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Would you prefer to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond?

big fish in small pond or small fish in big pond


Anders Liu-Lindberg
Title: Regional Finance Business Partner
Company: Maersk Line Northern Europe
LinkedIn Profile
(Regional Finance Business Partner, Maersk Line Northern Europe) |

Personally I think being a small fish in a big pond early on in your career provides the best opportunities to grow. If you can keep growing bigger in the big pond you should stay, but if you hit an incomprehensible barrier you should consider moving to the small pond.

It is much more difficult moving from the small pond to the big pond than the other way around.

Ali Ghuloom
Title: Associate
Company: Individual
(Associate, Individual) |

Agree with Anders regarding the being on a big pond early in your career. This probably good for people who would like to specialized. Being in a Small pond may give you more wide knowledge plus specialization. However, as a personal view, I think start small in a Big Pond then build your Own pond and get other fish with you :)

Jeff Durbin
Title: Chief Financial Officer
Company: F. Gavina and Sons, Inc.
(Chief Financial Officer, F. Gavina and Sons, Inc.) |

I agree with Anders.

You are more likely to learn properly in a big pond than in a small pond. Process and structure are more important in a large organization.

I have moved back and forth but it is difficult. Big companies don't typically value small company experience as much.

Topic Expert
Mike Caruana
Title: Director of Financial Services
Company: Diamond Resorts International
(Director of Financial Services, Diamond Resorts International) |

I agree with Anders. A nice blend is desirable. Turning around or significantly impacting the performance of a 'small pond' company adds a lot of credibility to your resume; however, big fish that move to the small pond should be careful to not come across as arrogant or having a superiority complex.

Topic Expert
Regis Quirin
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP) |

Choose a pond where you can grow. When you need to learn, experts will be around. But when you are ready, your contribution is recognized and you can become a leader. If you can avoid it, don't jump ponds.

(Agent, JKS Solutions, Inc.) |

Early it is easier to work in an efficient well managed pond because it provides a base of successful process experience that you can take with you to the larger really messed up pond later.

Most large companies have a myriad of finance areas all managed by different people with different ideas about what is best. Unless you have seen what best-practice is, you will only know what you know from those who work around you in the larger pond. Large companies are like collections of little villages with hundreds of tribes that all do things differently. This is why the consulting business is so lucrative, big business is more messed up than you realize, until you find yourself on the inside arguing about spreadsheets.

Small in the beginning is beneficial, but if you plan to move into a bigger pond, be sure you are asking for all the hard projects you can stand in the smaller environment. You will need exposure to many areas. Once you are in the big company, you will be forced to specialize and not have much opportunity to see more than your own area in detail.

Going broad early in smaller environments gives you a lot of power and insight down the road because the people in the larger companies are limited to the blinders they are forced to wear. You will be able to make a bigger splash faster in the large environment if you are able to think broadly about the organization.

Small is the same as big, but big is more messed up with more to fix and less communication structure. You will have to make your own communication networks and use your team to perform outreach to other groups to ensure that you have an information flow for your own benefit internally between the gaps of competitiveness.

Swim fast, but be sure you are as big as the sharks when you jump into the bigger tank.


Jim Holloway
Title: CFO
Company: Contract Lumber, Inc.
(CFO, Contract Lumber, Inc.) |

I also agree with Anders, starting as a small fish in a big pond gives the best experience. Once you have that background you can determine which size pond is right for you. There does come a point in your career where switching ponds either way becomes more difficult, but I believe that it is harder to move to (or back to) a big pond once you have spent much time in a small one.

Tricia Havis
Title: General Manager
Company: Associated Background Check Inc.
LinkedIn Profile
(General Manager, Associated Background Check Inc.) |

I started in a "small fish-big pond" environment in the financial services industry. However, I have to say that I really love the small business environment much better now. I feel that the large corporate environment gave me lots of great experience and training when I was young (started there when I was 18 years old), and I learned how to earn responsibility and respect in the corporate world. I thrive much better now in the "small pond" environment.

Jeremy Netzel
Title: VP of Finance / CFO
Company: Privately Held
(VP of Finance / CFO, Privately Held) |

A big pond early in your career will provide with opportunities to interact with and learn from a much larger group of professionals. Your professional network and the knowledge you gain by working in larger teams are extremely valuable over the long term.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, |

Small to mid-size ponds.

More to get involved in, less competition to get involved, immediate feedback.

Caveat, you have to know when to leave for another pond to gain experience in that different pond.

After a full ponds and in less time that being in a big pond you have definately advanced with a broader range of skills.

