Working for a Small or Medium Sized Enterprise

Small or medium-sized enterprises, or SMEs, represent the fastest growing sector of the economy. According to the Enterprise Directorate, in the UK as a whole, SMEs account for over half of employment (58.7 per cent)

Why work for an SME?

Working in a small business provides the opportunity to get your ideas heard and to get real hands-on experience. Individual input will have a visible impact on the running and performance of the business.

There are less likely to be individual departments for every function and so you will be expected to cope with a variety of tasks. This will give you a clearer understanding of the business as a whole. They are also likely to be less hierarchical and so there will be more contact with senior members of the organisation.

You will need to be prepared to take responsibility and use your initiative; the chances are that there will not be a manager supervising you all the time. However, 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.

Finally, as there will be fewer employees, there is a greater likelihood of getting to know everybody, staff and clients alike.

Advantages of working for an SME
  • A varied working environment - less bureaucratic and formal than a large company. This means more chances to be innovative and creative and make your voice heard. Carrying out a number of different tasks and functions creates job roles that are more wide-ranging and interesting.
  • A higher profile within the business - you aren't a small fish in a big pond, so if you perform well this will be noticed. (On the other hand, if you perform badly, there will be nowhere to hide!)
  • Variety, early responsibility, the opportunity to work on your own initiative, to work closely with other people (including senior management) and to have your work noticed.
  • Feeling that you are making a real contribution to the business: seeing your ideas implemented and seeing projects through from start to finish.

These are things that students often seek in their first graduate job and SMEs can offer all of them! In return, they want graduates who are practical, flexible, quick to learn, willing to "muck in" and who do not expect special treatment just because they are graduates.

What can a graduate offer an SME?

Unlike typical graduate employers, SMEs may have some misconceptions about what a graduate can offer as an employee, just as you may have doubts about working for a small company. Graduates may be perceived as unprepared for the "real world", lacking business sense and experience. On the other hand, graduates are recognised as being intelligent and quick learners.

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. It is worth remembering that 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.

What skills are sought by SMEs?

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).

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