Corporate Eye

Small Is the New Big


A friend whose daughter is graduating soon from a very good college lamented that the young lady has not gained much practical knowledge about starting a career. He asked what advice I would give her, and—after much thought—I came up with the following: “Find something you can do without being dependent on a big company.”

I don’t think this was exactly the kind of advice he had in mind, but I’m sticking with it! Because one of the loudest, clearest messages in business news these days is that “big” is not necessarily a good thing.

In a recent Harvard Business article (“Why Small Companies Will Win in this Economy”), management consultant Peter Bregman contends: “The gap of confidence between small companies and big ones is growing. We used to rely on the security of big companies. That’s why we worked for them. And hired them. And put our money in them. “

No more, says Bregman, and he provides some interesting anecdotes about the shift of valuable contracts away from impersonal giants to the kinds of smaller companies where a buyer can get the CEO on the phone.

Job-seekers may be starting to feel the same way–and the “small is beautiful” trend has as much appeal for mid-career candidates as for new graduates. Wall Street Journal Careers columnist Sarah Needleman discusses some advantages in the article “Moving to a Small Company Can Lead to Big Rewards.”

So what does this mean for the Careers site? Three first thoughts:

1.  Smaller companies can start to use their size as a recruiting advantage. For example–promoting the values of an environment where workers have direct lines of communication to management.

2.  Bigger companies can work harder to provide personalization. Recruiter profiles and blogs, dedicated Career contacts, and messages from management are examples of features that create candidate trust.

3.  The value of having an alumni section is increasing. For one thing, it’s smart to keep alumni connected to the company—they represent a potentially very useful talent pool. But beyond that, with so much bad news about employment these days, candidates may be reassured by knowing former employees liked the company enough to stay connected.

One last first thought: Breaking big sites into smaller components (focusing on specific divisions, job types, career paths, or some other unifying theme) could be an effective strategy. But it’s a more radical approach, so I’ll do some research to see if the idea has merit.

Thanks to Dave Friel for the bonsai image.

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Cynthia Giles has followed a serpentine career path from academia to publishing to marketing and design to information technology and corporate communications. There’s plenty of detail about this journey at, but briefly--the common theme has been ideas, and how to present them effectively. Along the way, she became an accidental expert on data warehousing and business intelligence, and for the past ten years she has combined corporate contracting with an independent consulting practice that focuses on marketing strategy for smaller businesses and non-profits. Having spent quite a bit of time looking for work, and anywhere from two weeks to two years inside a wide variety of American companies—she has given much thought to what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to creating a great employment fit.