Big or Small?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about what LinkedIn tells me about UCF COBA alums and what it means to students as they prepare for their future. Government data provided by Dr. Sean Snaith (@seansnaith) gives me some more insight. Recall that more than half of our alums stay in Central Florida and that 70 percent stay in the state. These regions have fairly high concentrations of small and medium size companies. About 40 percent of people in Central Florida work for companies of less than 500 employees (for Florida as a whole it is 43%). If you take out Disney and Florida Hospitals–by far the two largest companies in the region, the percentage is about the same for Florida as a whole. Add in the fact that most job growth (and loss) is in small and medium enterprises (SME) and it seems likely that many of today’s UCF grads will be working for companies with less than 500 employees.

Is this good or bad? The answer depends on what you want most out of your first job, Big companies tend to pay more, have better benefits and devote more resources to formal employee training programs. SMEs tend to offer a more varied work day. This means more interesting work that offers more chances to be innovative. You are less likely to be “a cog in the wheel”. It is easier to get your voice heard in SMEs, get more responsibility earlier and have greater access to top management. You are also more likely to participate on projects from start to finish. In many ways there is a short-term versus long-term trade off in the choice between big and small–big firms will pay more out of the gate and probably offer more job security, but if you are a high performer you may get promoted faster and learn the entire business quicker by working for a smaller company. If you want to run a company some day, working for a SME is likely to get you there faster. If not, the more varied experiences gained by working in a SME are likely to give you greater “career security” by providing you with a broader range of skills, some of which are likely to be always in demand.

Interested? If so, you may need to prepare yourself a little differently while at UCF than students targeting bigger companies. For one, SMEs are more likely to want you job ready from day one–they can’t afford to put you through a company training program–you need to be ready to contribute now, show initiative and learn quickly on the job. Because of this immediate need, SMEs are especially interested in hiring students who already have relevant part-time, summer or internship experience. And because of the variety of tasks and fewer layers of management, they are looking for flexible people who can work in less structured environments, with less supervision and in team settings. You need to be able to apply a variety of marketing, finance, accounting, management and inter-personal skills in a practical way that solves problems and gets results. So you want to train more broadly and understand how the various functions of business fit together to add value to a company. Emphasize this flexibility in job interviews and acknowledge that you will have to learn how to pick things up quickly as your job and career evolves over time.

Who knows, in ten or twenty years you could be the next Tom Bland, Merrell Bailey, Steve Felkowitz, or George Gramatikas. When you reach the success of these alums and their SMEs, we will throw you a nice party as you enter our Hall of Fame.

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