Choosing an employer: MNCs vs. SMEs vs. Start-ups

Explore the attributes of these three types of companies to find the right cultural fit when job searching.
Carmen Teh
Writer, gradsingapore

To get the best start to your graduate career, you need to consider the kind of workplace where you will fit in. Think about it – no matter how attractive the offer may seem, if your work style, career goals and/or personality do not align with the culture of the company, it is unlikely that you will be satisfied with your job.

While every company has its own characteristics that you will only truly understand after saying “yes” to the job offer, it is possible to infer the work environment based on the organisation’s business structure. It is thus a good idea to spare some time reflecting on the types of employers out there.

Within a single career area, employers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and they can be loosely categorised into three groups: multinational corporations (MNCs), small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups. Each type has its distinct features that you should keep in mind when planning your job search.

Multinational corporations (MNCs)

MNCs are large corporations and typically have facilities or offices in several countries. They are known for being large in its operations and revenue.

Pros of working in MNCs

  • Prestige and reputation
    MNCs usually have strong brand recognition and many graduates tend to compete for coveted job opportunities in these reputable companies. MNCs often have a brand value associated with them and there is a kind of prestige to be given the opportunity to work for one.
  • Global opportunities
    Joining a multinational company gives you the opportunity to work around the world. Your employer may require you to go for a business visit or even relocate to another country where the organisation has a presence. This can give you an insight on diverse working cultures and the experience of working with people of different backgrounds and nationalities. 
  • Mastering your own trade
    You are more likely to get the chance to specialise in your area of work in a bigger company as job scopes tend to be quite fixed in comparison to those in smaller companies where employees are often expected to perform cross-functional tasks.

    If you are looking to develop your expertise in a specific area of work, such as the cyber security side of the FinTech industry, joining a bigger company with not only specialised job scopes but also resources such as training and upskilling opportunities, may be an attractive option for you.

Things to consider

  • Bureaucracy 
    Organisational structures and workflows, such as standard operating procedures (SOPs), can be quite rigid in large companies. There is less flexibility in work processes, and there may also be multiple levels of management, which can sometimes be frustrating to work with. For instance, you may have to wait for several rounds of approvals from different managers before settling a financial claim.
  • Competition to get the job
    Jobs in MNCs are almost always coveted, not just among graduates but also jobseekers with years of work experience under their belts. As such, the recruitment process can get quite competitive, so make sure you have a strong unique selling proposition that you can present to prospective employers for a successful job application.

Small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)

Put simply, SMEs are companies with a headcount of less than 200 employees or an annual sales turnover that falls below S$100 million. In spite of their size, SMEs employ two-thirds of Singapore’s workforce and contribute to about 50% of the nation’s GDP.  

Pros of working in SMEs

  • Exposure
    A lower headcount means employers from this category will generally expect you to wear multiple hats and take on cross-departmental tasks beyond your actual job scope. For instance, although you are hired officially as a writer, you may be asked to assist with other tasks such as content marketing. However, this means that you get a much wider exposure to different tasks and therefore the opportunity to cultivate different skills.
  • Career progression
    In a smaller company, your competency and achievements are quickly and easily recognised by your employer. For this reason, it is easier to rise through the ranks in a comparatively shorter period of time. Graduate employees in SMEs are also likely to receive early responsibilities at the start of their career. These are good opportunities to learn on the job and be exposed to more challenging tasks. 
  • Team spirit
    Graduates looking to join a smaller company can expect to be a part of a close-knit team. SMEs often have smaller teams, and given that employees often have to assist with inter-departmental tasks, members from different functions would have to collaborate with each other often – creating more opportunities for co-workers to get to know one another better.

Things to consider

  • Formal training
    SMEs do not always offer formal training or graduate schemes and you will be expected to learn on the job and take responsibility for your development. Graduates joining an SME should hence be prepared to be independent and proactive in order to progress in their career.
  • Work benefits
    Smaller businesses tend to have less to offer in terms of employee benefits, in comparison to large corporations. However, SMEs can sometimes offer competitive salaries to their employees, depending on the candidate’s skills and qualifications. Make sure to do your research or get an insider’s insight on whether or not the remuneration and benefits offered are reasonable for the role and industry you are applying for.


According to SPRING Singapore, start-ups are newly established businesses that are incorporated for less than five years. They are also known to offer products or services that are not provided elsewhere in the market.

Pros of working in start-ups

  • Innovation
    Start-ups need to grow fast in order to keep up with the bigger, (sometimes) more established businesses in the market. The challenge for employees to break new ground and innovate can be exciting for graduates who appreciate a dynamic workplace. If you are one of them, the start-up culture may be attractive to you.
  • Flexibility
    Employees in start-ups enjoy many perks of having a less rigid company structure, which include flexible working hours and a casual working atmosphere. However, this does not mean that you can slack. While you may be allowed to clock in late, your workdays may also entail long or odd hours as employees will likely have to be on the ball at all times.
  • Independence
    If you are working for a start-up, you will likely work without supervision. You will be entrusted with early responsibilities and the onus will be on you to take charge in steering your own progress. That said, you may not be formally trained, but you can expect to be guided by your manager or sometimes, even the big boss! 

Things to consider

  • Job security
    Start-ups are newly established businesses, and this means that they may not have been around long enough to know how well they would perform in the market. There is a risk in signing on to work with a start-up as it is possible for the company’s business to under-perform, which may affect your employment. However, some would argue that because start-ups are often comprised of a lean team, every employee is integral to their business – hence, more unlikely to be retrenched.
  • The workload
    Graduates joining start-ups can expect to work long hours and take on multiple responsibilities. This is because start-up companies must keep up with trends quickly in order to grow and remain relevant. Employees often work odd hours for this to happen, so be prepared!