Electronic Design

Small Firms Pay Less—But It May Be Worth It

Which suits you better: a large multinational conglomerate that comes with its own cafeteria and gym, or a small startup in an office park with a Wendy's down the street?

According to our 2007 Reader Survey, engineers at larger firms (those with 1000 or more employees) earn an average income of $110,602, compared to the $94,169 brought home by their peers at the small design houses (firms with fewer than 100 employees). In addition to better pay, large corporations typically offer engineers a number of other attractive benefits, including strong support systems, more attractive benefits packages, and abundant resources.

But bigger pay and bonuses aren't everything. Smaller organizations have other things going for them, like greater flexibility, a more comfortable corporate culture, and a friendlier working environment. And some engineers are happy choosing this better quality of life over a higher salary.

They may be attracted to a healthier work/life balance, an easier commute, simpler hierarchies, stronger loyalty from the firm, and closer relationships with superiors and coworkers. In addition, smaller firms can offer engineers an opportunity to play a bigger role in each project and the ability to more quickly and decisively distinguish themselves based on their talent. They can also offer a work setting that's less charged with politics and bureaucracy.

Whichever way you decide to go, keep in mind that the biggest challenge can come from moving from one firm size to the other, particularly when moving from a smaller firm to a larger one.

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