Pros and Cons of Working for a Public Company

Wall Street sign with American flags in the backgroundAs you explore career opportunities, you’ll come across a variety of companies. Some will be big, some will be small. You’ll even come across different types of office structures, including open-office, cubicle or even remote work. 

Finally, you’ll probably see opportunities with public companies and opportunities with private companies. Is that a factor you should consider? What’s the difference, anyway?

Founded in 1955 by Harold Anderson, Anderson Trucking Service (ATS) is still owned by the Anderson family — making us a private company. While we certainly enjoy the perks that come with being a family-owned private company, it’s not for everyone. Others may prefer working for a public company.

Keep reading to learn more about what a public company is, along with some pros and cons of working for one. That way, you can leave with a better understanding of whether or not you’d want to work for a public company.

What is a Public Company?

A public company sells a portion — or all — of its shares on the stock exchange. This also makes them subject to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations and makes their earnings more visible to the public. Any member of the public can buy and sell shares of a public company at any time.

What are the Benefits of Working for a Public Company?

As of writing, there are 4,266 companies listed on the stock exchange, so chances are pretty high that you’ll come across a public company in your search for a career. While this isn’t always the case — since public companies can vary in size, finances and more — there are some common benefits that come with working for a public company:

  • Public companies usually offer options to buy stock
  • Public companies get regular financial investment from the company
  • Public companies offer a large pool of career opportunities to choose from
  • Public companies offer structured growth opportunities

Public Companies Usually Offer Options to Buy Stock

Technically, as we mentioned earlier, you can buy stock in a public company any time you want, whether or not you work there. However, some public companies offer windows where employees can buy stock at a discounted price.

If you’re financially able, this can be a great investment opportunity for you — especially if you work for a well-established company that has a consistent growth curve. It can be a great part of your retirement portfolio, along with other retirement options like a 401k.

While it comes with significant risk, you could have an even more impactful investment if you work for a publicly traded startup company. For example, many technology startups go public to increase their capital as a way to provide more growth opportunities. If that goes well and you bought into the company early, you could see massive returns on your investment. 

Again, it is quite risky. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 20 percent of startups failed in the first year, 50 percent failed in five years and 65 percent failed within 10 years. So if you’re in that group, you could also lose everything you invested.

Public Companies Get Regular Financial Investments From the Company

This benefit could vary depending on how well your company’s stock is doing. Every company sees highs and lows on their stocks in the short term, but if you “zoom out” over 3-5 years, you can tell which companies can be counted on to grow.

The companies that do see consistent growth are generally investing more in their infrastructure, including facilities and equipment. Most of the time, that means a better experience for employees who get access to the latest and greatest when it comes to their careers.

Public Companies Offer a Large Pool of Career Opportunities to Choose From

Again, this benefit is dependent on the size of the company you work for. Taking into account that most of the public companies you’ll be seeking careers with are larger, you’ll likely have a variety of opportunities to explore.

The Targets, Best Buys, General Millses and 3Ms of the world (some of our fellow Minnesota companies) have numerous openings for positions you might have heard of — and dozens you haven’t. The choices are endless.

That means your chances of finding a career that aligns with your background are much higher than you might find with a smaller, private company. 

This “benefit” might be flawed a bit because there are many large private companies out there too. For example, the largest private company in the U.S. is Cargill (also from Minnesota, by the way), which boasts $165 billion in annual revenue. That’s more than public companies like Wells Fargo, Verizon, Comcast and UPS. Publix, Meijer and Love’s Travel Stops are also some well-known private companies, to name a few.

Man walking up stars representing career growth

Public Companies Offer Structured Growth Opportunities

Once again using larger public companies as our primary example, with more positions come more opportunities for growth. Managers can only have so many direct reports before it’s time to implement another level of leadership.

That means — if you prove yourself — you’ll have more opportunities to move into leadership positions as they become available. Oftentimes, faster than possible at a private company. Hopefully, they’re available due to growth throughout the company and not people leaving…

Related: Why Do I Always See This Position Posted?

What are the Disadvantages of Working for a Public Company?

While working for a public company will, generally, provide access to more resources due to the size of the company, working for a public company isn’t always a good thing. Some employees would consider the following to be a “con” of working for a public organization:

  • Working for a company that answers to shareholders
  • Adding new positions can be difficult at public companies
  • Employees at public companies usually have multiple people to report to

Working for a Company That Answers to Shareholders

As a public company, shareholders’ opinions matter. A key aspect of the CEO’s job is to ensure shareholders are happy so the company continues to get the funding they need to succeed. While this isn’t always the case, many shareholders’ primary concerns are how they can get the best return on their investment possible.

Woman packing box with belongings after getting laid off

That might mean massive layoffs like we’ve seen across the tech industry in order to keep revenue numbers up so stock prices don’t fall. Or maybe that educational opportunity you saw is too expensive and not in the budget. A private company might be able to shift things around quickly to make up for it if the value is there. A public company might have to get approval from multiple layers of leadership to make those adjustments — and still might not get the necessary approval to do so.

The “number-focused” mentality is often used at public companies, which doesn’t always equate to a great employee — or customer — experience.

Adding Positions Can Be Difficult at Public Companies

As mentioned earlier, public companies — particularly larger ones — usually have more positions available. That said, adding new positions can be difficult.

Let’s say you’ve been excelling at your job and you’re ready to move up in your career. But your manager and your manager’s manager are content where they’re at, so there’s no natural place for you to go. You’re stuck unless you pick a different department — or a different company completely — which isn’t what you want.

Unfortunately, the odds that your manager can just ask their boss to create a position for you are slim. That would require approval from too many people, so it likely just won’t happen. Positions are usually well-established and difficult to change.

Employees at Public Companies Usually Have Multiple People to Report to

Having multiple levels of management can be great for you if you’re looking to grow in your career. After all, it just presents more opportunities for you.

On the other hand, that just means you have that many more people to get approval from if you’re working on something that requires it. Can your manager give you the go-ahead or do they have to ask their boss? Or their boss’ boss? Depending on how big the company is, it might even go beyond that…

Working for a Public Company: Pros and Cons

Working for a public company can be great for many reasons, including options to buy stock, getting regular financial investment from the company, access to a large pool of career opportunities to choose from and structured growth opportunities.

It also comes with some downfalls, which can include working for a company that answers to shareholders, having a harder time adding new positions and having multiple people to report to.

Maybe you like the structure that comes with well-established positions and enjoy the accountability that reporting to multiple people brings. Then, those cons aren’t really cons.

Or maybe you don’t care about the ability to buy stock or have no intentions of getting into leadership positions. In that case, the pros aren’t really pros, are they?

That’s why it’s important for you to take these pros and cons into account and make your own decisions when it comes time to apply to a public or private company

Is a Private Company Right for You?

If, after reading this, you’re not sold on working for a public company, it’s time to learn more about what working for a private company is like. Hey, that’s us! ATS offers numerous positions across a variety of specialty areas — including some you may have never considered.

Learn more about ATS by visiting our corporate careers page or see what positions are currently available. If you have questions you want to discuss with one of our talent acquisition specialists, we’d love to chat!

Dan Ascher

Written by Dan Ascher

Dan joined ATS' talent acquisition team as a talent acquisition specialist in early 2016. Dan is passionate about connecting people with the jobs that suit them best, a quality that made him highly effective in this role. In April 2022, Dan became ATS' lead talent acquisition specialist where he continues to help job seekers find their spot within ATS.

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