While it may feel like the Holy Grail of graduation to have secured a trainee scheme with a Top 100 company, SMEs (small and medium enterprises – defined as companies that employ 250 people or less) make up a whopping 99% of UK private businesses, thus providing very real opportunities for graduates to start, and develop, their careers. It is easy to see, of course, the draw that many students have to the bigger and more illustrious companies; apart from typically higher starting salaries, who wouldn’t want the career clout that comes with having those names on your CV? But by focusing on these employers alone we risk overlooking the endless possibilities and benefits that come with starting your career in an SME. Consider some of the following advantages:
Without a lengthy initial training programme, SMEs can be very well suited to individuals who want to get stuck in from the get-go. The relatively flat structure of these organisations, along with smaller team sizes, means that you will be in a position to put forward your own ideas and concepts and help shape business decisions from an early stage. On a personal level, this means that you are more likely to see the fruits of your labour and achieve the career confidence and satisfaction that comes from this.
SMEs tend to provide less structured career paths which, for the right person, can be a wonderful thing. This puts you in the driving seat and should allow you to shape your career more easily in the way you want it to go, rather than the ‘expected route’ that the company has laid out as part of a longer term plan. Less hierarchy means that you will be given more direct access to major influencers in the organisation allowing you to network with the right people should you decide you want to develop your career in a certain direction.
A more relaxed working environment
Not everyone wants to be suited and booted nor feels comfortable in a workplace that is. This will obviously vary from company to company but chances are, the office environment will feel more relaxed and less bureaucratic. A number of recent research findings have shown that SMEs tend to foster better job satisfaction and more employee loyalty, plus they often drivers of innovation and creativity, making SMEs particularly ubiquitous in sectors like technology. With growing incidents of work place stress in the UK, SMEs are also seen to be more supportive of a healthy work-life balance amongst their staff.
With some top employers citing over 200 applications for each graduate role, there are obvious benefits to approaching small organisations who do not, perhaps, have the same level of commercial reach. While undergraduates may be wisening-up to the benefits of SME employers (driven in part, no doubt, by a flourishing start-up culture) competition for job offers is still much less fierce and comes without the lengthy and exhaustive recruitment processes that we associate with blue chip firms.
Undergraduates should, ultimately, make up their own minds about which type of employer best suits them. It is a very personal decision after all. But choosing to work for an SME should not be seen as settling for second best. For many students it will simply be their optimal choice. But it is worth pointing out that the search for these opportunities is not without its own challenges. SMEs may not have the budget to stretch to the more familiar graduate recruitment sites like TARGETjobs or Milkround and may prefer to seek staff through personal recommendations, so make sure you are networking well. Alternatively, the following sites may also be a useful first point to discover graduate opportunities within SMEs:
https://www.uksmallbusinessdirectory.co.uk/ (to search for potential employers in your area)
Hannah, Careers Consultant