Written by Alissa McShane + Edited by Chelsea DuDeVoire
From conversations that I’ve shared with friends and family members, I’ve gathered that my first run at big-girl employment has not been the most traditional. My experience working in an office consisting of fewer than 20 people has played a part in my opinion that everyone should - if possible - work in small business early on in their career. Though I don’t intend to speak for all small business environments and industries, these themes are generally pervasive.
1. There’s a huge likelihood that you have the opportunity to make waves and be noticed in a small startup.
Though completely and entirely possible, making a difference in a large bureaucratic company is significantly more challenging. At a smaller company, you'll start your career as a small fish in a small pond, rather than a small fish in a big pond. When you’re the fatal combination of being new to a company and being one of many new to a company, the opportunity to pitch ideas and see them brought to fruition can be hard (or impossible). It is also likely in a smaller business that your actions will impact operations early on - whether through research, recommendations, customer service or otherwise. Gaining traction in these areas will also serve as good tools for accountability and reliability among your colleagues and supervisors.
2. Supervisors often take a hands-on approach to your learning, rather than treating you like a number.
Since there are simply fewer people to be managed, small business owners can spend less time managing you and more time teaching you. A small company’s lack of red tape and overhead allows lower-level employees to sit in on meetings, pop in on daily stand-ups, and get facetime with different department heads. For me, working in a large organization often turned getting questions answered into an all-day affair. In a small business, leaders tend to treat questions as teachable moments, for they realize that each question answered is an investment toward a potentially long-term employee. Similarly, small business leaders are successful when they have a desire to cultivate the talent of their hires. It is beneficial to these CxOs to make reasonable educational investments in their employees (think: free or reduced professional development) because they know that the grass isn’t greener on the other side, it’s green where you water it. (You can thank J. Biebs for that gem of an analogy).
3. Many companies will offer employees the chance to try-out different positions within the business.
I launched into the workforce brimming with excitement about my job in IT Operations, but like many, the jubilation lasted only for the first few months. The entirely unpreventable scenario of general apathy for a gig I started out thoroughly enjoying found itself in my lap, and if I was just a cog in a huge corporate machine, my options would have been to either get over it, or quit.
The magical thing about small businesses is that they often have needs in several departments that oscillate in a way that makes them difficult to fill. While this may sound like a problem, it is really an opportunity for a young professional who might not yet have found their perfect niche to give several roles a try. Since working with my company, I have had my hands in human resources, project management, marketing, business development, operations, and sales. As long as you're flexible, inquisitive, and willing to learn, working in a small business can become a playground.
If nothing else, small business can be vital to your local economy and community. It is often flexible with scheduling rather than rigid with timecards, and encourages involvement in professional organizations. It’s also worth noting that priority is usually given to the quality of your work over the quantity of your hours. Combine all of these points, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for an awesome first couple of years in the workforce.
Alissa is a Florida State University alumni working in Operations + Business Development at UberOps in Tallahassee, FL. A spirited young professional and natural-born leader, she is passionate about women feeling empowered to work in any field or profession they choose.