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I was wondering if, aside from the name brand and potential salary, there is anything "wrong" so to speak about working at a smaller firm vs a large, well known, multinational? Obviously, a larger company carries more prestige, better pay (at the same level, i.e. CEO of small/midcap will earn less than Paul Otellini), but having worked at large companies, I honestly hated the culture. I felt like another cog in the machine that wasn't doing anything significant and this really upset me. It was really hard for me to get through the work day and even get up to go to work knowing that I'd be sitting there, grinding away at an excel spreadsheet doing stuff a trained high schooler can do. Here's the problem: I'm young (junior in college) and I want to make career moves that open the door for me later on. By default, this means, since I'm interested in corporate finance, to apply to large multinationals such as GE, Intel, Boeing, etc. in their corporate finance departments, getting trained, and then either getting an MBA or kicking butt and climbing the ladder from there. However, I'm concerned that for one, I might not get the job since internships are extremely tough to get nowadays, and secondly, unless I can be at the top of a huge organization, I'm not sure I'd enjoy working there. I would much rather be a really high manager of a smaller company and leave a legacy in the company as being someone who either brought the company to a new level in terms of profitability or in terms of management than just be another controller or something relatively low level at a F500 and just be another corporate cog with a nice paycheck.
Therefore, my questions to you guys are whether its worth it for someone of my age to apply to smaller firms and if it would total career suicide to start my career there for whatever reason be it fit or if I don't event get into a F500?
As a Junior at college, my advice to you would be that working for any firm is being a cog in the wheel. The first two or three years of nearly anyone coming out of college to business is misery. Adapting to the life of work is hard, and a lot of what you are pinpointing is that it isn't fun - this is natural.
That said, coming out of college there are clear benefits of going to a big firm. They have more structure and experience dealing with college graduates, which helps. Small firms are great when you have a level of experience, but starting with a big firm is very valuable to get the big picture of how things are done at the successful end (you can then selectively apply at small firms later).
I suggest your wishes to be successful be tempered and just work at learning. I know of a college grad who openly discussed with his class of analysts how the role was a stepping stone in his longer term plan. Lets just say that isn't a good way to make friends or to get ahead.
My advise for you would be as underscore said, you will certainly be the guy who dosen`t do much for the first year in a small company and first 2 years in a big company but that said you have to decide whether you will be able to take the 1 year frustration at a small firm, granted you will get good pay but as you said even a high school kid can do that. If you feel that you cant take the 1 yr frustration then its better if you joined a big firm and get frustrated for 2 years so that you will have the brand name.
I know how you feel about the confusion but i would tell you not to get too frustrated because you wont know where you will end up and at the end its better to put your effort and go with the flow.
Regarding internships, you will certainly get them at top places, regardless of what you may think you will get the call, and even if you were to join a small firm you will get calls from top places if they think you will be useful.
I'm not sure which route is better to be honest, but I'm one of the rarer people who went the small company route. My undergrad internships and five years of pre-MBA full-time experience were all with the same small company (80-200 people).
I attended Kellogg, where I was definitely in the minority of people from small firms. Most commonly, other students from small firms were from VC/PE, where small in terms of the number of employees is typical.
As you alluded to, I was able to make a significant impact on the small company I worked for, which translated well into B school essays and interviews. The thing is, that you could probably make a similar impact in a small-ish component of a big company (a division, business unit, department, group, etc.), which would give you that impactful experience that B schools like but with a brand name organization. So that is probably the ideal situation if you think you can manage it, which many students at top schools have.
When it comes to small company experience, I think it is especially important for the work to have been meaningful beyond just trying to make money. This can make up for some of the lack of prestige.
I just started my post-Kellogg career.....at a massive company.