OT - Choosing Internships: Big Companies vs. Small

Submitted by JimLahey on June 3rd, 2011 at 6:12 PM

Yes, there's google, but it's all very generic crap that isn't helping me at all. I figured since this is a board dedicated to a prestigious school, there would be lots of folks with knowledge on the topic. This applies to anyone with experience in the industries of Law, Finances, Banking, etc.

Basically, I'm being courted for a few internships and want to know if it is better to sign with the monster/huge companies, or the smaller upstart ones. One of the big firms offering me hires like 70 interns, but they said I'll get something a bit better than the regular errand boy job. Then there are smaller places who only hire 2 or 3 and promise a much better hands-on experience where my work will actually be important. I'm looking for the best experience and the one that will help my career both image-wise (prestige) and with actual knowledge.

Any help on this issue is greatly appreciated. Small vs. Large Firm debate. Thanks.



June 3rd, 2011 at 6:50 PM ^

If by "big firm" you mean big law firm, then just sell your soul now. J/K
<br>Go big. Smaller companies will look at the big company/firm logo job and say "if he worked there, he can handle our firm"
<br>I'm in law. I've been at the GC level for the past 7 or 8 years (starting in my mid 30s). Though I had no master plan, I broke in at a lower level counsel job at a big company (E coast). It was just OK experience but after 3 years I got bored with the bureaucracy went to a boutique law firm got some really good experience but then went back in-house with a giant telecom on the west coast. There were a few more position jumps at medium sized companies but once I moved back to the Midwest to settle down, I was pretty marketable because recruiters liked the safety net of success at a company they know. I assume an internship would have the same effect.
<br>Good luck with your decision.


June 3rd, 2011 at 6:57 PM ^

Smaller companies will look at the big company/firm logo job and say "if he worked there, he can handle our firm"

I have found that candidates who have grown accustomed to some aspects of large firms (the travel office, admin support, lots of resources, etc.) may bring an expectation of those things at smaller firms. Certainly, your statement is true when it comes to office politics, handling the reporting structure, and so on. I think it comes down to the individual and how flexible he or she is.


June 3rd, 2011 at 7:15 PM ^

But I still say Blue Chip experience can opens doors. Luckily I worked for flat, progressive ones not dinosaurs. But I agree with you It's not the only thing by a long shot and it boils down to the candidate.


June 4th, 2011 at 7:36 AM ^


As a current student myself, I have had several different types of experiences, both large and small. While it is true that larger companies are often well known and can look good on ones resume I feel that this is a superficial way of looking at this. A resume can help get you through the door with big names like that but with the more competitive job market it's what have you done, not where have you been. Companies don't want to spend the first three-six months training a new employee when there are others out there that already have gained the experience needed. With that in mind I am actually interning for a small consulting firm this summer which I expect to be incredibly valuable. Here, in a small firm I have the opportunity to interact with all different aspects of the firm; basically I'm not going to just be stuck in the accounting dept. marketing dept. etc.... One thing you can always do which sometimes can come off as pushy but in the long run is extremely beneficial: ask both firms what EXACTLY your internship will entail. From there both should  hopefully give you strait-forward answers which will aid you in choosing your internship

Looking at internships in the view of: will I get a job out of this?

This is also a very common way to look at internships when comparing large and small firms. I have a sibling who is interning at a large firm with the prior knowledge that if they do a good job they will have a job when they graduate. This is definitely more common in larger firms because in general they are doing more hiring. I would not say that it is limited to a large firm though because if you are working at a small niche firm they often have connections with larger firms. A previous internship that I had was at one of these small firms and this year as I began my search I asked my supervisor for advice and they gave me the names of some of their referral partners which were both small and larger corporations. In the end you can never be certain of if you will actually get a job out of an internship, all that you can do is learn as much about what each position will entail, who your supervisor will be, what your hours are, and lastly I'll hesitantly add on how much you will be paid. The reason why I am hesitant to add the last is because in the grand scheme of things if these internships are as high caliber as you say they are you will be destined for a job where you will be able to make quite a bit of money where the funds generated from an internship would seem insignificant. Hope this helps and good luck

turbo cool

June 3rd, 2011 at 6:20 PM ^

Personally I'd go with the small because you'll likely be given more responsibility but it depends on the particular situation. Choose the one where you get the most experience, don't worry about the name of the company you're interning for.


