Household names. We all know them. Walmart, Target, Bank of America, Nike, Coca-Cola. And nowhere is this more true than when it comes to the job market.
Why work at a small marketing agency when you could be at Digitas on Park Avenue? Who wants to work at a local news station when you could be at NBC headquarters? Working for your mom’s best friend’s uncle is so unsexy when you could be consulting at PricewaterhouseCoopers!
Looking back on my own career, I am not 100 percent sure why I was so focused on the Fortune 500 when it came to my job search. Was it brand name? Probably. Elitism? Yes. Did I want to show off at a cocktail party? Of course! Fancy role at a fancy name company equals instant success, right?
Wrong! (At least for me.) I found that when it came to looking for a job, especially when I was new to the job market or changing careers, going with a brand name was actually a less than thrilling experience.
I didn’t get the chance to explore.
We live in a culture that is all about status. Amass enough degrees, accolades, certificates, fancy titles and you’re good to go! But what’s next? When you’ve exhausted all the accolade-getting, what will you be left doing all day, every day? Will you like it?
Good, strong, successful careers take years to build — years that are hard, spent nose to the grindstone building yourself a foundation.
When I entered a new industry, my number one goal was not necessarily to just succeed — not yet anyway. My number one goal was to explore.
I needed to get a lay of the land, test out a few different roles, try out different departments and explore different angles before I dug in for the long haul. I had to discover what I liked by learning what I didn’t like.
The problem with big companies is that though they have lots of departments, those departments are usually very siloed — sometimes even in different buildings or different cities!
In the best case scenario of working in a large company, I learned A LOT about the specific task of my department. At worst, I found myself stuck in a quagmire of inefficiency, learning only that I didn’t like meetings.
I once got a job at a fancy media company. It’s a name you would know. My office was in Times Square! I had my own cubicle! I hob-nobbed with VPs!
And then, business got slow in January and February, and for six weeks straight my manager cancelled our daily meeting. That was the only thing on my schedule. For six weeks I sat in my cubicle wondering what to do that day with the rest of my team seven floors away — and no one to give me anything to do.
On the other hand, when I was a photo editor at a much smaller company, running out of work was exciting! That was my chance to saunter over to one of the other teams and learn what they were working on.
Smaller companies tend to be much more nimble and fluid, and, importantly, chronically understaffed. Hey! You’re interested in engineering or marketing? Awesome! They would love to have you sit in on meetings! Want to try out event planning? Volunteer for it! More hands are always welcome.
Granted, I wasn’t learning how big companies operated, but at that moment in my career that was OK. I didn’t need to know how to manage 30,000 employees in four countries (yet). I just needed to make sure that what I was doing was something that I was interested enough in to do it every day for the next 20 (or so) years.