First-time employees can find greater opportunities for success (and happiness) by landing a job with a smaller business.
From conversations I have had with my friends and family members, I have gathered that my first run at big-girl, full-time employment has not been traditional. My experience working in an office consisting of fewer than 50 employees (in my case, much fewer) has played a part in my opinion that everyone should work in small business early in their career if they can. Though I do not intend to speak for all small-business environments or all industries, I feel as though these themes are pervasive.
First of all, there is a huge likelihood that you make waves and get noticed for your efforts. Better to be a small fish in a small pond than in a big pond, if you’re trying to make waves. Though completely and entirely possible, making a difference in a large, bureaucratic company is significantly more challenging than doing so in a smaller business. When you’re the fatal combination of new and one of many, the opportunity to pitch your idea to someone who can bring it to fruition can be hard to come by (or actually not allowed), but this is a daily occurrence in the world of small biz. Likewise, it is likely that your actions will have an impact on business operations from early on, whether it be from research or recommendations you provide, your customer service or otherwise, which can be good practice for accountability and reliability.
If getting noticed for your work isn’t enough of a draw, small companies often take a hands-on approach to your learning, rather than treating you like a number. Since there are simply fewer people to be managed, small-business owners can spend less time managing you and more time teaching you. A small company’s lack of bureaucratic red tape and overhead allows lower-level employees to sit in on meetings, pop in on daily stand-ups and get face time with leaders of different departments. Working in a large organization often turned my quest to get an answer to a question into an all-day affair. In a small business, leaders tend to treat questions as teachable moments, for they realize that each question they answer is an investment into a potentially long-term employee. Similarly, successful small-business leaders are successful when they have a desire to cultivate the talent of their hires. It is beneficial to these CEOs to make reasonable educational investments in their employees (think: free or reduced professional development) because they know that the grass isn’t greener on the other side; it’s green where you water it.
My personal favorite attraction to working small has been the fact that they offer you the chance to try different positions within the business. I launched into the workforce in IT operations brimming with excitement about my job; but, like many, my jubilation lasted about three months. The entirely unpreventable scenario of general apathy for a gig I started out thoroughly enjoying found itself in my lap. If I was just a cog in a huge corporate machine, my options would have been to either get over it or quit. But small businesses often have needs in several departments that can be difficult to fulfill. While this may sound like a problem, it can be an opportunity for a young professional who has not yet found his or her perfect niche to try out different roles within the business. Since starting with my company, I have had my hands in human resources, project management, marketing, business development, operations and sales. As long as you are flexible, inquisitive and willing to learn, work in a small business becomes a playground.
Pair these reasons with the fact that small business can be vital to the local economy and impactful in the community, that they are often flexible with scheduling rather than rigid with the timecards, that they encourage your involvement in professional organizations and that priority is usually given to the quality of your work over the quantity of your hours, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a pleasant first few years in the workforce.
Alissa McShane is the Community Involvement and Business Development Strategist for Tallahassee-based UberOps. She applied to the company at the Florida State University Career Fair and was immediately hired as an intern. Today, she is in charge of the company’s community outreach, company culture and strategic partnerships, working closely with CEO Eduardo Gonzalez Loumiet. She also sits on the board of the TalTech Alliance and the Florida IT Council.