“Should I work for a big company or a start-up?” is a common question. Graduates often see a spot on a prestigious graduate scheme as the ultimate prize — but experts say it’s a mistake to assume that big, famous organisations are always the ‘best’ workplace for everyone. In fact, joining one could even turn out to be a mistake for some graduates.

“The big schemes can be great, getting offered a place can be an achievement in itself, but not every graduate loves them,” says Cary Curtis, founder of graduate recruitment agency Give A Grad A Go. “If they choose to leave, people often find they’re far happier at a smaller organisation, where they have more space to discover what they’re good at and more influence in how their career develops.”

Cary believes there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of what is the ‘best’ place for a graduate to kick off their career. “Multiple factors play a part in determining where you’ll be happiest, including your personality, priorities, goals and preferred work style and culture,” he says.



For example, do you crave security — or flexibility? Do you know what career you want — or are you keeping your options open? “Your answers are unique to you,” says Cary. “And you’ll have a much better idea of what’s right for you than anyone else, so don’t just follow the crowd.” So, what size of organisation will suit you best? Let’s assess your options…

Should I work for a big company?BIG COMPANY (250+ employees)
THE GOOD: “Large organisations tend to offer graduates a good starting basic salary, and you’ll probably be given a structured training programme and a relatively clear career path. It’s also great to have a strong brand on your CV right from the start of your career. International firms may also have opportunities to travel and work in their global offices,” says Cary. “There’s likely to be a lot of people your age all starting together which can make your first few weeks far less daunting.”
THE BAD: “Some graduates find the work itself isn’t quite what they expected, you’re likely to be rotated around without any say in where you’re going and some find they feel lost in what feels like a big machine. Depending on the nature of the organisation, you may feel quite far away from the action, and senior people are likely to be less accessible than they would be in a smaller firm.”
BEST FOR: Graduates who like structure, security and clarity, understand exactly what the day-to-day work will be like, and who thrive in a ‘work hard, play hard’ culture.

Should I work for a big company?MEDIUM-SIZED COMPANY (50 to 250 employees)
THE GOOD: “You’ll enjoy the security of a large company, but with a little more flexibility and less anonymity,” says Cary. “Medium sized companies aren’t just medium because they aren’t yet big. Some organisations function better as a smaller entity. Or they’re a company that doesn’t want to be huge. They’re likely to have the budget for training but rather than it being quite broad, it will be targeted to your job role.”
THE BAD: “As with large companies, you’re unlikely to have as much access to senior staff members as you would like. There will be structure in place but not as well established as with larger firms.”
BEST FOR: Graduates looking for security and stability, but who suspect they may feel lost in a huge firm.

Should I work for a big company?SMALL COMPANY (less than 50 employees)
THE GOOD: “Smaller organisations tend to have a more varied day to day existence and employees are likely to work much more closely with senior staff and feel closer to the action and more involved in the direction of the company,” says Cary. “It’s likely there will be more opportunities to make your role your own. For example, if a senior colleague leaves, you may be able to take on some of their responsibilities, effectively scoring yourself a promotion without even trying.”
THE BAD: “You’re unlikely to be paid as much as a big firm would initially offer and, by their nature, smaller organisations are more vulnerable to economic downturn or changes in the market in which they operate,” explains Cary. “But that doesn’t mean they’re ‘risky’ as such — well-run small businesses can be very robust. Another potential down-side is that there might be a smaller pool of people your age, and if you find you have a personality clash with a colleague there may not be a dedicated HR department to handle the situation.”
BEST FOR: Graduates seeking a friendlier environment to start their career, and who are flexible and open to ideas about where their career might take them.

Should I work for a big company?START-UP (new company, typically less than 10 employees)
THE GOOD: “Working for a new organisation can be very exciting, as you’re all pulling together to create, launch or grow something completely new,” says Cary. “If you buy into the ‘mission’, it’s rewarding to see how your work contributes to the vision of the firm as a whole. Again, as with small companies, you’ll have more freedom to take on work that might not ordinarily come under your job description, as it’s often a case of ‘all hands on deck’!”
THE BAD: “Again, your initial salary won’t match that of a bigger employer, and start-ups are probably the riskiest type of employer to work for, as success is never guaranteed when venturing into a new market or launching a new product,” says Cary. “However, you can reduce your own exposure to risk by asking smart questions in the interview to suss out how the organisation is run and their plans for taking the business forward. Ask where the firm’s investment comes from, and what their growth strategy and timetable looks like. Just don’t start grilling them. They’ll want to see that you’re excited about what they’re doing, not sceptical.”
BEST FOR: Graduates who are comfortable with a level of risk, and are seeking challenge and excitement.

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