Work for an SME

A person works at a laptop


Working for an SME can be extremely rewarding.

Working for Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs)

Small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) represent the fastest growing sector of the economy and are an important growth area for graduate recruitment. An SME is defined as employing fewer than 250 people. New and upcoming businesses tend to be SMEs and they cover almost all business sectors. The sectors traditionally taking advantage of graduate employment are the financial, manufacturing, media and IT sectors. Nevertheless, a good speculative letter and a spot of networking could open doors to other industries.

Working for an SME can be extremely rewarding as you are more likely to get exposure to all parts of the business and you will learn fast. You could find yourself in a senior role far more quickly than you would in a larger organisation.

Things to consider when working for an SME

Working for an SME can be a fantastic opportunity for skill development. As the organisation is smaller, you get the opportunity to have your ideas heard and are more likely to gain hands-on experience. Your input will also have a visible impact on the running and performance of the business.

  • There are less likely to be individual departments for every function. You will be expected to cope with a variety of tasks. This will give you a clearer understanding of the business as a whole.
  • SMEs are likely to be less hierarchical. There will be more contact with senior members, which can be fantastic for your career.
  • You will need to be prepared to take responsibility and use your initiative. If you prove yourself, there are often opportunities for career advancement in expanding companies.
  • Salaries may not be great to start with, but they can rise more rapidly than in companies with a more structured promotion policy.
  • As there will be fewer employees, there is a greater likelihood of getting to know everybody within that organisation, staff and clients alike, making valuable connections and growing your professional network.
  • SMEs may have some misconceptions about what a graduate can offer as an employee. Graduates may be perceived as unprepared for the "real world", lacking business sense and experience. On the other hand, graduates can also be recognised as intelligent and quick learners.

What skills are sought by SMEs

It is up to you to find out what skills and knowledge the employer may be looking for and to demonstrate where you can contribute towards their business. You cannot assume that an employer will be familiar with the nature of higher education - you may have to explain your academic studies and sell the advantages of employing a graduate.

SMEs seek the same skills as most employers, but in a smaller company they will be particularly important as you will need to use them constantly. You should think of evidence to prove each of these skill areas for your CV or application form:

  • Self-motivation/proactivity
  • Willingness to learn
  • Problem solving ability
  • Flexibility
  • Initiative
  • Good communication skills
  • Teamwork
  • Organisation (self, work and time)

How to approach an SME

Whilst larger organisations rely on their reputation and a presence at graduate recruitment fairs, it is unlikely that smaller enterprises will rely on either.

They will generally choose to advertise their vacancies through:

  • Local press
  • University jobs portals and local graduate vacancy listings
  • Job centres
  • Word of mouth

Speculative applications - submitting an excellent CV and covering letter when the company aren't necessarily advertising a position - may fill a significant number of vacancies if the timing is right.

A speculative letter and CV alone may not be enough, no matter how well presented they are, so always follow up a speculative letter or telephone call with a meeting. It's even better if someone in your network can make an introduction.

Some SMEs are rather unorthodox in their approach to recruitment - if they meet you, like you and see that you are keen, they may be tempted to offer you a position.