So you want to join a large company , eh ?


In my couple of decades in corporate world – I have done stints at both large and small companies . I have also hired a lot of people over the years and watched their careers in those companies . These days when I hire – a lot of applicants tell me “it’s a really large company and that worries me” . So here is an attempt to provide some color commentary on this large company thing to help you think through .


Why do you want to work for a large company at all ? 

The truth is that while the company is large – YOU are probably going to be working in a team that is not that large . The better questions to ask is about the team you will be a part of . If you don’t like the team’s mission or the people in it – walk away and don’t look back .

Large companies mostly do things at larger scale . What they occasionally lack in speed , they make up in scale . Scale comes in many flavors and not everyone can deal with scale very well . For example – in last 5 years , I had to run portfolios that were an order of magnitude larger than previous ones . I had to unlearn and relearn a lot to make it work and it was not easy .  I have seen this work both ways – some people feel stifled at smaller companies because they want to change the world and they can’t find an opportunity to do so where they are . Some others at large companies beat their heads against a wall because they can’t move their ideas at the speed they want despite having access to vast resources . Choose wisely ! 

I often get asked “wouldn’t larger companies be really political?” . My answer “absolutely – but not any worse than smaller companies”. Politics is everywhere and you need to learn to live with it and navigate it . Also what is politics for you will be routine for someone else . Don’t sweat too much on that front . My own experience with small companies as an employee – which obviously is not a valid sample – is that favoritism and other political shenanigans are alive and well there , and more magnified because of smaller number of people . 

Another common question is “wouldn’t I be lost in this big ocean?” . And my answer is “yes – unless you show real results”. Large organizations are unwieldy to manage and hence get matrix management structures  . It is very easy to get lost in the system and it’s no fun to work that way . BUT – if you are good at what you do , and can show real results , the system favors you by design and you will get noticed quite quickly . If you are average – you will be the tree that fell in the forest that no one ever heard . So if you are not sure of your abilities to consistently deliver above average results , and if it’s important for you to get recognized – you should rethink the idea of joining a large company . 

Here is another one “I have heard the only way to succeed is to have a godfather in the higher ranks”. Well – having a god father certainly doesn’t hurt . But your real question is how do you get one ? Bosses like team members who make them successful . When you see a top executive giving special attention to someone – don’t just assume sinister things are at play or that the employee is sucking up . While those things all happen from time to time – the majority of cases , that employee had gone above and beyond in making their boss successful and is just getting noticed for good work . Also – sucking up to the boss is rarely a sustainable strategy . A VP of sales cannot “hide” a poor performing director of sales for very long. Unfortunately in very large teams where metrics are not clear – you may run into these bad scenarios . I have witnessed it a few times in large engineering and marketing teams . 

Large companies are often blamed as slow and bureaucratic . There is absolutely merit in that allegation . However , it has a good side too . Large companies are predictable in the sense that they rely on policies and procedures a lot . The policies themselves might be terrible and outdated – but you know what they are upfront . Also – if you run into problems like say a bad performance appraisal , or a commission dispute, you can be rest assured that there is a well defined process to rectify that and at least in my personal knowledge – it mostly favors employees . There are exceptions and those usually get the most publicity . 

One last point before this flight lands – the reason the large companies want to hire you usually is because they think there is something special about you that they value . They are not really looking for one more of what they already have usually . So find that out while you assess your future employer – if you think you have to morph into something you are not , this might not work out well for you or the company despite all the money and titles . I learned this lesson the hard way and hopefully you don’t have to 🙂

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9 thoughts on “So you want to join a large company , eh ?

  1. Great one Vijay, for those who think working in large companies is not all that cool. In my experience, large companies provide amazing exposure to markets, customers, smart brains and you get to work across cross cultural boundaries. Does that not sound fun enough ?

  2. Nice write up. In a small company you can be a victim on one person’s evil, horrid misdirection and there is no where to hide from it. In large companies, it is hard for one person to hold this much power.

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