When deciding which organisation you would like to work for, an important factor to take into account is the size of the firm. This article will focus on the major differences between working at a small firm vs big firm.
Small firms often have a transformational culture, whereas larger firms have a transactional culture:
From my experience of working in smaller firms and large firms, I have noticed that smaller firms have a transformational culture, meaning line-managers genuinely care about the well-being of their employees they understand the true meaning of leadership. Whereas, a larger firm has a transactional culture and a micro-management ambience, where the organisation focuses on hitting targets and goals, this can often be at the detriment of its employees.
Small firms provide you with more exposure to different departments within the organisation, you are not limited to working in your department:
Often the tasks you work on in a smaller firm directly impacts other departments, because of this you will need to liaise directly with other departments for reasons like collecting accurate information or collaborating on projects. Especially, because the teams in smaller firms are a lot smaller and there is not much specialism.
Whereas, in larger firms each department is large and has sub-specialised departments who deal with specific issues, for instance I worked in Human Resources at a large firm and I was in awe with the various sub-specialised departments such as Reward, Compensation, Diversity & Inclusion, Recruitment and so forth. Because a larger firm has sub-specialised departments, individuals in the same department will liaise with each other more often, than those outside their department to find out missing information.
Smaller firms have more social opportunities for everyone in the business compared to larger firms:
Smaller firms take pride in nurturing their relationships across the business, because of this they have strategies in place like a big company trip or fortnightly games nights. Larger firms tend to organise social activities department by department.
At a small firm you work on important projects and are given real responsibility immediately:
I had the opportunity to complete work experience at a “magic circle” law firm, and I found the role a bit tedious as all I was doing was photocopying work; I had felt like I was not given work that was intellectual challenging. Whereas, when I worked at a smaller firm I felt as though from Day 1 I was given responsibility, challenged, and I found it very exciting.
Overall, there are many positive and negatives for working at a small firm and big firm. I encourage university students to try to complete work experience or internships in both small and big firms to have an idea of which one you would like to work at upon graduation. I also encourage everyone to think about their goals in life and which type of firm will help them reach their goals.
Generally, we hear it is good to work at a big firm for the first 3-5 years of your career to help you have a solid understanding on the specific department you are interested in. Big firms often sponsor professional qualifications which is another added benefit, usually after 3-5 years most people want to develop a healthier work life balance and then decide to make that transition over to working a small firm.