When you’re just starting out in your career you’re faced with about a million decisions that you have to make. One of the things that you might have to decide is whether you want to work for a small business or startup, or a big corporate. Fortunately, we had a chat with Estelle Jackson, who works in HR at O2 and Joe Leese, who founded Runnit, to find out the differences between working in a big company, and working in a small company or startup.

Relationships with your team

Estelle is used to working for large companies – she worked for a number of different corporates before she started her role at O2 and is very used to the culture of a big office. She says that one of the major differences is that you often work in large teams; in fact recently she’s been working on a project with people based all over the world. “We have these huge telepresence rooms at O2’s HQ,” she says. “It means that I have a team meeting in a circle with people in Germany, Czech Republic, Ireland, and Spain when I’m the only person in the room. It saves on travel and on time. It’s so much easier.”

Joe, on the other hand, has always worked for small companies and now has launched his own startup where he is currently the only full-time member of staff.  At the moment, Joe is outsourcing work to other companies as he’s currently a team of one. “Sometimes that can slow things down a bit and you have to be a lot clearer in the brief upfront as you can’t check in as easily,” he says. “But I think that just comes down to communication.”

Joe says that when he’s worked in small teams before, he’s noticed that there’s  less of a hierarchy than you often find in large companies. “There’s less people to manage, it’s more of a case of people working together,” he says. “You’re all just mucking in on the same level.”


At a big company, you’re often given a lot of training – from inductions right through to a lot of training while on the job. “You’re eased in relatively gently,” Estelle says. “You probably have a two to three month period where you’re learning the ropes.”

Joe admits that when you’re working at a startup you don’t really get the same level of formal training. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “Because it’s a startup everyone has to muck in with all areas of the business,” he says. “Perhaps there’s not formal training but there’s a lot of opportunities to learn through doing and wherever we can we’ll support in learning by buying books or sending on courses that are needed as well.”

Opportunities to progress

When you’re at a big company there’s often quite a clear path of progression. You’ll go in to an entry level role and know that within a couple of years you can expect to be in charge of a team of people, and then a few years down the line you know that you could be in charge of a department. Although, Estelle says that you probably have as much chance to fast track your career in a small startup as you do at a large company – it’s all about taking the opportunities as they come.

Joe admits that you’re unlikely to work your way up in a startup but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “I think that’s one of the big differences,” he says. “You don’t work your way up, but actually the company grows underneath you. It comes back to that learning by doing – instead of being made manager of a group of people, it’s much more hands on and people come in to work with you. And you end up managing them that way.”

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