When Choosing Employers, Private Vs. Public Counts

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Finding a professional environment that best suits your work style and personality may have a lot to do with whether the company is private or publicly traded.

Workers who like clear job expectations and a well-defined path to corporate success may prefer a publicly traded company; those who enjoy a more family-oriented work environment without the pressure of meeting investors' expectations choose private companies.

"There is a degree of insulation there that I'm sure a lot of people who work for private companies feel good about," said John Endean, president of the American Business Conference, a Washington-based trade group for midsize public and private companies, in an interview with MarketWatch. "You don't have the immediate pressures of the capital markets determining what the company should look like, whether it should downsize.”

Six of the top 10 companies on Fortune's 100 Best Places to Work list are private. Employees said in surveys that they enjoy working for employers who provide training, help with college tuition and give them a sense of autonomy.

"Privately owned companies, especially family businesses, tend toward a family environment for their employees, a sense of commitment to their employees and a sense that long-term tenure is a sign of success," said Paul Clifford, a senior consultant for the Hay Group, a global organizational consulting firm in Philadelphia.

Kevin Knaul, executive vice president at Hudson, a global staffing and outsourcing firm, told MarketWatch that he left a private company for the structure of a public one. He likes that the pay and benefits packages are clearly spelled out.

"The benefits plan is much more structured at the publicly traded company. You know specifically what compensation is going to look like, how benefits are rolled out and specifically what those benefits are going to be," Knaul said. "At the privately held company, things were somewhat ambiguous.”

The ambiguity can extend to nepotism, which is prohibited at public companies. The "family atmosphere" at a private company isn't always a good thing. "If you happen to be the senior [information technology] executive in a closely held company and one of the children in the family graduates from college with an IT degree and is brought in as an understudy, you might want to dust off your résumé," said Ed Pospesil, vice president at Bruner Consulting Associates and chairman of an online job forum, the Technology Executives Networking Group.

He added, however, "There is no corporate nirvana. There is no company without warts. Everybody has to determine which set of warts they can accept. It comes down to 'do I want to do the work that has to be done here with this group of people?' "

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