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Is Bigger Always Better When Working for a Clinical Research Organization?

If you’re planning to work in a clinical research organization and are wondering whether you will be better off working in a large CRO company, here are some important differences between the two which will help you decide which one you should choose.

Pay Structure

One of the first considerations most new entrants to the industry have is about their pay scale. Understandably, large CRO companies are able to pay more because they are able to reinvest surplus funds back into the business.

Smaller CRO companies pay a lot less because their focus is on growing the business. This is a phase in which they face challenges in minimising costs without making compromises on the quality of testing.


This is an area where small CRO companies have an advantage.

Working as a clinical trial assistant in a large CRO company does not give you much scope beyond what your job description requires.

This may include recording minutes when attending meetings, closing out queries or collecting documents from sites. They will have other people performing data management, monitoring and other tasks which you may have the skills for.

However, you can easily become a cog in that system and end up doing the same job for many years.

In a small CRO company, employees tend to wear multiple hats and don’t have as many people so even though they may have brought you in for this one position they may need you for other tasks which aren’t in your job description.

Wearing multiple hats gives you an opportunity to step up and prove that you are able to perform tasks beyond what you have been hired to do.

This experience can be invaluable and also give you the confidence to apply for other roles internally or outside the organization when the opportunity arises.

So while small CRO companies may not pay as much as larger companies the experience you get will allow you to grow faster by applying for senior-level positions in your field when the opportunity arises.

Benefits and Perks

It should come as no surprise that large CRO companies are able to just offer more employee benefits because they have more people working for them making them more money.

From reduced-price meals, free snacks, performance bonuses, gym memberships, large CRO companies are able to offer benefits which very few smaller companies are able to match.

Employees who get accustomed to such benefits and perks are reluctant to move to other companies, for the fear they will miss out on what they now consider to be essentials.


Unlike small CRO companies, where you are an integral part of a team, navigating the bureaucracy in a large CRO company is difficult and you could be treated as just another number in a pool of employees.

To present your ideas you need to go multiple levels above your level of seniority and

Be well connected to people who can grant you an audience with senior management.

In smaller CRO companies, there are many opportunities to rub shoulders with senior executives and the CEO. Many of the senior executives may be working on the same level or be just down the hall from you. You can easily sneak into their office to present your views or concerns about any aspects which affect your job or impact the company.

In large companies, senior managers may be hidden away on the 15th floor of the building so you rarely get see them or maybe you do see them often but have no clue about what work they do.

There may also be influencers working on the same floor as you, but because they travel frequently or are out of the office most of the time, you will barely get a chance to build connections with them.

Career Opportunities

For employees working in large CRO companies, it can be quite frustrating to have people standing in the path of their career progression. Despite knowing and following the rules you may struggle to get picked for roles you are well-qualified for.

Also when jobs are advertised internally, the competition is fierce with several employees submitting applications for a limited number of positions.

In a small CRO company, you can get a lot more hands-on experience and be able to prove your capabilities because there will be people watching your daily performance.

You will be able to make a better case for your progression when someone in a position you are aspiring towards leaves if you have assisted the departing employee at some stage when working in the job.

With fewer candidates applying internally, you can apply for a variety of roles which interest you and there’s a greater likelihood of landing an internal role which meets with your career aspirations.

While some people enjoy the benefits of a smaller family-type environment, when it comes to money, perks and benefits, a larger clinical research organization has the advantage because they got more money coming in. They have more projects through the relationships built with large pharmaceutical industries.

On the other hand, a smaller CRO can give you varied experience even if you are new to the industry, so you can potentially find it easier to get a job at a bigger CRO in the future.

Working in a larger CRO is probably better when you have ample experience because you don’t need a lot of people training you and have reached a level of seniority where there’s not much to aspire to.