June 3rd, 2011 at 6:20 PM ^

But my experience is that your best bet is to go small but highly visible, that is to say, if you can get in with a small group but a small group doing big things with known, well respected people associated with it, it gives you the best of both worlds. I understand that this presents a conundrum as it may be difficult to know who knows who before entering an industry but if you can get the inside track on that, then I'd say that would be the way to go.



June 3rd, 2011 at 6:21 PM ^

Depends on your post-graduation goal.  The truth is that while you'll get less indivdualized attention at big firms, the training is better and the names more respected.  If you plan to seek employment in a field or at a place where it is difficult to get in the door, go big firm internship.  If the experience matters more and your post-graduation goals are either undefined or your future lies at a smaller company, go small.


June 3rd, 2011 at 6:54 PM ^

Somewhat. One thing to keep in mind is that companies don't like having offers turned down, so you won't be able to go back to them later. Larger companies are also more likely to offer interns full time positions and there's nothing saying you won't get good experience with them depending on the project you get assigned to. If you're wanting to go entrepreneurial the smaller company is the way to go.

Zone Left

June 3rd, 2011 at 6:25 PM ^

First, it's good to hear that you have options.

Second, what do you think you want after school? If you want to work at a big name bank and you have an internship offer from one, then take it. If you want to work somewhere small, jump on that.

Internships serve a few reasons, but the primary one is for you to assess if you enjoy that type of work and the primary one on the corporate end is to assess if you fit in with the firm. Ultimately, fit is what will make you happy and get you a job.

That's my two cents.


June 3rd, 2011 at 6:53 PM ^

And I have to agree. I work for a very large company (Fortune 50) and we hire lots of interns. I think the benefits come down to what each person wants to get out of the experience. Some people intern wanting to apply their "book learning", others want real world experience, still others just want the higher salary that comes with an internship vs. flipping burgers.

Some companies - both large and small - hire interns because it is a good way to evaluate candidates for permanent positions later. Although there isn't usually an expectation on either the candidate's or company's part that the summer job will lead to a permanent one, that's always a possibility. It certainly helps both parties screen each other for "fit".


June 3rd, 2011 at 6:27 PM ^

I did both when I was in undergrad, both a large and small finance firm. While I enjoyed my time at the small firm more, the larger firm was more beneficial. The name recognition at similar firms is great as was the training and networking opportunities. Also, the large firm might be offering 70 interns, but you might be in a smaller division or group so you can still get the small firm feel with the larger resources. 


June 3rd, 2011 at 6:32 PM ^

There's a good chance that it doesn't matter.  In general I would say going for the big firm is probably better but as long as the small firm isn't so small that it's unknown in the industry it most likely won't hurt future opportunities.

You're probably not going to really get that much real work at either company, so the benefit of the big firm is that during future job searches everyone will recognize the name.  If the smaller company is still big enough to have good name-recognition then it probably won't make much of a difference.

Like Zone Left said, if you think you want to work at the large company (or another large competitor) take the big firm for sure.  There are lots of good posts at Mergers and Inquisitions about summer internships (as related to investment banking), such as http://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/decide-summer-internship-offers/


June 3rd, 2011 at 6:32 PM ^

I should have been more specific. I'm in law school but plan to become a hockey agent. I'm already a junior-agent of sorts with a few clients, hence why I have my pick of internships because I'm further ahead than anyone else my age in the industry. It's just very tough to assess all of these places.


June 3rd, 2011 at 6:54 PM ^

That is my primary goal here, to network. I'd like to work for a small firm but the point of this is to gain as many connections as possible. I already know many players and coaches, now I need to know the agents and GM's. You would think I'd gain more connections at bigger firms but I'm not so sure. It's hard to make connections when you're one of 70 interns filing paperwork all day.

