How to thrive in a big company – Career Counselling – it's in your hands

How to thrive in a big company

A 7 minute read • Alan A

Part of our career counselling series. Sink or swim. Survive – or thrive. When joining a big company for the first time, it can feel like those are your choices. We explain how to thrive in a big company environment.

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How to thrive in a big company – Career Counselling – big fishMy own career began with a small startup. And then another. When that company was bought by a bigger company, I worked happily for them for a while. Then, they too were acquired. Big fish eats little fish is the norm in the corporate world these days, so you’d better get used to that. I write about my earlier working experiences in other articles, but let’s focus here on the biggest fishes of them all.

Working for a multinational

Eventually, my path led me to the global multinational. Such companies are often talked about in our post-globalization world, and not always in a complimentary way. But what’s it like to be inside such a giant?

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Well, it can be pretty daunting. Multinationals are complex environments where you may well be working with people in multiple locations and time zones across the globe. That brings with it a unique set of challenges. And, of course, many opportunities for personal and career growth.

How to thrive in a big company – Career Counselling – time zonesOne minute you might find yourself collaborating face to face with a colleague at the next desk, while the next you’re on a video conference with a team in another continent. As the video conference runs on, you catch on that your remote coworkers have a slightly different view of the world, and how to do things, than you do. You also remember what time it is where they are, and understand that they are giving up part of their evening just to talk to you! (And sometimes you will need to do the same perhaps.)

In my experience, cooperating with people from different backgrounds – and cultures – is one of the joys of working for a multinational. You will learn to see the world from different viewpoints and you’ll probably do better work because of it. It’s no surprise to me that multinationals, that bring people together across borders, have been so successful. Of course globalization also has its issues, but bringing people together is definitely one of the upsides.

Like a small city

Sometimes the scale of a multinational company can be hard to get your head around. My last employer had over 100,000 employees across countless countries. That’s the population of a small city.

In such an environment, you have to adapt and work accordingly. For example, when you work across geographies, communication becomes even more vital than usual and you have to work much, much harder at it. You need to make a real effort to ensure remote colleagues are included and kept up to date just as much as the person at the next desk to you. That means using all the communication tools of the trade such as:

  • old fashioned email & phone calls
  • messaging services
  • internal networking platforms (a bit like a Facebook for employees)
  • webinars
  • video conferencing
  • and personal visits (nothing beats this if you can do it)

You’ll need to invest some effort into knowing how to use and get the best out of all of those tools (and each company uses a different selection).

“Communication and personal networking are crucial”

How to thrive in a big company – Career Counselling – communication and networkingOne vital tip for anyone starting out in a multinational (or any large company) is to take networking extremely seriously. Get to know other people in different locations and in different roles to you. If you want to get things done, you will need to know lots of people and who to go to when you need a hand. While big companies have processes to assist you with many things, often they are far from perfect, and sometimes you need a friend or two who can help you speed things up.


With ever increasing appetites for cost saving, large companies often outsource what they view as support services, like HR and IT. This means the person you go to if you have a query about your payslip, or when your laptop stops working, is likely to be working in a different company altogether – and you probably won’t be given their direct contact information. Such arrangements may (or may not) save money, but you can be sure they usually add complexity and delays.

How to thrive in a big company – Career Counselling – helpdeskFor example, “raising a ticket” with HR may involve queueing in a multi-option phone system menu, waiting to speak to somebody who you hope can help. When you eventually speak to them, they are in a different country (not so unusual in a multinational), and are perhaps not as up to speed as they should be with the specific tax item that you wanted to query on your payslip. If they solve your problem on the first hit, you will be doing very well!

The whole experience can be a bit like dealing with a utility company in your non-work life. Often time-consuming and frustrating. You’ll need to adapt and allow more time to do things, and do your best not to become too irked. I have to be honest, such frustrations are a fact of life in big companies, so you’ll need to take the rough with the smooth.

Training opportunities

Another huge positive of big companies is they usually take training and career development seriously. This is an opportunity for you to grow your knowledge and skills, or even to expand into completely new areas.

“Make the most of the company’s training opportunities”

There will probably be internal, dedicated trainers and courses, and access to external training too. Training may be voluntary or compulsory. For example, my last employer had a combination of compulsory training course and additional, optional courses in all sorts of subjects. This was bundled together into something they called “CompanyName University” (I won’t mention the actual company name here.)

Some of the compulsory courses are for “compliance reasons”. For example, you might have to do a course on “anti-harassment”, which helps ensure you know what the boundaries are when dealing with colleagues. While important, such courses can be a little dull when you already know the points they are putting across. You still have to take the course and pass the test though, so the company can prove it made efforts to do the right thing. Again, another fact of life in a large company.

Head above the parapet

If there’s one piece of advice I’d like to leave you with, it’s this: don’t be scared to stand out. Senior leaders in progressive companies often look for people who are prepared to stick their heads above the parapet. If you have an idea, and can express it effectively, you will get noticed and could be in a position to make a real difference. You need to go about this the right way though. Be constructive and put forward well thought out suggestions. Don’t be confrontational. If you can add numbers to your argument (e.g. time or money saved, extra sales generated etc.), even better.

How to thrive in a big company – Career Counselling – diplodocus

On the other hand, if the company is not receptive to new ways of thinking and doing things, question if it’s really the right company for you. Big organizations can sometimes be a little like the diplodocus. Huge, and highly effective at what they do (eating vegetation in the case of the diplodocus), but they take time to change direction and it can take a while for the nerve impulse from the tail to arrive at the brain. Know the nature of the multinational beast, and you’ll get on just fine.

Main points

  • Be prepared to be flexible when working with global colleagues
  • Embrace the differences between people as you’ll collectively do better work
  • Communication and personal networking are crucial
  • Allow extra time when dealing with outsourced functions
  • Make the most of the training opportunities on offer
  • Don’t be scared to stand up and be counted

And finally

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