Big Company, Big Project vs The Majority

What size company do you feel is best for you to work with?

  • Under 10 Million
  • Under 10-25 Million
  • 25-50 Million
  • 50-100 Million
  • 100+ Million
How this question is answered often reflects someone’s perception of what a company doing higher volume can offer them versus one doing much less volume. We often find that this perception has been formed by an unpleasant experience at a particular company, or their own conclusion from a myriad of marketing, conversations with others or other indirect sources.

After 20+ years of staffing for construction and real estate development firms of all sizes, doing thousands of interviews and spending time with the Owners and Executives that run these companies, perception is not reality. Much like if you are more attracted to brunettes than blondes and meet a blonde that colors their hair to be brunette, unless you get to know them pretty well, you probably won’t be able to tell they are not naturally blonde. In actuality, scientific studies have proven that nearly 20% of the US population appear to be blond, when in fact only 2% of the population are true blondes.

How does this analogy compare to construction companies. Many companies appear to be big, but in reality they have a small infrastructure and are not as profitable as smaller firms. Over 90% of all construction firms in the US have less than 20 office employees. They may have 100+ overall employees, but in reality the majority of the staff are employed there because they have a project to support them at the moment. Many times if you ask you will find out the staff is not employed by them at all, but through an agency providing staff for the project.   Also, many of the large national and international companies in certain regions like South Florida are big as a whole, although the local offices are sometimes smaller, poorly supported by corporate and less profitable than a single location, local company.

How do you determine what firm is best for you? When considering joining a new company, don’t ask questions about the size of the company. Ask questions pertinent to what your career goals are.
  • If you have experience and work best as the Lead Project Manager, Superintendent, department head, ask questions about how they structure their projects, who is responsible for what and what does their company and/or organizational chart look like.
  • If stability is important for your emotional well-being, than additional questions you may ask are; What has been your volume of completed construction by year over the past three years? How many direct hire employees do you employ? Has that number increased or decreased to any significance over the past three years? If so, why?

You can have a company that will tell you they did $20 million completed construction over the past year, $16 million previously and $25 million the year before and that sounds really small to you because you came from a company doing $100 million.   In reality this company could be more profitable, offer more opportunity and better stability then a company that answers that same question $150 million, $100 million and $75 million.   Why? The first company uses open book cost plus including general conditions and construction management fees. They price those fees based on the level of service the client requests and at the end of the day they will net a minimum of $4 million on the $20 million completed construction. Company number two uses lump sum competitive bid and on $100 million completed construction they net 4 million and when they completed $150 million they net $5 million instead of 6. Why? They signed more work, but they took on more overhead to get that work, and the investment didn’t pay off.

When determining what company is best for you, in addition to learning about their business structure and staying power, ask other questions about the company that might appear to be good, but may not be.

Ask how long certain people have been with the organization, in what capacity etc. Longevity of people in your role or above you may not be a good thing, if regardless of performance, when a layoff needs to happen the leaders run a last one in, first out regardless policy.

The mega project positions can be exciting and a great experience to work with the size team it takes to complete them however many candidates we see that come off those projects may be titled Project Manager, yet they have been one of many Project Managers, reporting to a Senior Project Manager who reports to a Project Executive who reports to a VP of Operations, and their exposure to the turn-key project management process is limited. This will then limit them to traveling to stay on mega projects or accepting a role with one of those 90% of companies that will keep them local. With the latter, they will do projects up to $100 million and these companies will train them on the parts they do not know, but they will need to take an Assistant Project Manager title in trade to gain the knowledge required to earn a Project Management role and advance within the organization.

The real answer to is Bigger Company, Bigger Project better is “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and what really matters is taking time to first outline what is important to you, then directing your search to find a company that regardless of size can provide those opportunities.

We are “Industry Matchmakers”. If you would like help with charting your career path give us a call. We are always here to help.

Suzanne on behalf of the FLCC Team!

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