How to Make Money » Career

Should you work for a small business or large corporation?

Like everyone reading, I’ve had a few jobs in my life. When I was a wee teenager, I worked at the local Dairy Queen, where I attempted to eat my weight in Blizzards on a weekly basis. From there I went to work at a supermarket, followed that up with a brief (unsuccessful) forage into being a mortgage broker, before ending up as a sales rep with a snack food company, where I’m currently employed. I’ve worked for a few dozen different supervisors, along with spending some time supervising people. I’ve worked independently and as part of a team. I’ve started as an entry-level employee and risen up the ranks. A lot of you have also probably experienced similar career paths as mine.
Without naming the company specifically, (hey, Tom might get sued… for some reason) let me tell you about the supermarket I worked for. It’s a small chain, entirely based in one province. The founder of the store has since passed on the day to day operations to his kids. It’s the kind of company where, even after being gone for a few years, I could still get most any member of management to return my phone call. Even though this chain has grown into a respectable operation, it is still running like a locally owned family business in a lot of ways. I enjoyed working for them. Without a doubt, that was the hardest job I’ve quit.

Meanwhile, let’s compare that to the large corporation I work for these days. (Remember, no names. So no begging in the comment section) Whenever I want to talk to anyone besides my direct supervisor, I’m asked for my employee number. I’ve literally only met about 15 people who work for the company. Often, getting even the simplest tasks accomplished means talking to at least 2 different people. There seems like there are more middle managers that employees. Those of you who experience this on a daily basis, raise your hand.
I hope you really did raise your hand. That would delight me.
So, which is better? Working for a small business, or a large corporation? Let’s look at the positives and negatives of each.

Working for a small business

I’ve noticed that, just about always, small businesses are more efficient than their larger counterparts. This is a necessity for small businesses since often they only exist because they serve some small niche large businesses can’t be bothered with. As the business increases in size, so does waste, since inefficiencies tend to go hand in hand with growth.
As an employee, this can be both good and bad. You can get the satisfaction you’re building something real, along with the camaraderie that comes from working on a small team. You actually know the owner of the company and can go into his office whenever you want. There’s no dealing with a seemingly endless line of middle management. Having the boss’s ear can also mean your ideas will actually be implemented, providing they, you know, don’t suck.
Meanwhile, as a negative, it’s just about universal that a small business owner is more demanding on their staff than a manager is in a large company. Your productivity will actually make an impact on the bottom line of a small business. Decisions at this crucial growing point, such as whether or not to get small business insurance, hire additional resources, or expand product/service offerings, can have a drastic effect on the success of the business. Depending on your personality, this can either be a great motivational tool or a constant source of resentment.

Working for a faceless corporation

Let’s face it: a middle manager in a large corporation doesn’t care about your performance nearly as much as the owner of a small business. Even if part of your manager’s pay is a bonus based on performance, your individual performance usually doesn’t have a very big impact on that bonus. The result is, at least most of the time, a boss that’s a little easier to work for. It’s a whole lot easier to care when you have actual money invested in your own company.
Another perk of working for a large corporation, at least depending on your perspective, is the ability to just blend into the crowd. You can easily just do enough to justify your existence, without having to bust your hump too hard. Middle management will most likely be too busy doing some sort of pointless paperwork to even notice anyway.
This brings us to the main negative part about working for a large company, something I touched on earlier. Which is the amount of red tape that’s needed to do stuff. It takes about 8 weeks for my company to reimburse expenses. Hiring someone often takes weeks as well, including interviews with about 3 different middle management types. Even trivial things have to be approved by someone in the right department, who is usually swamped because she’s too busy approving trivial things. It’s like a perpetual motion machine of uselessness.

Which should you work for?

This is kind of a big moment. We’re about to decide the rest of your working life here. Can we get a drum roll?
You should work for… the government.
Think about it. There’s job security. They have terrific employee benefits, including the best pension plan you’re going to get outside of being the president of Zimbabwe. If you go into something like medicine or teaching, there’s always going to be demand. Whenever the government lays people off, they usually do so by attrition, meaning they just simply don’t replace people who quit or retire. The unions are strong, meaning there are plenty of sick and personal days.
Or, you could be an entrepreneur. Those people seem to like it.


  1. Glenn Cooke

    The best job for a teenager is always a restaurant where they can eat second breakfast, brunch, snack and third lunch as part of their salary.

  2. Eric

    I have worked for big companies and really big companies. I think the sweet spot is a “medium sized business” (is that a cop out) because you can both make a difference and be visible for promotion opportunities.

    I have a couple of friends that work for the State and are paid well for what they do. The downside there is all of the volatility that comes with budget cuts and furlough days.

  3. Geoff Vincent

    I concur with Eric re: medium sized companies. I was at a 150 person company that was just about right and even though it was part of a US multinational, we still had significant autonomy to do our thing.

    One aspect of small business that I have witnessed in recent years is the tendency for the CEO/Owner to make all the decisions, even small ones. This has a “neutering” effect on middle management and dampens initiative.

  4. Financial God

    I don’t think I could ever be happy in the large faceless corporation, but I agree that middle-sized businesses can be a sweet spot!

    Of course government employees do get nice perks, but only because their “customers” don’t really have a choice about paying. 😉

  5. mabu

    Small business for a start to one career until your have out grown the endless repetition of task, chat and small pay then your are ready to start your business or move up to a large corporation.

  6. Chloe

    I think small businesses find it easier to root out inefficiencies than bigger businesses. It’s common sense really – change takes longer to trickle down a huge business than it does a small enterprise.

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