Hays UK jobs and employment blog


How to decide which company size is right for you

By Andrew Nip, Sales Training & Internal Recruitment Manager, Hays Asia

Whether you’re actively job hunting or thinking of switching career, you should always strive to find a company that is the right fit for you. This will help to not only improve your long-term job satisfaction but will also boost your performance, which is a win-win situation for both you and your new employer. So, to help you understand which company size might suit you best, we spoke with Andrew Nip, Head of Training, Learning and Development and Head of Internal Recruitment at Hays Asia.

1. I thought it would be helpful to start our podcast today by looking at the different sizes of companies that are out there. Could you give our listeners a quick overview of these?

Yeah, sure. So companies or workplaces now come really in different shapes and forms and sizes. The definition of a work company is quite different today compared to what it was I would say ten/twenty years ago, but generally speaking, if you look at workplaces today, they are usually divided into three types. So there are your startups and within the startup world, there are even a lot of different varieties of startups. Startup usually refers to companies that are relatively new to the market. They can range from having one or two people to having up to hundreds of people, but we sort of refer to startups as companies that have been established for one to three years.

The second type of businesses that are most common is SMEs so small to medium sized enterprises, so those companies usually range from twenty people to hundreds or two hundred people. We also categorise a lot of family-owned businesses into this category, so those organisations usually operate in one city or one country only. They are relatively smaller than your typical corporates, but they can also be great companies to work for, and then there are your classic corporations or corporates. So those are organisations typically that have an international presence. They span across the globe, ranging from thousands of employees up to hundreds of thousands with many offices in the world.

2. So how would you think that these compare to working with an SME?

For me the difference is more on a spectrum. So I think if we look at SMEs they are typically less structured than a corporate in terms of processes, in terms of organisational structure, reporting line for example, because it’s less people. Whereas in a corporation, I would say you typically would go in and it’s already very established in terms of what team you’re in and where that team fits in the larger business. In a startup, that structure is even less apparent and some people find that to be a really attractive point that it is a very flat structure, but again it depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a job having a structured reporting line, an organisational structure isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it does mean that you get more clarity around your role. You have more clarity around your performance and your outputs, and you have more clarity around career progression opportunities.

The difference between a startup and an SME, I think it’s probably smaller than the difference between SME and a large corporate, but some of the notable things I would say would be, a) opportunities to explore different roles. So in an SME because it’s less structured and because there are less employees, you probably will have more opportunities to move around. Whereas in a startup, many functions probably don’t exist yet because they are not necessary at that stage of that business and so you probably wouldn’t be moving around functions. The second difference would be your ability to learn new skills. So in an SME, you will still have people usually who have experience in that particular area or who have worked for that SME for a number of years, so you will still have the opportunity to learn and to really develop your expertise in that specialised area.

And I think the final difference would be the career progression, you know SMEs because they are little bit more established you probably have more opportunities to progress up the career ladder, but in a startup, it really depends on how quickly that company grows. There are many startups who remain a certain size for a number of years and that makes it very difficult for people in that startup to move up the career ladder or to get those big titles or to have different job responsibilities. So I think SMEs are certainly a very attractive option if you’re considering between SMEs and startups.

3. Thanks for sharing these differences and if one of our listeners were, for example, looking to work for a startup or an SME, what do you think they could expect? What should they be aware of?

It depends on obviously who you are, where you are in your career and what you’re looking for. Let’s start with startups. I think just judging from the people that I know who have startup businesses and my connections who are working for startups, one of the most common things I hear from them is how broad your role can be and how flexible and agile you need to be in order to survive in that sort of environment. You need to expect to really be out of your comfort zone fairly constantly on a daily basis because with startups you really do have to do everything and there is no such thing as, “this is not my job, so I’m not going to do it” and there is no such thing as, “I’ve not done this before so I’m not going to do it” because like I said before, almost everything you do in a startup is new and almost everything that you do you probably will need to figure it out yourself as opposed to having a clear structure or precedent that you can follow.

In an SME I think the expectation is that you do need to still be quite agile, but you also need to respect the existing structure and culture of business. SMEs I think are great because you get the best of both worlds. You get to become a specialist in your area, most likely depending on the size of the SME, but you also will get to work closely with other departments and other functions and get opportunities to do things that you may not be able to do if you were working for a larger corporate just because sometimes by distance you’re not sitting in the same office as them. Whereas in an SME you most likely you’re surrounded by people who are doing different things and in a large corporate, as my personal experience has taught me, you really get to develop skills as a specialist and that to me has always been what’s attracted me to corporations or working for a big corporate, because I want to be very good at my craft.

I want to be a specialist and an expert in what I do and be able to really develop the skills in a specialised area. The stability that corporates offer is also a clear plus in terms of your ability to go up the career ladder, clarity around where you can go and what you need to do to get there and the fact that you’re not worrying about whether this business is going to be around for the next few years or not. That’s always a nice thing to have. With all that being said I should caveat by saying that ultimately it comes down to the person, it comes down to the business that you’re in. Every business is different regardless of your size and regardless of whether you’re a startup or a big corporate.

