Work for an SME
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:
- Willingness to learn
- Problem solving ability
- Good communication skills
- 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.
Find out more
SME opportunities can take time and effort on your part to discover. This is where researching companies will help. The links and resources below are a good starting point to research SMEs.
- The Department for Business Energy & Industrial Strategy supports sustained growth and higher skills across the economy. It has resources aimed at helping new businesses get up and running and contains useful information about SMEs and the issues they face.
- The British Chambers of Commerce represents businesses of all sizes in the UK. Their regional chambers are a good place to start your research into local SMEs.
- The Library offers access to a variety of electronic sources of company and market information that can be useful for finding SMEs. Please note: you have to be a current student at the University of Salford to access this information. Graduates should consider visiting their local business library to see which databases are available for access.
- The United Kingdom Science Park Association represents the 100+ Science Parks that exist in the U.K. Science Parks are a business support initiative that has formal and operational links with centres of knowledge creation such as universities, higher education institutes and research organisations.
- Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) offer graduates with a good degree the chance to work for a successful organisation, managing and delivering a project which is core to the development of the organisation's strategy. KTP offers the chance to apply your degree, start a real job, and gain a professional qualification. See the KTP website for more information.
- STEP is a UK-wide programme offering students temporary project-based work within SMEs. Students must be in their penultimate year to be eligible for this scheme.
- Visit the Commercial Library in Manchester. This is an excellent source for local business directories and the library keeps up-to-date links of key local business organisations.