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The First Jobber: Should I Apply to Work in A Big Company or a Small Company?

By Kausern Hieu, Country Manager of Nuffnang Malaysia. |


The First Jobber series is designed to help fresh graduates make that transition from student to employee. There are a lot of mistakes you can make and a lot of time wasted if you don’t know what to look out for. Personally, I wasted a lot of my precious time trying to figure all these out by myself after I graduated.


Hence, as an employer now, I wish to share some tips and actionable steps with you with the hope of helping you secure the job that you want and subsequently for you to adjust well into your first job.

BIG REPUTABLE COMPANIES OR SMALL COMPANIES? HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR FIRST JOB.


I work for NUFFNANG. It’s an established but small company compared to the large reputable companies in Malaysia such as Petronas or Top Glove. But yet, we still manage to secure some of the brightest fresh graduates in town. This got me thinking,


"Why did they choose to join us and continue to stay with us for a few good years?”

The truth of the matter is there isn’t a one size fits all answer to this question. It is heavily dependent on what the candidate wants. But throughout the years, I realised that many candidates I met are not clear of the pros and cons of what a small company can offer in comparison to a bigger company. Usually, I will spell out objectively the advantages and disadvantages to the interviewee so that they will have enough data points to make an informed decision.

I’ve never documented what I shared with them until now. So, hopefully readers will find these guidelines helpful in clearing the first jobbers’ confusion.



1. Structure

Big Companies

Generally, larger corporations have a more obvious structure.


Let’s start off the with the job application process. Typically, securing a job in a large company will take a much longer time because it’s not unusual for a candidate to go through at least four to five interviews over a few months before one secures the job.


Once you’ve got the job, imagine walking into a big well-oiled machinery that has been around for a while on your first day of work. You will soon notice that every single position available will have an established job scope and a way of doing things.

Overtime, you’ll learn the pathways to a promotion and what it takes to “climb the corporate ladder”. Take Maybank for example, there are so many opportunities to move around within the bank. If you have the right skillsets you can practically move anywhere within the organization; vertical promotion, horizontal promotion (move to a different department) and geographical promotion (move to a different region or even country). Heck, some companies I know even mandate job rotation opportunities and upskilling programmes for their employees.

Speaking of job scope, it is usually pretty fixed in a big organization. It’s not a bad or a good thing. It is just what it is in order for the bigger machinery to run smoothly. Depending on your preference, some of you may like this because it gives a clear picture of the outcome the job demands ie. “Follow this SOP (standard operating procedure) to achieve this specific result”. Whereas some of you may find SOPs rigid and will eventually stifle creativity.

In summary, if you want a job with a sense of stability and a well-defined path for advancement, joining a large company will be a good place to kick-start your career.

Small Companies / Startups

I’m not saying that small companies do not have a proper structure but typically, it’s more fluid especially for start-ups.


Even the hiring process at a small business is much quicker. I started my career in a small company and it took me only two interviews over two weeks to land that job.


But when it comes to “climbing the corporate ladder”, this will the biggest difference compared to a large organization. Most small companies have a flat organizational structure. Typically, it has three ranks; junior executive (entry level), senior executive, manager. So, if your boss does not vacate his/her seat, there is a slim chance of you getting promoted to the next level.


When it comes to the job scope, working for a small business allows you to wear multiple hats. For example at Nuffnang, some of my employees take on multiple responsibilities from different parts of the business, on top of their core responsibility. As a result, it gives them a wider exposure and experience.


In summary, if multiple skills acquisition is your primary goal, working for a small business can give you a much wider opportunity to do so. I find that start-ups in particular, often encourage their employees to brainstorm and come out with different ways of doing things to achieve the business goals. This creative freedom provides the employee with a deep sense of ownership and fulfilment especially when their project ideas get implemented. Compared to larger companies, it’s more about following SOPs.



2. Perks and Benefits


Big Companies

This is an easy one. Big companies offer more attractive perks. Major companies provide a variety of incentives such as eye care, dental, special company discount cards, medical for the whole family, longer maternity leave, company trips, incentive trips and the list goes on.

And when it comes to providing training to their employees, the HR department will usually have a proper programme of every kind for every level; skill-based training, soft skills training, succession planning, educational programmes such as understanding workplace diversity and inclusiveness, and so on and so forth.


Small Companies / Startups

Even though the perks offered by smaller companies will never be able to trump the larger companies, they are usually more creative and personal.


At Nuffnang, employees get the day off on their birthdays. As we hire fresh graduates and young working adults by design, we are fully aware that the typical turnover will be an average of 2 years. So, to incentivise our people to stay longer with us, we provide a two-weeks paid sabbatical for employees on the 3rd year of their employment. My staff will usually use it to fulfil their travel goals.


