Interview question: Why do you want to work for a small firm?
Although graduate schemes are becoming increasingly popular with graduates, starting your career at a good small or medium sized firm also offers a great starting ground for a career in any industry.
Whilst big city employers' run graduate programmes with clear-cut rules for promotion (usually offered after several years), small companies (who are free from such binding structures) just promote people who do well. If you are successful in a small firm, you are likely to be rewarded much faster than at larger firms.
Working for a small firm
People at smaller companies may make less money and enjoy fewer perks than their big city counterparts, but they are much more likely than big-company employees to describe themselves as "extremely satisfied" with their jobs. One advantage in small firms is the increased recognition from managers, and the increased team spirit that is often not part of working life at large companies.
Smaller firms tend to be more supportive, less bureaucratic and more willing to hire workers embarking on new careers. If you are the kind of person who has ideas and can come up with new ways of doing things, it is much more likely that a small company will listen to you and take your ideas on board. At a large company, just finding out who to suggest ideas to can be a hassle, let alone scheduling a meeting to talk about them.
In small companies, people know about each other much more intimately. Whilst this means that news of a work-based romance may spread across your office within a few hours, it also means that your hard work and good ideas are likely to receive the recognition they deserve. Work particularly hard or have a fantastic idea in a small company and the owner is likely to find out about it by the end of the week. In a large company, you might never even meet the owner or any senior staff at all.
Small enterprises tend to foster camaraderie and family-like atmospheres. Most small outfits are privately held, which means there are no shareholders to answer to. Being private therefore, allows actions to take place much quicker than at large firms.
Recruitment Processes at large firms
Large companies have highly structured recruitment processes that streamline applications and reject irregular applicants. If you are coming from an unusual background, you will find it hard to get interviews at large companies, but small ones recruit with a different criteria. Small companies tend to get a great deal fewer applications and spend much longer analysing each application.
Small companies place less emphasis on formal requirements like previous title and industry experience and instead chose people they think can do the job.
Top level companies offer perks that smaller companies just can't hope to compete with, such as cars, equipment and company sponsored MBAs, but much of this is just face value. A talented individual can often progress to the top much faster in a small organisation, and consequently take home a much higher pay cheque than those at larger firms within a few years.
Conversely, working at a large firm will almost certainly give you experience in A-list business dealing with top level clients, which is very different from SME (Small and Medium Enterprise) business.
Small businesses are better suited to all-rounders
As with most small businesses, employees are less specialised, with work duties extending beyond what their education may reveal. In a small business, there is more room for growth and creativity. You can start in one area of business, but may be able to transfer quite easily into another if it turns out you have a particular skill or preference for this type of work.
Although big name firms do give your resume weight, working for a small firm will give you a more diverse job experience with increased responsibilities that may turn out to impress employers more than a company name. Furthermore, if you plan to start your own company, there is no better experience than working for a small-size firm to learn the basics of what you will need to do.
Mentoring & Career Development
The general mentoring experiences among small businesses are usually quite different than those available at big name firms. Graduates that have lively enquiring minds and are genuinely interested in the industry they are working in will find that managers and bosses (even owners) have much more time to talk to you than employees at major firms.
The amount of information and quality of education available at small companies is literally yours for the taking. Furthermore, when asking for references after a job move, the chances are much higher in a small company that the reference will be accurate, and quite possibly that it will come from the boss, or a much higher manager than at a large company (where it will probably come from the HR team).