This is to expand my network. Thanks for the answers so far guys, excellent thus far.


June 3rd, 2011 at 7:07 PM ^

I can't imagine you're going to meet any GMs through either internship.  You'll work a lot more closely with a very few agents at the small firm, as opposed to a more tenuous connection with a lot of agents at the large firm.

If you work hard (and well) you'll make enough of an impact that going for the larger number of connections is better than the smaller firm.


June 3rd, 2011 at 6:43 PM ^

Are you planning on working independently or for an agency?  Like what's already been said, it depends on your eventual plan.  If you're planning on being independent then I would think it wouldn't matter big or small, and you should go where you feel you'll be best utilized.

Consider your resume.  You want to be able to put something meaningful there.  As long as you can highlight on that resume something concrete and meaningful (and preferably quantifiable) that you did to better the company, the name of the company usually matters little.  As a future agent, your best value to your agency (if you work for one) is how well you can attract and keep clients, so you'll probably want to consider which internship furthers that skill the best.


June 3rd, 2011 at 6:39 PM ^

I took a small company internship after my junior year of undergrad and couldn't be more thankful for the experience it gave me.  It was incredibly nerve racking at the start because there wasn't a lot of established process for me to follow, but I learned so much about how to deal with ambiguity, create process, and effectively manage projects.

I just started an internship this year between years of my MBA at a large company and I feel like the skills I developed at the small company (I went back to the company for four years after undergrad before going back to school) are helping me a lot at the large company.  Now I find myself a lot more resourceful and efficient from working at the small company since we didn't have the money to pay for the resources my large company has now.  But the large company is teaching me a lot about navigating a more political environment and networking with the right people to advocate for me.  Also this large company has way more awesome perks if that matters to you.

Short answer: I'd say try to get experience at both, but if you have to choose one to start with, I'm partial to the small company.

EDIT: Didn't see the agent piece til after the post.  If brand of company matters as much as I'm assuming it does, it might be tough not going to the larger company.  


June 3rd, 2011 at 6:56 PM ^

This is an interesting debate:

Small Company you may get more hands on with upper management (C-level or directors) and at a big company you get their name. I have found that even if you have good experience or better experience at a firm that no one knows, it almost is no good. If you can say I was an intern at a Fortune Top 50 that will hold weight all over the US and World potentially.

Thus I would side withe the notion that "Bigger is Better"

Go Blue!


June 3rd, 2011 at 7:03 PM ^

Experience in the small company will probably be more valuable during the summer.  But the name of the big firm will be more valuable landing another job later.  No matter what, most interns do little "tough" work during the summer, just too little experience or time to get up to speed (it takes seasoned employees some time to get going as well), so the big name may be more valuable now.  At least that is my experience in finance (IB, hedge funds, PE) a big name on the resume (having passed a big filter) can help get interviews later.  For engineering that may be different especially now where startups are doing most of the interesting things.

Captain Scumbag

June 3rd, 2011 at 7:27 PM ^

I'd say being able to stamp the name of a Fortune 500 company or a company most everyone's heard of (something like LinkedIn) is going to give any resume a huge boost. If you have that opportunity, it'd be hard to turn down.

Howeva, if you're in something like graphic design, you have to keep in mind that your resume is ancillary. In the case of design, you're being judged moreso by the quality of your portfolio than by resume per say. In that case, whatever option gives you better opportunities to enhance your portfolio with quality entries is where you want to go.

Similarly, if you're into programming or web design nothing sells like "go to this website and see this nifty bit of code I wrote." A small company is much more likely to give a summer intern that opportunity. My first internship was at a 10 person company and I wrote code for their flagship software. They let me hand out demo CDs with my segment of their software. That ended up netting me an internship the next summer at a Fortune 500 company.

I guess there's a lot of "it depends" in my answer. Big companies are safer because you'll be able to stamp "Famous Company" on your resume, but working for a small company can have tremendous upside, too.


