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The Myth of Big Company Job Security October 11, 2012

Posted by stanleyreidrecruiting in Career Management.
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“Small companies are too unstable.  I want to work at a big company because that provides better job security.”

I hear that all the time.  Ironically, I tend to here it from people who are already at large companies who are worried about their program ending soon.  I just don’t buy the “small companies are unstable” argument.

The federal marketplace will always have things beyond a person’s control, and beyond the control of their employer.  Contracts end; programs get downsized; funding cuts happen; contract awards get delayed and protested.  There’s simply nothing you can do about this.  You can be doing all the right things, adding immense value to your customer and helping your company build a great reputation, and then suddenly you are “on the bench” or “between projects” or “on overhead” – whatever you want to call it, you have suddenly moved from a profit-generator to a cost center. That’s a dangerous place to be.

If you roll off a project in a large company, you’ll probably work with the internal HR / staffing team to try to find a fit on other projects.  There always tend to be many open positions at large companies, but there’s no guarantee those are a good fit for your skills.  Even if the roles do fit, at many companies you would need to compete for jobs against new applicants.  You would apply for each opening and then interview for it, just like a non-employee applicant would.  You may have a bit of preference because you are a known quantity, but I’ve seen many instances in which people fall victim to a layoff because the position they wanted got filled by a new hire instead.

Let’s contrast this to what would happen if you rolled off a project at a small company.  In this situation, the small company’s leadership would likely make a much more concerted effort to find ways of keeping you on board.  Losing one good person doesn’t have much of an impact on a 10,000 person company, but it has a huge impact on a 50-person company.  At one small company I know, if they learn that a budget cut may be coming the CEO and other senior management members have a meeting specifically focused on “what can we do to get PersonX on another project in a role that he or she would like?”.  The outcome of that type of meeting is generally personal calls being made to end customers and teaming partners about the person.  I just don’t see this level of “caring” being possible at a large company that may routinely have hundreds of people rolling off various different projects.

I worked as an engineer in one large company and several small ones during my career.  In the large company, neither the Chairman, nor the CEO, nor the President, nor the SVP, nor the VP even knew who I was, let alone what value I was bringing to the customer or what my skills were.  I was a line item on a spreadsheet.  That wasn’t anyone’s fault – I HAD to be just a line item – there is no way that senior leadership of a large firm can know more than a small percentage of the employees.  At the small companies, I knew the founder/CEO/President personally.  He (she in one case) knew who I was, what my skills were, what the customer thought of me, and how I fit longterm into the overall growth plan.  It was quite comforting knowing that if a bad situation happened, the top officer of the company would be personally working to avoid having to let me go.

I’ll end with one other point.  Whether big or small, the best way to have job security is to make sure that you have impact for your customer and that you keep your skills current and relevant.  That way, even if you do suffer a layoff, you will be in demand in the market and able to quickly find another opportunity.

Ron