Does company size matter when it comes to your career path?

about 6 years ago by Chris Anderson

Organisation chart

There are so many variables to consider when starting your career that the correlation between company size and career progression is unlikely to feature too heavily.

It’s often not until you’re in a role, or have clocked up a couple of positions in similar sized organisations, that you might start to ponder whether SMEs or larger companies offer the career path you’re seeking.

So, when it comes to getting ahead in your career are you better off in a small-medium or large business?

A few definitions before we get into the detail. According to the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, in 2015 small businesses employing fewer than 19 people accounted for 97 per cent of all Australian businesses (by employee size). There were 51,000 medium sized businesses employing 20 to 199 employees, which was 2.4 per cent of all firms, and only 3,700 firms employed more than 200 people, meaning that large businesses accounted for only 0.2 per cent of all Australian businesses.

It is one of the privileges of working in recruitment that we are able to have these conversations with candidates, and in some cases challenge the assumptions they’ve made about a current or prospective employer, or help to open their eyes to possibilities not even considered.

We often find that candidates believe opportunities are fewer in SMEs. While this may be true in relation to the total number and type of roles available in a smaller business’ organisational structure, the remit of the roles that are available can be quite broad, encapsulating a wide range of tasks and responsibilities.

Indeed, I recently spoke to a candidate who made the move from an SME to a national company thinking this was the obvious next step in her career. She has since realised she misses the variety of being a “jack of all trades” and having the authority to make decisions, instead of now having to factor in hierarchical and lengthy sign-off processes.

Gaining experience across a business can work in your favour when an opportunity for promotion does come along. Promoting internally is often a SMEs first port of call as they can’t afford the disruption of bringing in new talent who doesn’t know the business and workplace culture of the existing team. Instead, they may choose to recruit an entry-level role to bolster support.

It’s also important to note that what some SMEs lack in career advancement they may make up for in career development; the opportunity to work directly alongside the business owner, be exposed to the nitty-gritty of management and learn from their mistakes and successes may be just as satisfying as being offered a new job title.

On the flip side, I regularly meet candidates whose preference is to work only in large organisations. They are attracted by the clearly defined roles and responsibilities, delegation and escalation paths, and the opportunity to carve out their niche, usually supported by the systems and technology applicable to their specialisation.

The size of a larger business’ organisational structure also tends to naturally indicate a career path – you work your way up to middle management and then hopefully to the C-suite. Larger companies are more likely to offer mentoring programs or assistance from the HR department to map out the skills, training and performance required to take that next step up the ladder.

The option to relocate to an interstate or international office of a company or to take a secondment is most certainly an advantage of working for a larger business. Whether it’s a step up or a step sideways, the opportunity to be exposed to how a particular role functions in a different culture or context can be very appealing to candidates.

Making your next career move can be a nerve-racking decision, but whether you’re weighing up a role in a small-medium business or a larger organisation, our advice is always the same: do your homework about the role, research the business, its organisational structure, values and culture and if knowing whether or not a path to promotion exists is important to you, don’t be afraid to ask your Recruitment Consultant about this.