June 3rd, 2011 at 7:29 PM ^

I work in the legal field and am often involved in hiring attorneys for our largish (approx. 100 lawyers) non-profit law firm.   I don't know about other fields, but in law, generally an internship with a large firm is going to be an extended job interview situation where you are paid a lot of money (by law student standards), taken to a lot of ballgames and lunches, and hardly do any real work (if any at all)--whereas in a job with a small firm or legal aid office you will be expected to work hard and take on a lot of responsibilities.  This provides a distinct advantage to the person who goes the "small" route.  Moreover, if your goal it to work for yourself, rather than become someone's employee, the hands-on experience you get in an internship with a small firm is invaluable.  

That said, I think a lot of the more corporate firms do things much differently.  My persective may not be worth much to someone trying to become a professional hockey agent.


June 3rd, 2011 at 7:51 PM ^

I am a businessman.  No.  Seriously.

Go with the name.  The name on the resume will open more doors than your experience.  As long as it's a comparable level internship (e.g., running excel models for a small firm would be a better experience than working in the mail room at a large firm). 

My experience (I've had 3 jobs now) -

1) Big Firm / Good experience - really easy to find job #2.

2) Big Firm with a Shit Name / Great experience - really hard to find job #3

3) Big Firm / Great Experience - went 3 for 3 when looking for new job opportunities (Firm just got bought out - I thought my job was gone, so I was looking around.  Turned out I stuck around and just moved to a new city.  Anyone in Louisville that's got them Yellow Tops - hook a brother up!)


June 3rd, 2011 at 8:49 PM ^

I think it'd be quite surprising / shocking even.  I know the "Michigan Difference" is real.  Having the M name on your resume will definitely open up doors / start you off on a quicker path than most schools. 

The best thing in the realm of business is that Big Ten connection.  Ohio State and Michigan State grads are few and far between.  Northwestern, Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Indiana are far more prevalent (in my experiences in Chicago and St. Louis).  And that Big Ten bond is stronger than you'd think. 

(I did get blackballed by some asshole during interviews while still in college because he went to State and I went to Michigan and didn't have a 4.0.  I still remember that man and his name.  If I ever run into him again, he will know how I really feel about him.)

Zone Left

June 3rd, 2011 at 10:40 PM ^

It is real. I've got about three months before I start at Michigan for my MBA (first degree at UM), but over the past nine years I lived in six states and Michigan alums are everywhere and they're passionate. The dispersal and overall success may be better than any school in the country--try finding an Ivy League shirt in San Diego or Phoenix. The block M is everywhere.


June 3rd, 2011 at 8:12 PM ^

The goal of the internship is to be able to put something down on your resume that will impress potential employers (well, of course you want to learn something, but honestly, you'll learn all the domain-specific knowledge at your first job).  In order to get the best job possible coming out of UM, I'd say go with the big ballas (after all, that'll impress future employers, including small companies, the most).


June 3rd, 2011 at 8:15 PM ^

Just started an internship at a big company today, and having worked at a number of smaller companies/firms in both engineering and law, I'd say go big if you can handle the culture.  Smaller firms are great if you really want to invest in that company and see a future there, but if not you will probably feel you are spinning your wheels.  With big firms, even if you don't enjoy the work after some time, you can always drop out and go to the smaller locations with some good connections and "prestige" on your resume.  

Just be careful about the gold handcuffs with the big firms - you get used to the pay, the travel, the 5* dinners, etc., and suddenly you wake up with a lifestyle that tethers you to that beautiful desk you bought.


June 3rd, 2011 at 8:22 PM ^

I can tell you that actually working for a small company certainly has its benefits. However, for an internship I think you want to go for whatever is most prestigious. Because it's only a couple month gig it matters less how happy you are. In a big company it's true you may get less useful experience, but at the same time if it's a big name company/firm that will likely look better on your resume.

Use internships to build a great resume and then figure out what suits you the best for a real job.


