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Features : Small and medium businesses

Photo of the author of this article, Luke Berté.

Written by Luke Berté, Editor, Graduate Prospects, April 2012


Small and medium-sized businesses can offer the best positions for graduates looking to get that all important step on the first rung of the ladder.

Gone are the days when a degree was a passport into fast-track graduate employment. With thousands of students finishing university each year, the number of graduates jostling for a diminishing number of jobs continues to rise.

Traditionally, the bigger businesses offer the most lucrative graduate schemes and internships. In the last few years the graduate job market has been rocked like never before and so companies such as Sainsbury’s, John Lewis and Deloitte have become extremely competitive.

One solution is to start at smaller and more localised companies. Progression through the ranks can be faster and the jobs are often more dynamic and encompassing.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are a rapidly growing force in graduate recruitment and should be given serious consideration when you start looking for and applying for jobs. Employing less than 250 people and with an annual turnover of less than £22million, though individually small, SMEs offer graduates a great base to start out, gain invaluable experience and a place to build a solid skill-set. At the beginning of 2011, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills estimated that SMEs had a combined annual turnover of £1,500billion and employed around 13.8 million people in the UK.

Getting in 

Finding a position within an SME can be tricky and will involve perseverance. These companies don’t necessarily have the resources for sleek  recruitment campaigns and so they rely on word-of-mouth recruitment and local adverts. Speculative applications along with tailored CVs are a good way of approaching SMEs.

business meeting

The recruitment process is often very different to that of a larger or multi-national company. Assessment centres are few and far between with face-to-face, informal interviews being common place.

A good blend of adaptability, reliability, communication skills and business awareness are as important as qualifications in smaller companies. A solid mix of personal and technical skills will make you a credible candidate.

It is always worth researching the company thoroughly to see if they do fall under the SME bracket and to make sure you are really interested in working for them. Figure out exactly what the company expects from the role you are applying for and then convince them that you are the right person for the role.

A great way to start out, working for an SME can provide you with the experience and responsibility needed to gain a good knowledge base in your chosen sector. Opportunities are more likely and although you will be paid a lower wage initially, the knowledge gained will be vital in propelling your career forward in the long run.

Finding a company

The internet is well on its way to becoming the only tool for resources, allowing you to research companies and apply for hundreds of positions at the click of a button. Keyword searches for your industry and preferred location will send you off in the right direction, whilst sites such as LinkedIn are fast becoming the quickest and smartest way to meet and network with people from their respective industries.

Alternatively, will provide you with a range of companies in any given industry, city or town that you wish to target. Speaking to friends and family is another way to find out about available jobs and you can often get a foot in the door much easier this way. 

Whether you decide on an SME or not, it is vital to be proactive and positive in your approach to securing employment. The job market is well and truly in the hands of the employers as more and more graduates compete for a limited number of jobs. If you build good contacts through networking, research well and can offer work experience, you will be doing your job applications justice.


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