Small or Large firm

Matthew J. Mott

If you had the choice between working for a small firm (1-5 people) that does residential architecture work or a large firm (800 people) that's multi disciplinary, then which would you choose?

Nov 9, 12 7:13 am

small firm first to test ur ability or train urself, big firm later after you are good.

Nov 9, 12 8:39 am

The answer probably depends on what your long term career goals might be. Obviously, if your passion is the design of large high-rise multi-use projects, then the larger firm would give you the kind of experience important to that type of work.

Nov 9, 12 10:43 am

Large firm if you are more aggressive / very proactive.  You’ll have the opportunity to get yourself much more challenging assignments and broader perspective earlier on (which IMO is more important than how to detail crown molding of a fancy residence).  You’ll also tent to get more support pursuing licensing.

But if you are more passive (read: less capable of fighting for yourself in terms garnering the attention of mentors and fight for better assignments), you run the chance of getting pigeon holed at a large firm being rendering monkey etc.  In which case, you are better off at a small firm learning the entire process of how type V comes together

Nov 9, 12 12:04 pm


So true - I was at SOM - good at the technical side(Revit) or so I claim - The key assignments always went to those with the best verbal skills - so 1 1/2 years later in 11/08, 4 years ago today, I was thrown out and spent 15 months in long term unemployment hell - Now I am ruined for life - I work at a small office as a BIM modeler and can barely survive - I will never be an architect

If I could only hit Ctrl Z on reality, I would have fought much harder - I am here as an example of what not to be - be aggressive or get out - this is a winner take all profession 

Nov 9, 12 1:42 pm

That be the good old corporate ladder at work.  The thing to realize is that the people who rise to the top there are sociopaths. They are not normal.  If you've got lizard blood in your veins then it's probably for you but otherwise you'll get chewed up by it.

Although, to take another view of it, if you're inclined to go the corporate route then you might as well skip architecture & head to wall street where at least all of that ass-kissing, cock-sucking and backstabbing pays handsomely.


Nov 9, 12 2:55 pm

@HCM: "The thing to realize is that the people who rise to the top there are sociopaths. They are not normal.  If you've got lizard blood in your veins then it's probably for you but otherwise you'll get chewed up by it."

Matthew - the above statement is, for most large firms, a gross overstatement and not indicative of reality. Sure, there are politics in any business organization but, in my experience, they're nowhere near as severe as described above at most large firms. Truth be told, I've seen some pretty vicious internal politics at some small firms over the course of my career. 

Nov 9, 12 3:29 pm

i've never worked at a truly small firm, but if you do you'd better like the people there because there's no escaping if you don't get along

Nov 9, 12 3:53 pm

but at in todays world, a job's a job

Nov 9, 12 3:53 pm

Of the young architects I know currently in the workforce (I'm graduating this semester myself), the general vibe I'm getting is that those at larger firms made a smarter decision.  Small firms (<30 architects) are great if you are either VERY passionate about the specific niche that firm operates in (ex: Electroland if you like high tech installation art, or a modular housing design+build), or the firm is very innovative and on the bleeding edge (basically, academically oriented firms like Morphosis and the like).  Otherwise, you're gonna have a bad time.

A corporate job is a corporate job, sure, but at least you are comparatively well compensated and get to work on some amazing projects.  From the little bit that I've heard down the grapevine, there is just as much variation between corporate firms as there is between small ones: some firms, big and small, work you like a slave without even saying thanks (SOM seems to be rather well known for this), and others treat you like the precious little snowflake that you are (Smithgroup and HKS have a pretty solid reputation from what I've heard).  Its true, as CHC mentioned, that you have to assert yourself in a corporate environment or be ignored, but that's more generally true of life as a whole, isn't it?  The bottom line is that unless the small firm is an EXACT, perfect fit for you, 6 months down the line you might really regret the decision.  Corporate firms are large enough to offer some flexibility if you know how to ask.

Nov 9, 12 6:25 pm

@aphorismal, I would say that it depends on what you're looking for.  The big firms were great internships, from what I heard in school.  But in terms of learning things that school doesn't teach you, the small firms are the way to go IMO.  I'm literally doing a little bit of everything at my small firm, and I'm basically mentored all day long.  Switch over to my buddies in the corporate world, and they're CAD/Revit draftsmen in a slightly nicer looking office with more people.  Pay is the same.  I wouldn't mind moving to a bigger firm later, but I feel like I'm definitely in the right place as someone fresh out of school.

Nov 10, 12 3:27 pm

I'd say go for a medium sized firm. I always worked for very small firms (15> people) while you do learn a lot they also tend to be less organized and there is a higher chance they will screw you because they are less likely to hire you on the books. Trust me you'll find most small firms try to avoid paying taxes so if you get laid off you get no UI.

My very first job was at a construction company, we had around 6-7 people working in the office and when things went wrong and money was tight I was told "not to come on Monday". No official statement of getting laid off and the boss didn't make it clear whether I could work there part time or just leave completely. I packed my things and never went back and it wasn't only me, they did the other new guy the same thing. This is something people can't get away with in bigger firms at least not that easily. You get to know all the people and feel like you're part of a family, they make you believe that but at the first difficulty they turn on you. Also while you get involved in many phases of a project it quickly gets repetitive because since they established a system to get things done and it has worked for them they won't try to invent new methods and be creative. In that construction firm I worked for example the projects were very similar so we opened the CAD files of past projects and copied parts of them making minor changes. It was always the same trees, the same bushes, the same parking layout. Also as shuellmi stated if you don't get along with the people you'll hate the place. In the most recent firm I worked at we had about 10 people in the office and you couldn't imagine the size of drama there because people hated each other, talked behind others' back that's why many new hires quit after a couple of months including me.

That being said I'm definitely not the corporate type, I hate office politics, wearing a suit and being over regulated so if you're like me go for a medium sized firm but I see you have 2 kinds of jobs offered to you since you asked this question so I think I'd first accept the position at the big firm because it has a reputation and then look for a job at a smaller firm. Not only you can get more networking opportunity at a big firm (thus more references from co-workers) but the reputation of the firm will make it easier for you to switch to another job.

Nov 10, 12 5:10 pm

Block this user

Are you sure you want to block this user and hide all related comments throughout the site?

  • ×Search in: