Terri Grainger looks at the differing benefits of of working for small or large companies

When looking for a new job, the choice of working for a large corporation or a small, independent firm often arises. Deciding which direction to go is not always easy. Your decision should be based around what you really want from your next career move and the type of environment you prefer to work in.

Depending on what stage your career is at and your personality, you may find that you thrive better in one particular size company more than another. From a career perspective, it can be hard to switch from one to the other, both personally and professionally.

This is especially true if you are moving from a small company to a large one.

But working for an independent firm has its advantages. Smaller firms may be less bureaucratic in approach. They may provide the employee with the opportunity to play a major role almost immediately and to make their mark quickly.

While larger companies can provide a lot of opportunities to move around and a number of advancement avenues, you may not always be able to make things happen as quickly as you can in a smaller firm and you may not have as much say as you think you should.

In larger firms you often tend to specialise in a particular area.

Although being a specialist can have its benefits, because of this structure you can become compartmentalised and frustrated. In a smaller firm, you are likely to get ongoing, broader exposure to different areas of the business, including the clients you handle.

One day you may be designing a product and the next you may be closing a deal.

No doubt in such a fluid environment you will develop a host of well-rounded and valuable new skills, particularly strong communication skills.

If you work for a smaller company and you are driven, you are more likely to get noticed faster and make an impact right from the start. It is often up to you to seize the many challenges and opportunities that may come your way.

Opportunity knocks
While the increasingly regulated insurance environment may deter many, if you do have entrepreneurial DNA you could even consider joining a start-up company. This may provide exciting challenges as start-ups constantly strive to improve.

Often the objectives are bigger, driven by the aspiration to become an industry leader.

Start-ups also tend to have an innovative environment or at least are very receptive to new ideas. There is also frequently a sense of camaraderie as many start-ups as well, because small businesses are often more like family than a group of co-workers.

When you are as friendly with the CEO as the person sitting next to you, you feel a strong sense of togetherness and purpose.

Some of the most successful companies started as small businesses. Working in a start-up that becomes a true success can be very rewarding.

Yet while there are potential big rewards in working for a successful start-up, there is also a very real risk attached.

Larger companies can provide more security for employees, although they also are not without uncertainty - consider, for example, the recent well publicised redundancies at Aon and Marsh.

Size limitations
Smaller firms can also be limiting. Training, mentoring and salaries are rarely on a par with corporations. Also, for those who have dreams of ending up in one of the most highly rated corporations, it is probably harder to get a step in the door after working for a small company than vice versa.

Generally larger corporations carry with them well established reputations and, if that reputation is positive, just being employed by them can make you a potential hot property by association.

They also offer employees a number of attractive features, including a strong support network, extensive resources for training and development, strong benefit plans and potentially higher salaries.

Many corporations will even provide opportunities to work abroad to experience different cultures and different forms of best practice - an option that will rarely arise in a smaller company.

In a corporation, you are also more likely to find you will have greater exposure to larger clients, which can provide extremely valuable experience.

Getting in on the ground floor with a major insurer can be the first step in a solid career path.

As a graduate for example, larger companies may offer the opportunity to dip into the many facets of the business and then give you the choice to pursue a career in one of them.

You may also find the benefits of small companies in some medium/large and more established firms with teams that almost work as a mini-business within a larger group. This may provide the best of both worlds.

In the Sunday Times' list of The 100 Best Companies To Work For, published in early March, Benfield, Hiscox and Admiral all once again secured places. Interestingly Admiral, which came top of the three placed at number 20, was only established in 1993 by Chief Executive Henry Engelhardt with just 57 staff (of which apparently 21 still remain) but now employs 1,878.

However, a closer look at all of the attractions of various sized companies may provide the industry in general with inspiration regarding how to retain staff and attract potential employees into their fold, whatever their size. IT

' Terri Grainger is executive consultant at Mansion House Executive.

Points to consider when making your next move

  • Depending on what stage your career is at and your personality, you may find you thrive better in one particular size company than another

  • Corporations often provide better training, mentoring and salaries

  • Corporations may provide you with the opportunity to work abroad

  • It can be difficult to switch from a small firm to a large one, both personally and professionally

  • Smaller firms often provide much broader ongoing exposure to differing areas of the business

  • By joining a smaller company you are likely to have a much bigger impact in a much shorter time frame.

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