Friday, June 12, 2009

Small firm or large firm?

When it comes time to interview for jobs (whenever they come back), some wonder whether to interview with a large or small firm.  My response to the question of large versus small firms is this: it depends.

Large firms
Large firms generally have more resources.  They have more (legal) licenses of various types of software, which can make your job easier when someone wants a rendering or some high-quality presentation graphics.  They have better hardware, too; because larger firms lease more computers and servers, they have more updated equipment, which makes running the aforementioned software much easier.  They have better copiers, printers, and plotters as part of that excellent hardware.  Among the resources larger firms have is manpower and support staff.  There are administrative assistants that can type memos and fix the redlines on specs while you draw and render, IT and CAD staff that can help you troubleshoot problems and keep email organized, and HR/accounting staff that can help you figure out how many vacation days do you have left or help you figure out your 401(k) contributions. Speaking of such amenities, large firms are more in the financial position to offer employees nice financial perks like 401(k)s, paid sick time and vacation, tuition assistance for schooling or ARE testing, health care plans, and extra funds for help with parking or public transit passes.  To have the funds to have all these amenities, large firms generally get large projects, which are often high-profile proejcts.  Instead of working on a house or small office building, you're more likely to work on something that changes the skyline of a city or something that looks really cool on a resume, like a museum, multifamily housing/mixed use development, hospital, or school.  

However, the downside of a large firm is often lack of opportunity.  Because there are usually enough people around to help do the work, it's easy to get pigeonholed into doing only certain things--construction documents, exterior detailing, code studies, etc.  You have to work harder to be noticed, and you have to step up and ask for opportunities rather than wait for someone to notice.  It's also harder to get people to take a chance on something or try something new.  There's a lot more "this is how we've always done it" in larger firms, and it can be a losing battle to push against that sometimes, especially if the large firm is a national firm that has nationwide standards and procedures.

Small firms
Small firms generally lack a lot of the amenities that large firms can offer.  If they do offer them, it may only be in limited amounts--only paid holidays and one week of vacation, a 401(k) with no match, etc.  A small firm sometimes pay interns more in general in lieu of offering these sorts of perks.  Small firms generally take on smaller jobs, and though they generally have lower overhead than large firms, they often are not as recession-resistant as larger firms are.  The same low overhead that allows small firms to cost their clients less can also prevent them from having any savings to help them through the lean times.  Small firms also suffer more if you have bad management.  A large firm can absorb the stupid behavior of one of many managers, but if the one manager (or worse, the owner) in a small firm is irrational or a bad businessperson, there's no room for error and the firm goes under much more easily.

The flip side, though, is opportunity.  Because there aren't a lot of folks around, you get to wear a lot of hats and get a lot of experience.  You get to do the code study, go to client meetings, do all the drawings, perform the construction administration and see how what you drew got built for better or worse, deal with permitting and local officials, and so on.  You also have to know more about the software, hardware, and other parts of a business that other staff members take care of in a larger firm.  So you learn more, but remember that there's a learning curve that makes things harder before they get easier.  The good news is that all that you learn makes you that much more valuable in the future, whether you stay put or go elsewhere.

So, when the economy picks up, where you eventually try your luck is up to you. There are pros and cons to both sizes of firms, and ultimately any workplace is what you make of it. 


  1. vey usefull info

  2. its extremely helpful infact right now i am sat in my business nationals lesson and i am NOTY learnig anything ffrom the teacher !!!!

    and since i have readbthis it is helping a awful lot




  3. The last paragraph is wicked