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If you are a graduate and reading this, then you may not have found a graduate role yet. Maybe you tried but didn’t make it onto one of the big graduate schemes, or know people who did and are now wondering what you can do. But don’t be disheartened. Although the top graduate employers have some great opportunities, they are not necessarily the best ones for you. There are many excellent opportunities with smaller businesses.

As you may have guessed, I am a huge believer in the benefits of working for an SME – it’s why I choose to recruit for them. The usual definition of an SME is any business with fewer than 250 employees, though many of the businesses I work with are a bit bigger than this. Others have less than 10 employees. Chances are you won’t have heard of many of them before: they don’t generally have graduate schemes, nor are they listed in the books that are prominent in university careers departments showing the ‘top graduate employers’.

But there are around 6 million different SMEs in the UK, making up 99% of all businesses – and accounting for around 60% of all private sector jobs.

So, clearly SMEs are a vital part of the UK economy. But as an undergraduate or recent graduate, why should you work for an SME? There are many reasons, including:

  • A flatter structure, and the most senior people in the business know you.
  • Working on, and sometimes taking charge of, a range of projects.
  • A more varied role, where you can add to your skills and duties as you progress. Often creating your own job description.
  • Learning on the job, and getting stuck in from your first day.
  • You will be one of only a few graduates, maybe the only one in a year or more.
  • You can generally contribute more in businesses with less employees.
  • With less red tape and a smaller structure, SMEs can often innovate more quickly and adapt to changes in market conditions.
  • More opportunities in different areas, rather than just the big cities.
  • Research has shown that job satisfaction is often higher within SMEs.
  • The application and interview process is generally more straightforward. Some of the assessment methods used by a lot of the bigger employers that can be a disadvantage for some applicants.

Many SMEs do regularly take on graduates; so although its maybe not a formal scheme, they have the infrastructure in place to support you. Your appointment will be a big thing for them, as there are less employees, and it is important that they get the right person (just as it is important for you to find the right employer).

You will often be managed by people who started as graduates themselves. I know of many graduates who have risen to department-head or director level with smaller businesses (I got a lot of them their first job after leaving university) so there can be opportunities for those who are looking to advance in the longer-term.

If there is a downside, it’s perhaps that it’s not as easy to plan ahead. While many SMEs do have set periods when they take on graduates, others generally recruit as and when they need someone, and this could be at any time of the year; perhaps due to a new project or someone being promoted. The positive aspect of this is that there are opportunities throughout the year, and it’s important to keep a look out for them. Many also offer summer internship or sandwich placement opportunities for undergraduates.

Interested in hearing more? Please contact me at matthew@sme-graduates.co.uk