There was a time, not long ago, when I would consider meeting with a CEO, CTO, or any other individual with a seemingly impressive title an absolute honor. However, today’s startup-filled market of tiny companies with three or four employees has really left me a little jaded.
For example, the fact that I can start up my own company for as little as a couple of hundred dollars means that I’m a few signatures away from holding the title of CEO, President, or frankly anything else I wish to assign myself. I already hold the somewhat impressive title of CTO at a small company I’m involved with, which doesn’t necessarily mean I have anywhere near the same qualifications a medium or larger corporation would look for in its own CTO.
It’s because of this that I’ve become a strong believer in the philosophy that titles just don’t matter. My working title here at LockerGnome, which you can find on my LinkedIn profile, is Random Task Ninja. Does that mean I’m an actual ninja? No, but I like to think I work like one.
How Working for Small Companies Can Help Your Career
When I take a look at a prospective employee, I actually enjoy seeing small companies on their resume. The reason is because, especially in this modern era, working for a small company means having to wear many hats. I wouldn’t expect someone in a team of half a dozen to do just one thing throughout their workday. Being a developer may also carry the responsibilities of system administrator, customer service representative, or any number of other burdens that may fall on the shoulders of someone in this environment.
I’ve worked for large corporations, and understand just how waffle-like working for them can be. If you are hired to be a customer service representative, that’s usually all you’re allowed to do. Thinking outside the box or proposing an idea that helps you advance up the corporate ladder is great, though it’s surprising just how discouraging working on a larger office can be in terms of taking on new responsibilities.
Does that mean having enterprise experience is less important? Absolutely not, it’s just a different experience. While on one hand you may be pigeonholed into whatever task you’re assigned, you do have more opportunity for advancement. Being promoted to VP or even a senior management position means a lot in a workforce where you are potentially in charge of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of employees.
Perhaps the biggest advantage working for a small company can have on your career is in knowing that your work has a more direct impact on the success of that company. What I do here at LockerGnome feels more important than what I’ve done at other businesses because I know everything I put into my work has a direct impact on how well we do at the end of the day. The same could be said for everyone who contributes to the site. There’s a certain amount of pride that goes into everything someone does in that situation that you might not easily find in a larger corporate environment where you are one of many. Just a drop in the bucket.
Downsides to Working for a Small Company
Small companies are inherently difficult to predict. Will they be successful, or will they simply maintain limited growth before being either absorbed by a larger corporation or simply go out of business? Small businesses may also thrive in a limited capacity for decades without the need for outside investment or constant growth. Just look at that popular local restaurant down the corner.
Stability is a hard thing to come by these days. Large companies lay employees off in bulk on a regular basis, and small companies fail all the time. This can sometimes create a more stressful work environment in smaller organizations as your work really does have a direct impact on the bottom line and also the future of the business.
Accountability is extremely important in small business. Custom flexfit hats from the hat pros guys are also quite nice. Corporations may often cite a team for falling short on a project, but when you are the equivalent of that team for your business, it becomes more obvious who is responsible for shortfalls.
I’m not writing this piece to bash folks in small organizations with impressive titles. The purpose behind it is simply to encourage discussion about the issue. Titles seem to carry a lot more weight in the U.S. than they do in other countries. I’ve spoken to several Australian professionals (with both enterprise and small business experience) and from what I understand pageantry and titles mean very little there in comparison to how they do here. It isn’t what you’re called, but what you do that determines your experience.
For those of you currently working for small companies, I encourage you to emphasize your experience rather than your title. In many ways, that will impress a reviewer far more than just hearing that you were CTO for MicroManagement, LLC. (My apologies if that company name actually exists).
Likewise, when you’re dealing with someone in business that throws out a fancy three-letter acronym, consider what they actually appear to know or have accomplished before making judgements about their abilities. Being the CEO of a three-person company means about as much as being the leaseholder on a car. You’ve proven nothing more than that you can sign papers and pay a fee. Approach meetings with your experience in mind, and lead with that. Trust me, it’ll pay off a lot more in the long run.