June 3rd, 2011 at 8:26 PM ^

In my experience (just graduated bschool), the most important thing for an internship, not a real job, but internship, is name-recognition.  Try to find the perceived "best companies" to work for, even if the work isn't necessarily first rate.  When I say name-recognition, I don't mean your average person in America, but what others in your professional field or similar fields think of that company.  This could be the big or the small company.  Remember that it's only a few months, but after it's over this will open a lot more doors.  Trust me on this; I got very few interviews/job offers while applying to be an intern because my previous firms/experiences were not perceived to be top notch (despite learning way more than I would in the future).  However, I interned with a very "big-name" firm and got basically any interview I wanted duing the fall recruiting cycle, landing me my current job that I am very happy with.

Don't worry about doing bitchwork (you will likely do it no matter what at an internship) or even if it's not exactly what you want to do later on.  I know that the industry I interned in was one where I didn't really want to go into.  It's all about the name-recognition (I hate to say prestige, sounds like a douchebag bschool thing to say) and opening doors to the firms you really want to work for, even if they aren't perceived as well.

If it all sounds stupid as shit to you to jump through hoops like this, well, that's because it is.  I became more bitter and jaded as I went through bschool and found out how much of the real world is based upon appearances, who you know, etc. etc. rather than how hard you work or your values as a person.  It's sad but true.

This might not have been that helpful for the OP in his search to be a hockey agent, but hopefully it's general advice the rest of you may find helpful.


June 3rd, 2011 at 8:27 PM ^

three options for internships.  don't look past the public/government sector Feds or State level.  If that's not an option for you I would go small. company.  Better opportunities for hands on projects that are meaningful.  Show what you can do.    Good luck and good hunting whatever you choose.  


June 3rd, 2011 at 8:35 PM ^

If you are in the legal field. The big firms generally will hire interns as associates if they perform well, and starting salary at a large firm can be nearly double that of a small one. And if it's anything in investment banking, shoot for the big names at all costs and then pray they hire you after-salaries at Goldman Sachs are incredible which is why they are so hated.


June 3rd, 2011 at 9:05 PM ^

Always go big for an internship, I'd even recommend going big for the first full-time gig. You can always go small after going big, you can never go big after starting small. Kind of the opposite of how it works in the sack for the ladies.

The only other thing that matters is getting the offer at the end of the summer. A big firm/company means very little if you don't walk away with the offer, you'll end up explaining why you didn't get the offer vs. talking about how beneficial your experience was. I'd definitely check the "# of interns to # offer extended ratio"...


Good luck.


June 3rd, 2011 at 9:14 PM ^

A few reasons:

1)  The name on the resume is always impressive

2)  Working at a large company will give you the possibility of networking with upper management at the large company and it is all about who you know in a company like that.

3) References, a manager at Google looks a lot better then a manager at Schmoogle


Word of advice - If your goal is to move up the ladder as much as possible with your career than make that known during your internship and any entry level position. 

Small companies are great for the knowledge aspects but ask questions to those that have been there a while, they will have all of the lessons you can handle and love to brag about how 20 years ago they laughed at the idea of needing one computer yet 1000 of them.


June 3rd, 2011 at 9:30 PM ^

Well, it is settled. I've been making courtesy phone calls all night. I'm going with a very small but prestigious company. There are only 4 agents but they have clients whose salaries combine to make $49 million a year, plus some great young prospects. They asked me to go to Vegas with them on their dime for the NHL awards later this month with some clients. My exact words: "FUCK........YES". How can I turn that down?

I am so goddamned excited right now. I've been hittin the liquor pretty hard. Thanks for all of the advice gents. Very valuable information, but as per usual, I've whored myself out for free liquor.


June 3rd, 2011 at 9:50 PM ^

Think that's aboslutely the right move.  Prestige matters more than size, especially in industries like yours (speculation on my part of course).  Would you rather be someone who works for a massive but average performing hedge fund everyone knows or someone in a small, elite fund everyone knows is just killing it?  I think this is very similar.