It’s the classic job seeker’s dilemma. Should you chase less-exciting positions with name-brand companies, or instead target the smaller organizations that aren’t “industry leaders” to land a better title?
Now, of course, it’s possible to have both; but it takes a lot of time (and a splash of luck) to reach the top at larger companies. So unless you’re in the enviable situation of landing a VP role at Google, you’ll probably want to keep reading.
But be warned: Before you get too far into this article, let me tell you the bad news—there’s no clear-cut answer. You won’t X out of this and suddenly know what to do. However, what I will do is lay out both cases so you. Or, I should say, I spoke with two of The Muse’s expert career coaches to discuss each option.
The Case for Going After Big Companies
It’s a commonly known fact that many recruiters rely on resume keywords, not only to allow ATS bots to screen out candidates, but also to search for specific skills.
The best part of brand names is that they can act as keywords that let you steal a little power back in the process: Companies spend millions of dollars on advertising letting everyone know exactly what they do, and how well they do it. When those familiar names appears on your application, those dollars are working in your favor to grab the attention of the hiring manager.
The Case for Going After a Better Title
But, here’s the thing: Brand names may grab attention, but job titles could seal the deal. They let the person reading your resume know exactly what you’re capable of.
Don’t believe it? Think about the story that your job titles tell. Would you be happy if your resume showed the same title for the last five years? Of course not. When we want to illustrate growth, we think about progressing from “junior” to “senior,” perhaps even adding “manager” to the list—all to control the narrative that your resume tells.
How to Decide
When I posed this question to Bruce Eckfeldt, a coach specializing in career development and performance management, he recommended a balanced approach. For any professional, “you want to learn what engages you and what turns you off. Sometimes this can be big companies where you’re working in different departments, or smaller companies where you can take on a lot of different roles.”
He believes that the top priority is your own professional development, and collecting skills and experiences from each position will give you more options in the future. In fact, Eckfeldt says that the most important thing to focus on is expertise, and how to get it: “If a brand name will help you make an important move in a few years to a role where you can really hone your focus and skills, then yes, prioritize that and consider lower positions. If not, then it's not as important.”
Loren Margolis, an award-winning leadership development expert and executive coach, tells her clients to think of each job as a stepping stone to the next, and as an opportunity to position yourself for the next five or 10 years of your career.
But it can be hard to see where those next five or 10 years will take you. Margolis recommends that anybody struggling to figure out where they want to go should “brainstorm with people you trust about what truly interests you and what your most essential career values are. Then, reach out to the companies that are on your target list and ask the decision-makers what type of job would position you well for an eventual role there.”
We don’t often think to take the most direct route, but Margolis points out that it’s often the easiest; simply “ask whether they desire name-brands or more senior titles. By thinking long-term and finding out what the market says, you give yourself a path forward and a clear decision.”
So, the next time you wonder whether you should accept a junior role at a brand-name or a senior title at a startup, remember that the answer isn’t always clear-cut. The fact is that brand names carry weight in the job market—and having them on your resume can (and will!) open doors for you.
Yet, there is hope for those of us who don’t flourish in large corporate environments: As the experts have told us, the real secret to directing your job search is to figure out which companies and positions are going to set you on the right path.
Before you apply to another job, take a moment and ask yourself: “Will this job help me achieve me goals?” If so, go for it. If not, well don’t!
Trust me: Your future self will thank you for looking out for you, rather than looking out for a fancy title or a cool company name.