Big isn’t always best. Why you should think about working for a small company

Often when I speak to students about looking for a job or work experience, they will mention applying to the large well-known companies. I can see why this happens so often:  because you have heard of them you already know a bit about what they do and can easily find their website online.

However these large companies actually only make up a tiny proportion of organisations, which means that by only looking at their vacancies you are missing out on a huge range of other exciting opportunties.

Where the jobs are

99% of all private sector businesses in the UK are actually SMEs – Small to Medium Enterprise. To be classed as an SME an organisation must have fewer than 250 employees and a turnover of less than €50m. This could encompass anything from a local high street law firm to a successful technology start-up. The majority of graduates will go on to work for these organisations, in entry-level or graduate roles.

While the big names may be attractive, think carefully about which types of company might offer the best experience. In smaller organisations you may have the opportunity to take on responsibility earlier, work closely with senior staff and gain exposure to how the business functions as a whole. There may also be a more flexible managment structure and a greater access to promotion prospects.

Generally SMEs will not have a massive budget for recruitment advertising (it is actually very expensive to promote a job on some of the bigger vacancy boards). This means that SMEs do not always advertise their vacancies, so you will need to be proactive in your job hunting technique. Consider networking and speculative applications for example.

How can I find them?

QMUL Careers & Enterprise Centre are working increasingly closely with local startups (new businesses), so keep an eye on QRecruit and QMULJobonline.

Try looking at industry news and updates. For example, if you are intersted in working in digital marketing or in creating apps, read online about these topics where company names will be mentioned who you can then contact. It is also a great way to start a conversation with a business, if you can say that you are familiar with and impressed by their work and are able to give specific examples.

You could also explore local science parks, incubator spaces and East London’s Tech City / Sillicon Roundabout.

Try using online business directories such as:,,,, as well as LinkedIn’s company search.

How do I apply?

Applying to a company that has no job officially advertised, you would make what is called a ‘speculative application’. Essentially, you have to do all the same things as applying for an advertised job, but you won’t have a job description to help you out. So in your CV and cover letter you need to be showing-off your knowledge of the organisation, saying why you particularly want to work for them and demonstrating what skills you have that would be an asset to their business. We’ll be posting soon with more tips on writing a speculative application, but in the meantime, you can come in and have a chat with us about how to find and apply to SMEs.


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