The Graduate Dilemma: Large Corporate or SME?

Dec 13, 2019

After three or four years of study, most students emerge from university eager to roll up their sleeves and embark on an exciting career in the world of work. While some opt for postgraduate study or take a gap year to travel, the majority of graduates are on the lookout for their dream job.

Deciding on a career path and the type of company to work for is a huge dilemma. Many graduates are left wondering: “Should I work at a large company or a small one after graduating?”

If you are a recent graduate, you might be deciding whether you should apply for a structured graduate scheme at a larger company, or opt for a graduate-level job at an SME.

To come to a decision, it’s best to weigh up the pros and the cons of working for a smaller business vs working for a larger one. While you may have heard good or bad things about working for either, each has its own merits. 

Read on to find out which is best for you.

What is the fundamental difference between an SME and a large corporate?

An SME (small or medium-sized enterprise) is defined by the European Commission in accordance with the number of its employees. SMEs employ up to 250 people. Once the staff headcount reaches 250, the organisation is defined as a large business.

As a guideline, generally in the UK, micro-businesses consist of up to 10 employees, small businesses have between 10 and 49 employees and medium-sized enterprises consist of 50 to 250 employees.

Working at a Smaller company: The pros

SMEs represent 99.9 per cent of the UK’s businesses, so chances are you will work for one at some point. If you’re the entrepreneurial type, you may even decide to set up a small business yourself! If you do decide to take this route, take a look at our post on how to market your first business.

There are many benefits of working for a smaller business. The main pros are:

  • Friendlier: smaller businesses are generally friendlier with a more family feel to them. With less staff, it is easier to get to know everyone in the company. Many small businesses are actually husband and wife partnerships or have been formed by friends.
  • Different experiences: in a smaller business you are much more likely to gain broader practical experience than in a specialist department in a large business. Small businesses generally offer greater opportunities for different work experiences and discovering new skills.
  • Recognition: In a small business you will have much greater access to the decision-makers which could get you noticed and promoted quicker. Your efforts are much more likely to be recognised when you stand out in a smaller crowd.
  • Flatter hierarchy: in a small business you’ll likely experience a much flatter hierarchy and be able to forge a close relationship with your manager.
  • Greater flexibility: rules in small businesses are much less entrenched. You’ll likely experience much greater flexibility, such as the opportunity to work from home or enjoy flexible working hours. Larger businesses tend to be more bureaucratic so there are more hoops to jump through to get things done than in a small business.

Working in a large corporate: The pros

what size company should I work for?

In a large corporate you will definitely start out as a small fish in a very big pond, and this route isn’t for everyone. But here are some of the many pros of working for a larger organisation:

  • Structure: if you are the type of person who thrives on structure and organisation, then a large corporation could be just the place for you to kick-start your career. In a large corporate there will be tried and tested rules, best practices and guidelines to follow.

    You will also have clear objectives to measure performance, which may be lacking and frustrating in a smaller business.
  • Training: if you secure yourself a place on a placement scheme you will undergo a specific training programme depending on your role and the company.
  • Specialisms: if you are keen to advance your knowledge in a specialist area, you are probably going to find this easier in a larger business. The smaller the business, the more hats you are likely going to be asked to wear.
  • Salary: generally (though this isn’t always the case) salaries tend to be higher in large corporations. 
  • Job security: there tends to be greater job security in more established organisations. Even though well-established large businesses can go to the wall, smaller businesses are more vulnerable to failure. According to a report by Merchant Savvy, roughly 80 per cent of UK companies fail in their first year and only 44.1 per cent of businesses survive beyond 5 years.
  • Opportunities: in most cases, there are more opportunities to progress in a large corporation. Graduates especially can enjoy a structured programme to climb up the career ladder.

Don’t forget to consider culture

Whatever type of business you feel will suit you best, you should also consider carefully the culture of any organisation you are stepping into. What are the company’s values, perks, benefits?

How do they treat their employees? Employee turnover is a strong indicator of culture and you’ll find both good and bad cultures across the spectrum of employers from micro-business to large scale organisations.

Your future

If two job descriptions look the same but one is for small business and one is for a large corporation, which one do you choose? Consider the pros and cons of each type of business. Which structure would suit you best?

Delve into the culture and go with your heart. Ultimately, whatever path you choose, it doesn’t have to be for life. You can, after all, choose to switch camp in your next role.

If you need help finding your first graduate job, get in touch with us. We offer one-to-one career coaching for students and graduates.

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