Jobs at Big Companies Are Not Always Better

Jobs at Big Companies Are Not Always Better

Taunee Besson, CMF, Senior Columnist

Q: I've heard that small companies always lead our country out of recessions, yet the media tells us little about this workforce "best kept secret." I've always had jobs at big companies, and I want to know why someone should give up the power and perks that come with a big-business job and start working at a small company?

A: Let me answer your question with an incident I discussed with a client: Anthony M. recently declined an offer to become vice president of international marketing for a Fortune 500 company. It was the second unsolicited offer he has rejected in the past two months.

Why did he turn down the chance for a job at a big company, especially one that offered him money, power and perks? In today's economy, any job offer is a good one, but to put it simply, Mr. McClure is happy where he is: building three companies in the live music, ecommerce and TV arenas. Wearing a variety of different hats from COO to talent manager, Anthony produces musical productions for the Big D Opry, guides the careers of emerging stars and develops strategies to draw more customers and build sales for A Texas Style, a website dedicated to products made in Texas by Texans.

And while it may seem surprising, I hear stories like Anthony's all the time. Kay D. left a high-level position with a prominent retailer to deal with her son's medical issues and find a new career that gave her the opportunity to help people in her community. She's become very interested in nonprofit management, where she can get paid for the events and fund development activities she's done as a volunteer for years.

Jim L. became manager of hard tooling for a firm that makes stampings for the computer industry. He loves being with a small, fast-growing employer that's committed to making high-quality products and providing exceptional customer service.

Despite having different backgrounds, these workers share a common bond: they left jobs at big companies to work at smaller, more entrepreneurial organizations. The move allows them to make a greater impact, while having more say over their career trajectories. And although transitioning to a small company can be difficult at times, none miss the prestige or resources that come with a job at a large company, or want to go back. They're having too much fun.

Workers considering small companies often hear that these jobs can be frustrating, time-consuming and financially unrewarding. But the truth is that many negative comments about jobs at small companies are based on stereotypes. These stereotypes are certainly nothing new, but executives who are back in the job market due to corporate downsizing may be hearing them for the first time. To help you separate fact from fiction, consider the following myths and facts about small companies:

Small companies attract relatively little publicity, so their impact on the economy is discounted. For instance, for a number of years firms owned by women, which tend to be small businesses, employed more people than the Fortune 500, according to the National Association of Women Business Owners Foundation.

As a group, small companies form a powerful, dynamic economic community, which tremendously affects domestic and global growth. In a recession, they are the businesses that are in the forefront of hiring new employees.

While many small companies, especially slow-growing, family-owned operations, often pay less, others offer salaries that are equal to those at big companies. These companies are often started because of a founder's desire to earn greater income. While going it alone may be riskier than working for someone else, those who succeed in the right niche reap handsome rewards.

Start-up companies funded by venture capitalists may pay well because they need to produce immediate results for investors. Often, a young organization will bolster its employees' cash compensation with generous stock options. If the corporation goes public or finds a buyer, the options can be worth millions.

Not anymore. The golden days of employment-for-life are long gone at large organizations. In fact, many small companies are founded by executives who have repeatedly been downsized or re-engineered and want more control over their careers. They trust their abilities and decisions more than those of a large employer. Employees at small, well-managed firms may feel more secure about their jobs because of a personal relationship with the owner. Small-business owners aren't pressured by stockholders' expectations for profits, and will move heaven and earth to make payrolls. At these firms, layoffs typically are used as a last resort.

  1. Myth: Small companies don't employ as many people as large ones.
  2. Myth: Salaries are lower and benefits are less generous at small companies.
  3. Myth: Jobs are less secure at small businesses.

Senior Columnist Taunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979 that works with individual and corporate clients in career transition, job search, executive coaching, talent management and small business issues. She is an award-winning columnist for and a best-selling author of the Wall Street Journal's books on resumes and cover letters. Her articles on a variety of career issues have appeared on numerous career/job websites and trade and business journals. Ms. Besson has been quoted numerous times in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money, and a number of other websites and publications.

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