5 reasons to start your career at a small practice

Author: Charles Twitchett

Date published

30 October 2019

The Institution of Structural Engineers The Institution of Structural Engineers
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5 reasons to start your career at a small practice

Date published

Charles Twitchett

Date published

30 October 2019


Charles Twitchett

Charles Twitchett is a Graduate Structural Engineer at Fordham Consulting. Here he gives five reasons why starting your career at a small practice is a great way to begin your career.

A lot of undergraduates can feel pressure to find a graduate programme with a large company straight away. Small companies can get lost in the scramble of looking for jobs but there are advantages that they offer which might be worth giving some thought.

My first experience of professional work was a placement year working as part of two different companies who had started a joint venture. This was only one of about 7 other companies which had all come together to consult directly for a public sector client. After spending a year trying to figure out what to say to people when they asked me who I worked for, I decided after graduation to see if the grass was greener at a small company and became the 5th employee of Fordham Consulting Ltd. These are the differences from my experience starting out at a large company and a small practice. Both have their positives and negatives and I'm very glad I had the chance to do both.

1. You have much more responsibility

At a small practice it is much more likely that you will be given your own projects rather than working as part of a bigger team on one large project. I found that within a large company it was quite difficult to take responsibility as there were lots of complex procedures and multiple people working on the same project. I found it much easier at a small company with simpler procedures to be able to look at previous projects to get an idea of how things were done. 

2. You’ll hit the ground running

Within a big company it can feel, at first, as though people are trying to find things for you to do. Whereas in a smaller company you make up a much larger percentage of the workforce and they’ll want to get you up to speed as soon as they can. From my experience of a large company there will be a lot of different computer systems that you need to get set up with, and mandatory training which you will need to complete before being able to get stuck in. In comparison, at a small company it will more likely be learning on the job.

3. Learning curve

The progression which a small company can offer lends itself perfectly to someone with little or no experience as no job is too small. As a structural engineer, the jobs I started on were designing single beams for small house extensions. You can work from first principles and get the chance to apply the theoretical work from your degree. Soon you realise that you have progressed to much larger projects and find the things you may have struggled with at first much simpler.

4. Transparency

From my experience at a large company, people were always willing to explain their own individual role, however, it was not always clear how that would fit into the bigger picture. At a small company there may only be one or two people who are completing a whole project from start to end and therefore can easily explain each step of the process and the reasons that certain things are done in a certain way. This can make a huge difference in motivating you and making you feel part of the company compared to if you are simply completing tasks because you’ve been told to.

5. Workplace

This last one is purely from my own experience and really comes down to individual preference. You should really consider what sort of office environment you might prefer. A small office will tend to have a much more relaxed, family feel to it. You will almost certainly have your own desk and depending on the company there will probably be social events throughout the year. At a large company it can feel as though you are bottom of the pile when you first start. They may well have hot desking which means you will be sitting next to someone different every day, which can be difficult when first starting out. There will most likely, however, be more graduates in the same position as you and more chances for socialising within work.

At the end of the day, no company is going to be the same and no graduate is the same either. It is impossible to know for sure what a company is like until you start working there. There are lots of other factors which will affect the job apart from the size of the company, such as location, your commute,  and the people you end up working with. It is never going to be easy, in a sense it’s like starting school all over again, and you will need to adapt from university life.

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