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A businessman measuring results.

The question

I have a question about career path and choosing between two similar job offers. A little background first:

I'm in a boutique technology industry, audio visual and conferencing technologies. I've been at the same organization for eight years, moving up the ranks to a great job as a senior consultant. The next move from here is into the management ranks.

The organization I'm currently with has just gone through a court appointed receivership, perpetrated by "accounting irregularities" by the ownership group. In this receivership, I lost upwards of $40,000 in unpaid bonuses and expenses; it's safe to say there's a lot of bad connotation. Now having said this, the organization has been purchased out of receivership by another local group who intend to continue running the business. I've made my career aspirations very clear, and for this new ownership group, I'm critical for the business success in my current role. In order to keep me happy, they have offered me a move to the VP of sales role, but with very limited responsibilities. It's basically the same job I have now with a title so I won't have the ability to learn anything new or expand my skills.

While this process has been going on, I've been approached by a smaller organization in the industry and have been offered a VP of sales and marketing role – this is a much smaller firm (think $4-million versus $12-million annually) but I would have total freedom to be the face of the organization and build them into the $12-million company that they want to be. Culturally I would be a great fit.

So the question really is, how does one choose between a smaller versus a larger company? What effect will each have on my long-term career goals (I'm aiming for the executive suite within 10 years), and sometimes, is change just for the sake of change better than sticking with the status quo?

The answer

If you are ultimately aiming for the C-suite, first ask yourself – which position will make you happier? One thing I've seen at the executive level across a multitude of industries is you can't get to the top job if you don't love what you do. Keep this central in your decision-making. What do you want in your next position? Stability? Growth? Challenges and decision-making capabilities? Work-life balance?

In choosing smaller versus larger companies, here are the pros and cons:

Smaller companies tend to be entrepreneurial, offering great business-building opportunities. When you take something to the next level, people feel that effect and know that you are responsible. You are likely to have more decision-making freedom, and can grow the company to where you want it to be. On the downside, job stability may not be there (especially if strong results don't surface right away), and budget and scope of work may be limiting.

Larger companies give your resume instant credibility – by way of brand recognition. That experience may demonstrate that you've got what it takes to make it in the industry. Your accomplishments also show how you are able to navigate through multiple layers and red tape to get things done. Big companies may also represent stability since they are established. The disadvantages, however, may include limited decision-making opportunities, greater internal competition and slower growth potential.

As you weigh your options, keep in mind, too, that it can feel scary to change jobs, since you'd be leaving your comfort zone for something that's unknown. The status quo won't take you to new heights, though; taking risks will.

If you remain in one position at a company for many years, you may come across as loyal, reliable and be considered an expert, but you may also risk looking complacent, having a lack of exposure, and not being ambitious. As a general rule of thumb, five years in a position is considered to be enough time to show that you've served a company well and gained good exposure.

Most prospective employers see a candidate's diverse experience as a strength, so it may be good for you to pursue a combination of experiences at both small and large companies. See which one you thrive in. Show your versatility – that you can work in a number of environments. You never know until you try, and who knows, you may just surprise yourself!

Julie Labrie is the vice president of BlueSky Personnel Solutions.

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