Pros and Cons of Working for a Small Company and Finding Small Firms

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Job searching is a numbers game. In order to successfully find employment, you need to target a wide range of employers. The more resumes you distribute, and the more you network, the better chance you have of landing interviews, and a job.

Why You Should Think Small

Most candidates seeking employment often ignore smaller employers and focus their efforts on larger firms. 

That could be a big mistake: Small firms may be in a better position to hire you, and there are more of them. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small businesses represent more than 99.7 percent of all employers. They also employ more than half of all private sector employees, pay 44.5 percent of the total U.S. private payroll, and generate about 75 percent of net new jobs annually.

Small companies tend to have business plans progressive enough that they are able to succeed regardless of how the economy is doing. They tend to be nimble and excel at finding their niche, regardless of the field. Also, small firms usually don't have the large overhead burdened by the big companies with fancy addresses and designer lobbies. 

The Pros of Working for a Small Company

Being employed by a small-size company offers many benefits to your career: 

More visibility. Work roles at small companies are often less specialized than at large firms. That means employees get to wear several hats, interact with staff more often, and are afforded a 360-degree view of company-wide operations. Plus, in a smaller organization, it's easy to interact with c-suite executives and the decision-makers. Because employees have more visibility, it is often easier to advance in a smaller organization.

Experience in a variety of areas. Because you're wearing many hats, you're likely to gain knowledge and insight beyond your role. Small company employees often gain multiple skills and areas of expertise to enhance their resume. 

Increased flexibility. Small firms may also have more flexibility when it comes to considering alternative work arrangements such as flextime and job sharing. The dress code may also be more relaxed. 

Your co-workers may be your friends. At smaller companies, it's common to form deep bonds with your colleagues. Collaboration opportunities abound, since employees are so likely to do work that goes beyond their job description.  

It offers an entry-point to the industry. Working for a small company can be a good stepping-stone to a larger employer in the same field.

The Cons of Working for a Small Company

But it's not all rosy. Here are some potential downsides to employment at small companies: 

There may not be many career-building perks. Small firms may have fewer formal training programs and their benefits packages can be more limited. Some HR processes (like maternity leave policy, for instance) may not be set up, which can be challenging. 

Sometimes, your growth will be limited. The option to transfer to other departments may be limited or non-existent. You may also encounter less opportunity for growth and promotion at a small firm, and most likely, there will be fewer people who can serve as mentors. Plus, at a smaller company, if you do not get along with your co-workers, avoiding them may be difficult.  

Smaller companies can be unknown entities. A large company often comes with a known workplace culture and reputation. That can be helpful when you apply to your next role — recruiters and hiring managers will be familiar with your current company. With smaller companies, you may find yourself spending time in your interview explaining the company, rather than talking about your accomplishments. 

In general, if you prefer structure ahead of flexibility, a larger company may be a better fit.  

How to Find Small Companies

If you want to target small firms, the INC 5000 list is a great starting point. The entire list is accessible for free online and updated annually. That said, you should also do some research on your own because you never know when the tide will turn and a company will downsize, relocate overseas, or go out of business. 

Vault.com has a searchable database of companies as well and is worth looking at. Job seekers can look up a company by name or search by industry, city, state, country, the number of employees, and revenue. You can also get career advice and help with resume writing. You may even find message boards where you can get the inside scoop on the company culture. Other resources for identifying small emerging companies include local chambers of commerce and the business section of your local newspaper.

Information on new companies and updates on local businesses are typically published on a regular basis.