I’ve worked for companies of different sizes. Some of which had existed for a century or more, and the others were only established in the late 2000s in response to the 2008 financial crisis which led to private companies from major economies outsourcing to countries with cheaper labor. There are ins and outs of working for a big company. You’ll certainly feel the prestige of being an employee of a reputable brand, and you won’t necessarily have a cloud of fear hanging over you – a fear that the company you’re working for won’t be around anymore in a year or so.
When working for a small company, most notably startups, you’ll be able to learn so much on what it takes to run a business. You most likely will be asked to take on what wasn’t outlined on your job description, and chances are you will be forced to assume more responsibility as the business grows. As stressful, fast-paced, and labor-intensive it is to work for a small company, there are many awesome things about working for a startup. For me, what I loved was the casual work environment and feeling like the work we were doing was cutting-edge, about to take the world by storm.
When I finally landed a role at a big company (after several years of looking), I noticed that there were indeed things that I missed from when I worked at smaller, younger companies. In more detail, allow me to walk you through 7 things you’ll likely miss once you leave the startup culture and start working for a big company.
1. Getting things off the ground fast
What surprised me a lot once I started working for a big, multinational company was that the organizational structure was stacked with layers. Above me was my boss, and a few layers up the ladder were more directors, vice presidents, senior vice presidents, executive vice presidents, the COO, and finally the CEO. And there were even more layers for entry-level employees. Imagine being an entry-level engineer, and above you was your team leader, and above him was the team manager, and next the senior/regional manager, and after that were the layers of executives that I mentioned.
Why am I making a big deal out of the org structure, you might ask? It shows you that the decisions to roll out a particular product or service, or any changes to those, or sometimes anything at all – require some approval from the higher-ups. The most important decisions often go up to VP-level, which means that if you want to do, create, remove, or change something – you have to go through the required approvals. Such is usually not the case for startups. Startups often abide by the slogan ‘move fast and break things’ hence they are able to innovate and iterate far quicker than big companies. Apple, Google, and Amazon, among others know that things can move slow due to the size of the organization, so they organize engineering teams into small groups – what Amazon calls ‘two-pizza teams.’
2. Being able to approach top leaders
You’ll also miss the visibility of the top leaders of your company. For startups, the CEO or the top person is often quite accessible, sometimes not even having an office of his own. In big companies, unless you work at the corporate headquarters or are in the same floor as any of the top leaders, you’ll hardly see them – sometimes even as scarcely as the public would. When I worked for a startup, it was always great knowing that the CEO’s desk was just a few steps away, and knowing that if I had any major concerns, I could easily voice them out.
Having the ability to approach top leaders is a perk you’ll likely lose once you start working for a big company. Granted, big companies do make an effort to be more visible and approachable – holding All-hands meetings as often as they’d like, and more often in the remote work era we are in now. At the same time, having top leaders that are both visible and accessible is not necessarily related to the size or age of a company – sometimes it really just depends on company culture.
3. Greater autonomy and freedom
A similar reasoning as number one on this list, losing a sense of autonomy and freedom once you start working for a big company is often a given. Although it really boils down to company culture and environment, as well as the type of role you have which really decides whether you have greater autonomy and freedom in making decisions and taking actions. When working for a startup, the workload is often too much for the whole organization to handle, as the hiring of additional people won’t always catch up with the demand. This leaves room for more decisions to be delegated onto non-leaders, in extreme cases to entry-level people.
You’ll be able to make changes, create, remove, improve upon things without the need to go through a rigorous and time-consuming approval process. Sometimes, work guidelines (such as content guidelines or design systems) won’t even be set in stone yet, and so you would be able to experience much creative freedom. Once you sign on to a bigger, more established company though, you will lose some, if not all the freedom you used to enjoy as an employee from a startup. Again – it all depends on company culture on what the degree of autonomy is allowed, but because the company has been around longer and is more organized, you’ll be working under the confines of policies, systems, and structures.
4. Far less bureaucracy
Somewhat related to number three on this list – missing the absence, or any semblance of bureaucracy from working at a startup deserves to be on this list. Government agencies and systems are notorious for being bureaucratic, barraging the ordinary citizen with requirements on top of steps, processes, approving authorities, etc. just to get some I.D. issued. If you thought governments were the only ones that enjoyed giving people a hard time, think again. Multinational companies are also known for their bureaucracy, especially those that keep a tight leash on releasing money for expenses.
In some big companies, it takes a series of documents and a number of approvals in order for an expense to be approved. In others, it also takes several conditions to be met before a single job opening can be authorized. When working for a startup, especially one whom outside investors really love, it’s easy to spend company money on parties, team lunches, and other non-work stuff. The opportunity for abuse is always there, especially for the startup’s leaders, but the advantage of getting things done fast and more efficiently often outweigh any accountability risk.
5. Visibility of your impact
Arguably the most significant among the things you’ll miss once you move on, seeing the impact of the work you do becomes tricky when in a big company. A fulfilling thing about working for a startup is the fact that you’re often likely to see your work make its way into the world. You’ll get external feedback – whether good or bad – and securing inputs like that is valuable, as they help you improve upon the work that you do.
When working for a big company, resources in terms of personnel and equipment are not usually scarce, and so it will take an entire team to work on something small. And more often than not, the team originally working on it will hand it over to the next team for the next phase of development. Along the way, some changes are bound to be made, and the end-result is something you never could have predicted or imagined. And so, it will be hard to recognize the work that you did yourself, your “footprint” when you work for a big company.
6. Having your voice heard
Making changes inside a big company – especially if you’re in the lower ranks – is close to impossible. The top leaders often define company culture, attitudes, work arrangements, policies, stands on social issues, and what not. It would take significant action, in extreme situations a scandal, a unique incident, in order to have your voice heard. Not to mention what we said in number two – being able to approach top leaders – you’ll have a harder time having your voice heard by the right people.
When working at a startup, whenever something feels off-base, or unjust, or when something needs to change – someone will speak up about it, and you bet that person will get heard right away. I remember an incident when I worked for a startup, when pay was delayed for a day – one employee talked about it offhand, and only a couple of hours later, management sent an email blast explaining the reason for the delay. Easy access to upper management has its own ins and outs.
7. Knowing your place in the organization and the meaning of your role
Last but not the least, knowing your place inside a company is something you’ll easily miss. Some big companies have an army of employees as opposed to a one-man-show in another company working the same function. For example, an Admin Officer at some startup could mean three or four different employees performing different administrative functions at a big company. While it's great to have the work spread out among more than one employee, for various reasons – less burnout, more accountability, less misses – it also leads for someone to think that they’re easily replaceable in their job.
Thus, the tendency for an employee in a big corporation is to not know his or her place in the organization and not really see the significance of his or her own work. This is especially true in companies with very thick layers of leadership (LOLs).
Working for a big company is great, too
Don’t get me wrong – I love working for a big company. Once I onboarded, I immediately realized just how thinly I was spread out at some of my previous roles. I also started to learn how to trust other people who continued building on the work that I did. There’s probably a lot less room for egotism at bigger companies, simply because you feel quite small while working in one. The availability of resources at your disposal can be a very pleasant surprise and sweating over a few dollars of expense for something your work needs effectively becomes extinct. There are also loads of things you’ll miss when you leave a slow, stubborn big company in favor of a fresh, go-getting startup – and that’s a topic for another day.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.