By Amy Lindgren
Knight Ridder Newspapers
Where should your next job be? In a giant conglomerate with 200 offices worldwide? Or the mom-and-pop shop down the road?
Although each has advantages and disadvantages, your answer may be based on your experiences.
If you are using your own history as a guide, beware. Experience can be an inaccurate teacher.
I once worked for an international publisher that required workers to go on breaks only when a bell rang. If we weren’t back in our chairs by the time the second bell sounded, we received a demerit. I haven’t been back to a large company since.
Of course, I now know that other large companies offer tuition reimbursement, good advancement and even sabbaticals. It was probably a mistake to avoid all firms employing more than 50 people based on one bad experience.
Likewise, although I adore small companies, I have heard plenty of horror stories from workers who suffered under irrational bosses, never got raises or found themselves picking up the dry cleaning for the boss’ spouse.
Sandy Joiner, human-resources career consultant for Allina Health System, works for one of the largest companies in the Midwest. With more than 22,000 employees, the health-care giant is what Joiner calls "a city within a city."
In her role as a career consultant to the employees of Allina - and in an earlier position with Unisys - Joiner has gained some insight into the personality types that thrive in a large company setting.
"The person who is best suited to a large company will be an independent actor, self-motivated, able to work on their own," she says.
"There just seem to be more demands being placed on people, including supervisors, so it’s best if people can operate effectively without a lot of appreciation."
On the flip side, Joiner notes that some people may find a large company frustrating. "If somebody is an idea person and their ideas are not well received or there are so many layers of management they don’t see them come to fruition, it can be a bad fit."
One of most underrated benefits of working for a large company is the opportunity to network with other workers and even switch careers while staying with the same employer.
As Joiner notes, Allina has sizable departments in just about every administrative area, including human resources, accounting, marketing and information systems. If a health-care worker wanted to become an accountant while working at Allina, that would be a realistic goal.
Heidi Doyle, director of recruitment and training at Triad Financial Services, thought she was joining a small company when she signed on three years ago. At that time, the debt recovery firm had just one office and 100 employees. It now has two offices and 300 employees and expects to have 600 people within another year.
In her work as a recruiter, Doyle says she seeks attributes rather than skills. Because Triad is growing so quickly, she hires people who are entrepreneurial and who want to advance within the company.
One of Doyle’s recruits, Jill Dauenhauer, has worked for both small and large firms. She began her career with a very large health-care provider when she graduated from college years ago.
"It was a very large, very stable company," Dauenhauer says, "but I sick of doing the same thing every day and competing with thousands of people."
After two years, Dauenhauer switched to a small, third-party health insurance administrator whose workers fit comfortably in a two-room office. Although she liked knowing all the workers by name and working in a formal environment, Dauenhauer saw the dark side of working for small companies when half the staff was off laid after six months.
Now at Triad, Dauenhauer believes she has the "best of both worlds" medium-sized company with fast growth. After her layoff, she was eager to find a more stable company, but she did not want to return to a megafirm.
Dauenhauer’s experience may reflect upcoming national trends. According to a recent report from the Small Administration titled "Small Business Growth by Major Industry, 1988-1995," very small firms (those with fewer 20 employees) created 49 percent nation’s new jobs in that period.
With that kind of growth, it’s easy to predict that a fair number of future layoffs will come from that sector as well. In the meantime, large firms continue to lay off workers in phenomenal numbers, and the body count from mergers is accelerating. In the search for stability, medium-size companies indeed may be the best bet.
Large company or small? Lots of branches or just one small office? In the long run, it may not matter.
Not sure if you’d be happier in a small or large company? Here’s a checklist of advantages and disadvantages for each.
• Lots of branches and departments to transfer to.
• Good perks, such as discounts on retail services.
• Good benefits, such as pension and tuition reimbursement.
• Good networking opportunities with other workers.
• High name recognition.
• Rigid structure.
• Feeling like a number or cog in the machine.
• Endless decision-making process.
• Few or no layers of bureaucracy.
• Quick decision-making.
• Close relationships with co-workers and supervisors.
• Lots of cross-training into other positions. Opportunity to take on responsibility quickly.
• Limited upward advancement potential.
• Sometimes limited in financial resources.
• Obscurity: Who’s ever heard of this company?
Once you’ve decided the size company you want to approach, what’s the best job-search strategy? Here are a few tips:
• Target the department that would suit you best.
• Mail your resume directly to the department manager, or find someone inside to deliver it to that person.
• Learn about the company divisions and branches.
• Emphasize your ability to work on teams and manage projects.
• Be patient; decisions can take months. Follow up until a definitive answer is given.
• Target companies that make a product or offer service that excites you.
• Make a personal connection with the company owner or manager.
• Learn about the company’s competition and customer base.
• Emphasize your ability to save money and serve customers.
• Offer to interview early in the day, at night or on weekends.
This article appeared in the Sunday, May 23, 1999 Columbus Dispatch.
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