There are a wide range of companies that hire cosmetic chemists, including finished goods manufacturers, contract manufacturers, testing houses, raw material suppliers, and more. These companies range in size from very large corporations with sales over $10 billion a year to very small corporations that generate less than $10 million a year. The way chemists are treated at these companies differs. So you might be curious which type of company would be better for you. Here’s a review of what you can expect when working for a large corporation versus a smaller company.
In a large company, research and development is highly specialized. As a cosmetic chemist, you may work on a single product line of a big brand and focus on something like formulation, testing, or product evaluation. There may also be other groups, each handling some aspect of the formula, so your responsibility for the final product is limited. Small companies don’t have the same resources, so the cosmetic chemists are responsible for everything from the start of product development through all the testing and production. Also, you frequently have to work on multiple formulation types, including emulsions, solutions, gels, powders, and more.
Advice: If you want the maximum amount of responsibility for the finished product and want to be required to do lots of things, a small company is the place to work. If you prefer focusing on fewer things and not getting as much credit (or blame) for the final product, a large company is the way to go.
Large companies don’t mind spending money on equipment for their chemists. You’ll usually have your own workspace, mixers, lab equipment, and computer. You’ll have access to a corporate library with all the important cosmetic science books and even paid online resources. You’ll also have access to analytical equipment that can be useful when trying to develop new products. Overall, at a large company you’ll have cool stuff!
Small companies are much more limited. You may have to share mixers, balances, and most lab equipment. You probably won’t have access to much more than a GC, IR or mass spectrometer. As far as research goes, the Internet and the public library might be your only option. You might not even have your own phone line. However, this does force you to be more creative with the things that you have.
Advice: More money means better equipment and more resources. If working with the latest equipment and not having to share with coworkers is important to you, a large company will suit you better. If you like accomplishing things despite not having all the best equipment, you’ll thrive at a small company.
Large companies almost always have better compensation packages. They have HR departments who analyze different corporations around the world to determine the exact salary range they should be paying you. Typically, you’ll start on a lower pay scale and get modest raises over time. When you get a promotion, you get bumped up to the next salary range.
Small companies try to keep costs low, so they tend to pay the minimum they can get away with. However, they are much more flexible than a corporation and sometimes you can actually earn more than you might have gotten from a big corporation, especially if the owner likes you or if the company had a particularly good year.
Advice: If compensation is most important to you, on average you’ll do better at a large company. However, if you find a Small Company with a generous owner or one who wants the best talent, you can sometimes make more there.
Large companies hire more people, so you will potentially have access to a wider range of experience and abilities. For a cosmetic chemist just starting out, this can be a great opportunity to learn. That is, if you can get anyone to pay attention to you. Office politics often keep people with the most experience too busy to mentor younger chemists. At a smaller company, there are less people but you often get paired up with someone who has been in the industry for a long time and has a ton of experience. It’s much easier to learn, as you’ll work more directly with this person.
As in any situation, when there are more people, there are more chances for conflict. The office politics in a large company can be frustrating and get in the way of learning and doing good science. Small companies are not immune to office politics, but it’s usually easier to work around.
Advice: If you like interacting with a lot of people, you may thrive in the environment of a large corporation. But if you are more introverted and prefer to work more independently, a small company is the way to go.
One of the best things about being a cosmetic chemist is the ability to create your own formulas and see your own ideas come to fruition. At a large company, it will take many years and a lot of schmoozing to get one of your ideas developed into a product. These companies are generally not set up to allow chemists the freedom to create. You’re limited to the types of ingredients you can use, the types of products you can make, the packaging you can use, and more. Large companies work because they can make a lot of product in an efficient way. This necessarily limits your choice.
Small companies are less limited. When you’re responsible for the formulation, scale-up, performance testing, stability testing, claims substantiation and everything else that goes into a product, you are a key influencer in what the end product looks like. When you have a small marketing department, they are more reliant on you to come up with clever new product ideas.
Advice: If being creative is most important to you, working at a small company is probably better.
Impact on the Company
Finally, we look at the impact you can have on a company. At a large company, your impact on the overall performance of the company is limited, especially if you’re just starting out. It’s easy to get lost and not stand out among your peers both in R&D and in other departments like marketing and sales. This isolation can make you feel less important, and the truth is, in a large company, no one person is terribly important. Everyone can be easily replaced. You can’t really start having a significant impact until you move out of the lab and into management. In a small company, you are definitely replaceable, but it’s just harder. The skills and ability of one person can directly affect the bottom line of a company.
Advice: If you want to have the biggest impact on a company while working in the lab, a small company is the way to go. If you prefer to get out of the lab and into management then working at a large company will probably be better.
So there you have it, the pros and cons of working for a large or small company. Of course, for many people neither option is satisfactory. If you want to maximize creative control, flexibility, and financial potential, nothing can beat starting your own successful company. That just takes a bit more work and a different skill set.
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