Now that graduation is over, many of you are no doubt thinking of your next steps into the workplace. While the structured graduate schemes of the big well-known companies can be a great option, you should also consider the opportunities available at small and medium-sized organisations, known as SMEs. According to Prospects, more than a third of students and graduates are looking to start work in SMEs, and while many won’t run graduate schemes, they will have graduate positions available.
What can an SME offer?
- Although SMEs by definition employ fewer than 250 staff members, they make up a massive 99.9% of all enterprises in the UK- making them a great place to find graduate opportunities.
- Their selection processes tend to focus less on grades and more on the skills and work experience of their candidates.
- Their selection processes are often simpler and less time consuming than larger corporations and vacancies become available throughout the year, compared to the set dates of recruitment schemes.
- You are more likely to be a part of a wide range of projects- making your job more flexible as well as giving you an opportunity to build different skills.
- Opportunities for you to take on more responsibility and advance can often become available earlier on.
- In a smaller team, you will have more direct personal contact with senior management.
After studying at QMUL, it might seem like the natural option to look for work in the capital after graduation. The number of possible businesses to apply to as well as the vast and diverse job options available in London is almost too big to comprehend. Many companies have their head offices here and it is also a big centre for industries such as finance, politics and media/arts to name a few.
Typically the salaries are higher too, which is often a big incentive for graduates looking to pay off their student loans as quickly as possible. But there is also a lot of competition, not just from other graduates in London, but also graduates from the rest of the UK and even worldwide.
However, by only looking at London based jobs, you could be seriously narrowing your options and missing out on some excellent opportunities. Tech Nation’s ‘Powering the Digital Economy’ report from 2015 suggests that almost 75% of UK digital companies are based outside of London, whilst this recent article from CV Library which highlights the top 10 locations for salary growth (July 2017) shows that London is some way behind other towns and cities across the UK.
With London in 7th place, with a salary increase of 1.5% since 2016, Sheffield is booming with an average rise of 11.3%, whilst the cost of living is likely to be far cheaper outside the capital.
For more information about regional vacancies across the UK, see this guide from Target Jobs.
A recent study from the AGR (Association of Graduate Recruiters) suggests that almost 50% of employers think that graduates don’t have the skills expected of them at the point of hiring. On average they reported that a quarter of their graduate intake are lacking essential soft skills.
But what exactly are soft skills?
They could be defined as ‘people skills’ or ‘interpersonal skills’, and essentially they cover your personal qualities, whereas hard skills are more about your ability to perform a task or activity. Soft skills could include things like teamwork, time management and verbal communication amongst others.
Depending on which course you’re studying, there might be plenty of opportunities to get involved in group projects, presentations and working to tight deadlines, but employers like to see that you’ve gained and developed skills from a range of activities (which could include part-time work, volunteering or joining an on-campus society).
Soft skills are transferable, i.e. they can be used in many different working environments, and will give you some excellent examples to use in an application or interview.
In this helpful article from the Independent, they list 7 key soft skills as essential for every graduate job-hunter. Remember, you’ll often see these skills listed in a person specification when applying to a role, so you could be asked to demonstrate them at an interview. By developing these skills across your studies, work experience, volunteering and getting involved in clubs and societies, you’ll have plenty of great examples to choose from.
We offer 1-2-1 appointments with a Careers Consultant where we can give you feedback on your CV, cover letter or application, to make sure you’re really selling your skills! Call 020 7882 8533 to book.
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.
My name is Shahid Dharamsi, and I graduated from Queen Mary in 2015 with a Masters in Pharmaceutical Chemistry. As a ‘man of science’, it would only seem logical to utilise such a degree by working in a research department for a pharmaceutical company, or further the educational pursuit by applying for a PhD position with an acclaimed professor. Perhaps stretching, but not exceeding, the limits of the logical approach, one may try their hand at teaching science at various levels, working in schools and colleges across the country.
My story is a little different. As I sit here, on the 19th floor of a skyscraper in Canary Wharf, in between audit meetings and performance reviews, I’m able to conclude that it has been a rather unconventional period since my final exam (Colloidal Chemistry)! I work as an auditor on a three year graduate programme for one of the biggest accounting firms in the world, EY, and am 12 exams out of 15 on my way to becoming a Chartered Accountant.
The journey began when I embarked upon an internship, organised by Careers & Enterprise, working as a PR intern for a medical technology start-up called Geneix. I immersed myself within the business for my three month placement, learning new skills each day to include journalism, project management, and market research. Curiously, I felt very much at home whilst operating in an environment that was very much alien to me at the time. I enjoyed the feeling of the unknown, and the ability to be an effective part of a vibrant team. Whilst there was no aromatic resonance, or Schrodinger’s equation to solve, I felt the softer skills developed from my degree were utilised to great effect.
Emmeline Wilcox, 2016 History graduate
In my first week of university I remember sitting in the History department’s freshers welcome lecture. The department had asked those who had just graduated what advice they would give to the incoming freshers. One piece of advice cropped up over and over again: take full advantage of what the university has to offer. I am ashamed to say that I did not do this – especially when it came to the careers service. I did get involved with the Students’ Union and I did have a part-time job throughout my degree, however I rarely even thought about my career. It was all too easy to become wrapped up in my degree and not to think about my future.
Following the end of my third year exams, I was offered a temporary position in the careers department as an admin assistant for the QConsult programme. QConsult was based in the Careers & Enterprise Centre which opened my eyes to how outstanding our careers service is. The staff are incredibly friendly and they really are on your side, working tirelessly to make sure that Queen Mary students are given the best advice and opportunities. One of the things that struck me most after working in careers office is just how much everyone loves their jobs. Because of this, they all strive to make sure that each student they encounter is given the best experience.
The QConsult programme in particular is a very unique and exciting opportunity and I would thoroughly recommend all students to apply. One of the best things about this programme is that students are recruited on ability, rather than experience. This means that the programme provides an invaluable opportunity for students to get out of the ‘no work experience’ cycle: you need work experience to get a job, but you need a job to get work experience. The feedback from students on the programme has been so positive and I am very proud to have been part of it.
Lydia Hesketh, Inside Careers
Considering a career as a management consultant? Or are you already set on the sector and determined to achieve a graduate job in a top consultancy firm? There are many reasons why consultancy is a popular career choice: the salaries are some of the highest around, the opportunity to travel is vast and the diversity of work stretches across many sectors and industries.
But what exactly do management consultants do? A management consultant provides external advice for organisations that require specialist expertise or an objective outside perspective on their business. Consultancy usually involves the identification and assessment of a problem or the analysis of a specific area of an organisation, the reporting of findings and the formulation of recommendations for improvement. In essence, a consultant’s job is to advise a company on improvements that could be made to its business.
Before you start planning your path to a consultancy career it’s vital you understand the basic requirements and traits consultants hold.
In terms of educational requirements, you must have a strong academic background, educated to degree level with a minimum of a 2:1 or equivalent at a top university. The majority of firms now accept a wide range of degree subjects, with some strategy consultants looking particularly favourably on degrees with a numerical focus.
Soft skills are also highly sought after by employers, such as leadership and interpersonal skills as well as an entrepreneurial mind-set and intellectual curiosity.
If you are decided on a consultancy career, read on to find out what you need to do at each step of your journey.
First year is all about exploring the profession; discovering if consultancy suits your skills and passions, as well as what kind of consultancy firms interest you. Some companies offer work experience to first years in the form of insight days or weeks. Look out for these placements opening in December and closing January to February.
If you’re unable to get onto an insight programme, joining a society or gaining part-time work is also a worthwhile experience that employers will look favourably upon.