APS – work in a small agency or a big one ?

eyeLikeCarrots 6 April 2012 17

Hi Rioters!

So I work in a large agency, and have done for the 4 years of my time here in Canberra.

I recently stunned myself by being found the least-worst candidate for a position in a small agency. The position comes with a significant pay rise but I’d have to leave a place where is honestly brilliant to work at.

I would appreciate your thoughts/inputs/opinions etc on your experience working in a large agency vs a small agency?


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17 Responses to APS – work in a small agency or a big one ?
BimboGeek BimboGeek 11:35 am 09 Apr 12

I’m very extroverted and thrive in small business where I know and trust my team. Or know who not to trust or how far to trust them…

I am also driven by results so I need to see the outcomes of my work.

I would find a big government office really stifling. I did some contract work in one once and our team made some few good working relationships but generally felt that since we were invisible there was little social currency in whether we worked hard or dogged it, since the hundreds of clients only saw us rarely and had no knowledge of the budget (equipment) constraints that caused the most difficulty.

In a small team we might fight but as long as we see each other turning out good work, I’m happier.

So there are different jobs for different people and you should choose one that suits you.

JessP JessP 11:34 am 09 Apr 12

I am thinking this job must have appealed enough to you to have you apply and go through the process of selection in the first place….so just do it. You have an opportunity, so take it and enjoy. And if you don’t like it in the end, move back to a big agency.

Rollersk8r Rollersk8r 8:59 am 09 Apr 12

I’m with a small agency and the main advantages are the pay, the ability to form good networks and know the whole organisation, and a fast pace when it comes to changing priorities. The disadvantages, in my opinion, are that morale can chug along at a very low level when you’re constantly being told to keep doing the same amount of work, and thinking of new ideas, with less resources (perhaps that’s everywhere?) – and the social side of work is non-existant.

shauno shauno 6:05 pm 08 Apr 12

I’ve found living on the dangerous side has been ok in the oil and gas business having jumped ship from big US oil companies to smaller ones to get to a higher position in management. It does come with risks throwing yourself into the unknown but its the only way to make it big really. You have to have confidence in your self and just do it.

I-filed I-filed 12:43 pm 07 Apr 12

STRONGLY recommend that you start off with a temporary transfer into the other agency, if you love the team you’re with. I’ve done that twice – came scuttling back to my then home agency after 9 months re the first transfer, and turned the second transfer permanent after I’d established for sure which agency I preferred. And also strongly recommend that you keep the level & pay as a secondary consideration – if your team like you, you’ll be promoted. (That actually begs the question: the team you are currently with at the lower level – if they love you and they are a large agency, shouldn’t they have been able to promote you by now?)

mr_spoon mr_spoon 8:24 am 07 Apr 12

Agencies are like vehicles. Larger agencies are buses or trains. You have room to spread your elbows and lots of people to talk to, but you tend not to be able to see through the windscreen. There may even be a dining car.

Smaller agencies are bikes. You have a lot more control over the vehicle’s movements, but the accessories list is a lot smaller and it’s much less comfortable in winter.

Megstar, your small agency wasn’t in the Health portfolio, was it?

Harriet Vane Harriet Vane 8:35 pm 06 Apr 12

If you haven’t already, have a good read of their annual reports and look at things like staff turnover figures. Also doesn’t hurt to have a read of any recent Senate Estimates appearances, ANAO reports or media to see if there’s any information there. The State of the Service report breaks down many of its stats by agency size, so that might be another good read for you.

dundle dundle 6:44 pm 06 Apr 12

I think it depends on the individual place rather than “large” or “small”. One of my first real jobs was in a small agency a couple of years ago and it was great. Everyone was friendly, I got pretty good training, things happened fast as IT or whoever could just pop right over, you could walk around to see people and get to know them fast. It had a good culture. My team was super hard working, always more than 9 to 5 then they had to get rid of their flex, I was the most junior member so they were really relaxed and flexible about what I did and when. But because it was so small I had real work to do even as a junior. Good place. Haven’t worked in enough places to be able to give a lot of comparisons but I was very impressed with that one place. I see other people here have different experiences so I think it really is individual agency specific rather than size-related. I have heard awful stories from friends at some of the bigger ones but a lot of them are so big the problem is often just their specific team.

sepi sepi 4:17 pm 06 Apr 12

I’d go the small agency for sure.

You will be able to think of ideas, then do them, without having to get 5 levels of approvals for the most minor thing. But it is lovely to know every single person at your work, and to feel like you are actually achieving things, not just a cog is a very slow moving machine.

The downsides are that HR and IT may consist of a single person, and if they are slow, dim or take a dislike to you then your issues may never get sorted out. Also you may find funding is super tight and they are operating on ancient computers and rationing the printer paper, travel and training are non-existent etc. And promotions can be hard to come by, if people like working there they may never leave. You may find you have to work harder than you are used to, and that taking a sick day is difficult, if you are soley responsible for an essential function.

But I’d do it for sure – surely you can always go back to your mega-dept if you try it and don’t like it so much.

schmeah schmeah 1:07 pm 06 Apr 12

If you’ve actually been successful in applying as an external applicant to a department in the current environment of VRs and a 4% efficiency dividend, than quite frankly I’m jealous.

steveu steveu 11:59 am 06 Apr 12

I would be thinking along the lines as to what opportunities to enhance your skills will the new job bring you? Will this help you build up your core competences that will help you move to a job (or classification) that you really want?

Congrats btw 🙂

BerraBoy68 BerraBoy68 11:42 am 06 Apr 12

While I’m now working in one of the biggest APS Departments, I’ve also worked in one of the smallest (about 100 employees). Personally, I’d never go back to a small APS employer – it’s a microcosm of everything good and bad that goes on in the biggest APS Dep’t, but due to it’s limited size, org structure etc. every issue was magnified out of proportion due to everybody knowing about it and having an opinion. On the positive side, my experience is that the smaller agencies do tend to have a better ‘social’ environment, especially when the place is going through a ‘happy’ cycle.

BelcoMan BelcoMan 11:30 am 06 Apr 12

I think it is a common acknowledgement that, in a large department, you can hide what you aren’t doing.

So whatever floats your boat really

Megstar Megstar 10:13 am 06 Apr 12

About 4 years ago I had the same opportunity. I went from a very large dept to a very small agency and got a very nice payrise in the process. I struggled to adapt to the small agency. Everyone knew everyone else’s business. Even the most basic of policy and procedure felt ineffective compared to the large agency. On top of that the bullying that I witnessed and was subjected to stunned me. People got away with things that they never would in a larger agency. It was truly the worst mistake I have made in my career. And I wasn’t the only person to feel like this. The staff turnover was huge. I lasted 3 years there but some people left within a month of starting. I have since returned to a large dept and I could not be happier. I suggest talking to people about the agency you are considering going to and finding out more about it before you make a decision. Looking back, the big payrise just was not worth what I went through and I happily took a pay cut just to get out of there.

what_the what_the 10:03 am 06 Apr 12

I’d say stay as a majority of the public servant I came by in my ten years were either useless or just burnt out from the uselessness they were surrunded by. If you’re working with good people, trust me, they’re rare in the ps.

toriness toriness 9:55 am 06 Apr 12

it’s not about whether it’s big or small, it’s about the quality of the work you will be doing and the people you work with and for. there was, i assume, a good reason you looked at and applied for outside of the department/agency you’re at – remind yourself of that reason.

Brianna Brianna 9:53 am 06 Apr 12

Take money out of the equation if possibly. If you don’t desperately need the pay rise, pick the job where you are happy.

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