As for training, I’m not saying that smaller companies do not provide it at all, but the training offered are usually on-the-job training. Some people find this kind of exposure more meaningful as they can immediately experience the results when they apply what they learn in comparison to classroom-style training. I know of some companies also incentivise their employees to sign-up for online self-learning courses.


Regardless, in comparison to larger businesses, perks and benefits are usually limited.



3. Camaraderie


Big Companies

You won’t know most of your colleagues when you work in a large organization. Even if you’re one of the most sociable person around, it will be impossible to know everyone in a company with hundreds of employees. Of course, you may argue that it’s not necessary to know everyone but inevitably, your job will require you to interact with colleagues you’ve never even met before from different departments. It may be the legal department, procurement, PA to the CEO.


In all honesty, sometimes your life may get really stressful if you don’t have a relationship with your co-workers but yet they are the gatekeepers to your project deadlines. Worse still, if your 360-peer evaluation is graded by colleagues you hardly know.


You may have heard that a good company provides a platform for employees to raise their concerns to upper management, but the outcome isn't always guaranteed.


Small Companies / Startups

A small company’s flat structure will usually encourage a more open environment where not only colleagues within the same rank becomes closed buddies but in the context of group projects, it enables employees and bosses to communicate better, forging a more trusting relationship.


4. Influencing Change and Impact


Big Companies

When you start out in a large organization, you’re going to be a small cog in a large machine. So, if your mission in your career is not only to make money but to make an immediate difference, chances are you’ll be disappointed.


Big companies have plenty of written and unwritten protocols. Naturally, as a newbie, it would take a lot of your effort and time to move the needle.


Shaking things up at a big company is not impossible but it’s going to be a herculean task. Even if the company is open to new ideas, getting and aligning the right stakeholders to agree on your proposed new product can take a lot of time. For a first jobber to influence change in a large organization is likened to maneuvering a huge cargo ship.

Small Companies / Start ups

Small businesses, on the other hand, tend to have less bureaucracy. It would be simpler to navigate around the organizational rules and engaging the right stakeholders to make a difference, even if you’re a junior executive.


For example, Nuffnang’s content resource site Crunch by Nuffang is created by someone who was only a few months old in the company. In early 2018, Emily pitched to me the need to create useful content to help the twenty something in Malaysia to navigate adulthood. I requested for her to develop a business plan and present it back to me. She did. I looked at the numbers, and it added up. It went live within two months. I’m happy to report that we’re seeing a steady growth of visitors, engagement level and interest from Brands to collaborate with Crunch today, thanks to Emily. (Emily is leading Crunch full-time today. Back when it started, she was running it part-time, on top of her core responsibility.)


At a small company, your success will be more visible. Great work can be seen by everyone. This will be a great confidence booster especially if you're starting out in a new career. However, this can also become a double-edged sword as your failure is also going to be very visible amongst your colleagues.



5. Resume Booster


Big Companies

Nothing beats a well-known big company. Big branded companies are often held in high regards by the older generation here in Malaysia. if your relatives find out that you’re working for say, Maxis or Public Bank, you are immediately deemed “successful”.


A big company’s reputation will enhance your resume. You will stand a higher chance of being hired by an even bigger company in your next job. Like it or not, when you’re associated with a branded company, your chances of being shortlisted for an interview will be higher (vs. another candidate with similar work experience but has worked in a smaller company).


Small Companies / Startups

So, does that mean you will never be able to land a job in a bigger company if you start off your career in a small firm?

Of course not!

For me, the size of the company you work with doesn’t matter to me as much as the relevant skills and experience you can bring to the table. That said, I will take more notice of a candidate’s resume who has worked for a reputable company before purely because of its recognizable brand.


TL;DR – Here’s a summary chart for you to be able grasp the differences better:



Before I conclude, I would like to debunk a myth.


And that is,

“Big companies offer more job security”.

In today’s day and age, one can lose their jobs regardless of the size of a company. I’m sure you’ve come across headlines such as “Intel to lay off 12,000 employees worldwide” and also know of someone in your circle of friends or family being retrenched.


In summary, if your priorities are company reputation, better perks and benefits, specialised work and a more structured path of advancement, then a big company is a good place to start your career.


But if you’re hungry to acquire multiple skills, affect positive change and to work in a team camaraderie environment, then working for a smaller company / start-up will be a better choice.


If you have any further queries about this topic, please leave a comment or write to crunch@nuffnang.com


Next article from The First Jobber series: What to Put On Your Resume if You Have No Job Experience.



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