(Associate) |

Being a big fish in a small pond can be fun, rewarding, and a confidence builder, but the caveat is that you have to keep humble and self-driven. I believe you can easier control what you learn in this environment, versus in a big pond where you're subject to the shifting tides of management.
On the flip side, if you need some structure to thrive the big pond may be better suited for you.

Title: CFO
Company: C-Suite Services
LinkedIn Profile
(CFO, C-Suite Services) |

I would say...a fish in a collaborative pond where there are no predators and the ecosystem is conducive to one's growth. Been on big ponds that you are treated as a drone. Also been on big ponds that you are treated well. The same situations can be used or apply on small ponds.

It is not the size of the pond but the quality of it.

Tshepiso Moche
Title: Recoveries and Chargeback Analyst
Company: Standard Bank
(Recoveries and Chargeback Analyst, Standard Bank) |

Whether small or big, it is an individual choice based on career aspirations and direction intentended in life. Starting either side has it's advantanges and disadvantages, starting as a small fish in a big pond and moving to a small pond could end up limiting to growth as there can only be so much in small pond once you assume you a big, also the package might not be sufficient to cover a big fish in a small pond.

Big pond requires specialization while small ponds requires end to end. While moving from small to Big could also be frustratiting when given a small portion (SME - Subject Matter Expect) to do if you are looking to do end to end, It is however impossible for end to end in a big pond.

Hence it requires an individual choice / career development plan in order to avoid hitting stumbling block. If going to a small pond ensure that you can be a big fish, ensuring that you do not undermine those in a small pond. Often ensure that it is your own pond to ensure maximum growth, again individual choice. If going to a big pond, be will to be an SME while being aware of the group you will be in.

Title: Accounts Payable Analyst
Company: Juniper Networks India Pvt Ltd
(Accounts Payable Analyst, Juniper Networks India Pvt Ltd) |

According to my experience, Whichever we are, know that it’s not the size of the pond that matters, it’s whether you swim with purpose.
There are advantages to every pond size. You definitely learn different things from both experiences. To have both at the same time is also good practice for agility!
I think having a balance of both early in your career is important to identify which areas you thrive in!

(Staff Accountant) |

I am enjoying being a small fish in a small pond, for now. Since our team is so small, I have in 18 months been given a level of responsibility that I never could have gotten so quickly in a big pond.

ArLyne Diamond
Title: Owner - President
Company: Diamond Associates
LinkedIn Profile
(Owner - President, Diamond Associates) |

There are so many more opportunities to do a variety of things - to be creative - and to learn new skills in a small pond. One can get lost in a big one.... So, personally I'd rather be a big fish in a small pond,.

Bill Chorba
Title: CFO
Company: NineSigma, Inc.
(CFO, NineSigma, Inc.) |

This is one of those questions many of us are answering with reflective view points shaped by our own experiences. I wonder if our answers would change if we were asked this question 10 or 20 years ago?

In my personal experience, staring off in a big pond was invaluable. It provided me with mentorship, friendship, and the foundation of a professional network at a young age. It also provided such breadth of personalities that it accelerated the curve in learning how to deal with all types of people in various stages of their careers. Working on 3-4 teams at at time rather than 1-2 was great for organization, prioritization (specifically the prioritization of competing objectives and deadlines), and conflict management. I'm not sure how I would have gained this experience as quickly without starting in a big pond.

That being said, moving to a smaller pond and becoming a bigger fish allowed for faster development of management skills. I was given more responsibility faster, leading towards specialization in both technical and managerial skills. The layers of professionals between me and client relationships were pared back significantly, allowing for direct client contact faster, again a great career development opportunity.

We could probably all share stories and experiences like this, but what it tells me is this question is certainly gray; not black and white. Both types of experience can offer many great things and both can create limitations or effect the pace at which one develops. But it does come down to the individual and how well s/he can adapt and make the most of the opportunities that are presented. This was a good question, though, and I enjoyed the pause for reflection that it created.

Mark Matheny
Title: VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis
Company: Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)
(VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis, Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)) |

There is no straight forward answer to that question. There our pros and cons to each. I think it is more about the culture than the size. Big companies offer more career opportunities and resources. Small companies offer less competition to be heard. Keep in mind, the big pond can be made up of a multitude of small ponds. You can be in a big company but feel the same as working in a smaller one. I have done both. I would do either again based on the circumstances.

Ben Murray
Title: Vice President and CFO
Company: Cartegraph
(Vice President and CFO, Cartegraph) |

Small fish in a big pond if the company is mature in finance.


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