In fact, what we’re seeing a lot is what we call an entrepreneur in residence. So a lot of businesses now are starting to think about opening up roles within their business to allow their employees to create their own projects or do their own startups. So it’s a mix of entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship and I would venture a guess that that would be a key trend that we’ll be seeing in the next ten/twenty years in businesses.

4. Is there an easy way to assess which company size is best for you before applying for a job?

My advice would be to consider three key things. First of all, before you think about startup or corporate or SME or what sort of company you want to work for, I think it’s really important to establish your goals. So what is it that you ultimately want in your career? You know my advice has always been, when I talk to graduates or young professionals, has always been don’t label businesses or companies and don’t label yourself or don’t think inside the box always try to think outside the box. So if your goal is to start a business then working for a startup and a corporate have equal benefits to you, depends on where you are in your career. I think if you’re starting off I would always recommend graduates to try to work for a larger corporate and the reason for that is because a) you will get to learn how to do things properly and you’ll get that formal training and the opportunity to really see how an established business is run.

If you are further in your career and you are looking to think outside the box or live outside of the box a little bit, you believe that you’ve got the skills necessary in your area of expertise, then startups will be great because you really get to test your limits and you get to put everything that you know to test. But you also get to start to do a range of different things, so it really depends on where you ultimately want to end up being. I think that that’s the first point. The second point is what resources do you need? Again, it depends on where you are in your career and what your motivations are. So are you looking to learn from people who are very good at what they do or are you looking for just the opportunity and a chance to make a big hit for example? What sort of resources do you have and are you someone who’s looking for stability because you’ve started a family, for example, and you require a certain level of financial security, so you’ve got to think about that. Are you ready for a startup environment? Are you ready for a corporate environment?

And the third thing, and arguably the most important thing I think is really who you are, your personality and your preferences. Do you want to have a lot of influence in what you do? Because if you do then you might want to have a think about working for a smaller organisation. Not to say that working for a big corporate you won’t have a lot of influence, but in a small environment, you probably will have a lot more say because there’s less people and you probably will be able to see the fruits of your labour a lot more obviously and a lot clearer. Are you someone who don’t like ambiguity and a lot of change? Do you find that stressful? Do you find that overwhelming sometimes? And if you are, maybe a corporate is better suited for you because you’re less likely to come across that constant and consistent change that you will face in a startup environment? So really be honest to yourself and look at what your preferences are and where you think you thrive the most because ultimately you can be successful in all sorts of environments if there is a good match and good fit.

5. We’re lucky enough to interview recruitment experts on a monthly basis, which is why we always like to ask this last question of our guests. If you could share one piece of careers advice with our listeners, what would that be?

Probably what I would consider to be the best advice I’ve gotten in my career and certainly something that I try to live by every single day and advice that I think is very simple, but have certainly helped me to progress in my own career and that is to always take accountability for everything that you do that has to do with your career. Taking accountability sounds simple enough, but it is quite challenging particularly in the world that we live in today where there are so many external factors that impact on how successful you are and how much money you earn and how quickly you progress up the career ladder. This is an advice I was given by a mentor of mine to always look at yourself first before you start to look at whether it’s your boss or whether it’s the company that you work for, whether it’s the market that you work in.

If you’re not happy, if you’re not successful if you’re not getting that promotion quickly enough or getting the salary that you want. Then always look at yourself and go, “Well, what is it that I’ve done? What is it that I’ve not done, and what is it that I can do to change things?” Because ultimately the only person who is responsible for your career is yourself and that’s something that’s helped me a lot. I’ve gone from being someone who used to be quite afraid of asking for a promotion or asking for a salary increase to someone who’s finally become very comfortable in taking control of my career and asking for the things that I believe that I deserve in and really working on the things that I think I lack in and having these honest conversations with myself around what are my strengths and what are my areas for development and confronting them openly and positively. That would be an advice that I love to share with everyone.

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For more information or to discuss your employment needs, please contact your local consultant.

About this author

Andrew has over seven years of experience in HR, recruitment, and L&D across the Asia-Pacific region. With a double degree in Psychology and Human Resource Management, Andrew’s expertise ranges from psychometric testing to talent selection across a wide range of industries. He currently manages the internal recruitment and training departments across Asia for recruiting experts Hays. He specialises in the design and delivery of technical and soft-skills training from new-starter induction to leadership development programmes.

Prior to his current position with Hays in Asia, Andrew was a successful recruitment consultant in Hays’s Sydney office, specialising in the banking, accountancy and finance sectors. Aside from his responsibilities in internal recruitment and training, Andrew is also a regular speaker at career forums, university events and leadership conferences. Andrew believes that developing people’s capabilities and helping them realise their potential is at the core of all successful businesses.


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