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Small, medium or large? Ask these 6 questions to find out what’s right for you.

Abby Roberts, Director of Merrill Insight™ | July 31, 2018

After they’ve notched a couple years at a major firm in their belt, one of the harder questions knowledge workers face is whether to work at a small, medium or large employer. This question can be surprisingly difficult to answer because it really depends on their own personal preferences. 

As someone who’s worked at businesses of all shapes and sizes, I have come up with 6 completely unscientific questions I wish I’d asked myself. These thoughts are entirely my own, contain vast generalizations, and do not reflect the opinion of Merrill Corporation. Based on audience Q&A from our recent Merrill Insight™ associates career panel; however, I thought they might be helpful.

Kyle Kearney, investment banking associate and professional photographer, likes working at LA-based boutique investment bank Intrepid because it gives him the opportunity to collaborate directly with creative entrepreneurs like himself.

1. Sink, swim or structure?

The larger an organization gets the more employee infrastructure is usually in place, including onboarding, employee training, HR, mentorship programs and the like. Some people thrive in an environment where they are thrown into the deep end and told to swim their way out, but many do not. A small start-up typically represents the closest side to “sink or swim” with a large corporate on the other, “I read the employee handbook from top to bottom” shallow end of the pool.

2. Yes, or maybe later?

On the flip-side, creative people may struggle at larger organizations where getting a new idea off the ground can take lots of time, checkboxes and personal capital (if you have it).  This makes perfect sense, because you’re essentially competing with a multitude of other internal teams for limited “blue sky” space and dollars. At less mature businesses, there are usually more pathways to growth and not as much internal competition, making innovation – and failing fast - easier.

3. Chaos or order?

If you hate chaos and not knowing what your day-to-day or week-to-week will look like, embrace your inner bureaucrat and go big. If you like order but also want to spice things up, consider working at a mid-sized business. Process-oriented people can be incredibly valuable to companies experiencing rapid growing pains and who need to develop business infrastructure and project management capabilities.

4. Back or front of the room?

You can expect to stay behind the scenes at large companies. Top executives are often treated as heads of state, with very little access or connection to lower-ranking employees. The smaller you go, the more access to senior executives inside and outside the business, and brighter the spotlight on you as an individual contributor to the business’s success. Some love it; some hate it; some want something in between – know what camp you fall into.

5. Doer or Deep Thinker?

If adages like “just rip the bandage off” appeal to you, chances are you’ll prefer a smaller organization where there’s a premium on speed over layered analysis. Deep thinkers and perfectionists can really struggle with this, however; and may do better in a larger setting where decisions go through multiple analysis, reviews and sign-offs.

6. Swiss-army knife or jackhammer?

There are spots for both connect-the-dot generalists and subject matter specialists at every place of business. That said, it’s often easier to work across different departments and take on new roles at small to mid-sized organizations. At larger companies, there is a lot of room for specialists who want to do one thing, very, very well and don’t want to be bothered with externalities. Fit somewhere in between? Try the middle.

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