in interviews for a very long time.
• Network. You’ll likely be hired in a “class” of new college grads. These people will be high-caliber young professionals, and become a part of your professional network. As you are all promoted, and move to other marquis organizations in your field, you’ll develop a tremendous network that will pay dividends for decades to come.
Pat’s bottom line: The benefits of starting your career with a big company are simply too numerous to deny. So step up and go BIG (company).
Small organizations can provide a fast-track to career advancement early in your career that more traditional larger organizations are less able to provide. Career tracks are typically more systematic in larger organizations, with expectations around time spent in each step. This is less true in smaller organizations.
My own career track gained rapid acceleration when I moved from a large to a small company. I was given responsibilities aimed at much more senior-level people simply because we had fewer people in the organization to get the job done. I attended prestigious conferences and critical client meetings years before the same opportunities would have been afforded to me in a larger organization. A small company provided me with a steep, challenging, exciting and sometimes scary learning curve.
With that said, smaller organizations come with their fair share of risk — especially if it’s a start-up company. Be honest with yourself about your tolerance for risk and your desire to be evaluated under a microscope. Fewer colleagues may mean less competition for the desirable assignments, but it also means it’s harder to hide your performance especially during times of acquisition, which are common for small companies and start-ups.
In the Parable of Phoebe Fish, the big blue fish in the small pond believes there is nothing better than being a big fish in a small pond. However, small ponds and small companies are not right for everyone. If you want to learn more about whether they’re right for you, check out The Parable of Phoebe Fish.
Susan’s bottom line: If you are a hard worker who wants to put your career on a fast track that carries both risk and reward, then a small or start-up company might be the right choice for you.
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