An SME is a small or medium sized enterprise. Over 99% of businesses in the UK are SMEs employing between 0 and 249 people (House of Commons Business Statistics, December 2021).
There are many benefits to working for a small organisation. You can often develop a broad range of skills and knowledge as being part of a small team often involves taking on a variety of tasks, adding interest to your role. Small organisations can grow quickly and you may be given greater responsibility sooner than working at a large organisation. SMEs are often based in shared office spaces which allows you to network with employees from other organisations and grow your professional network quickly.
Here are our tips for securing an opportunity with an SME:
1. Social media ‘stalking’ is OK in this context
Follow companies and charities in the sector/area you are interested in (and their competitors). Vacancies are often shared via social networks and can appear via LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and that any social media accounts future employers might see are ‘employer friendly.’
2. Know your stuff
Do your research on the businesses you want to work for. What is their team ethos? How are they organised? What are their key challenges? Keep up to date with news stories – articles, journals, publications, and business-related programmes on TV and radio. Keep up to date on their social media posts. You can never have enough background information or context.
3. Be agile and keep your wits about you
Unlike larger employers, there is usually no structured recruitment cycle for smaller employers. A small business will hire staff when there is a business need, regardless of the time of year. Be proactive, and have your CV updated so you are ready to apply if an opportunity arises. You don’t have to wait for them to advertise a vacancy – consider approaching them with a speculative application for an internship or job opportunity.
4. Informality isn’t your friend
Don’t let the perceived informality of a small business lull you into a false sense of security. Even if a company projects a laid-back vibe and their dress code is relaxed, always make sure your approach and communications are appropriate, particularly with speculative applications. It’s fine to echo the tone and personality of a business but make sure your communications are professional and mistake-free.
5. Be yourself
Small businesses often recruit for personality and attitude; bringing the wrong person into a small business can have a huge impact. Be genuine and think about how you are coming across so an employer will clearly see how well you would interact with the rest of the team.
6. Stick around after you graduate
Here in the west of England, we have one of the highest rates of employment in the country at 79% (Labour market in the regions of the UK, Office for National Statistics, June 2022).
The South West’s Growth Value Added (GVA) is expected to grow by 6.1% this year, in comparison to London which is expected to be 4.7% (Demos-PwC Good Growth for Cities Index)
Visit www.bristolandbath.co.uk/key-sectors/to find out about the key sectors that Bristol and Bath are known for.
A great way to explore a career with an SME is to undertake an internship. The Careers Service run the SME Internship Scheme which supports students and graduates, enabling you to gain quality paid work experience from SMEs in the UK, including charities, social enterprises, and start-ups.
The scheme will reopen in the Autumn for the new academic year. Keep an eye on our website for more information, and how to participate.
Check out our “My SME internship” series for inspiration from students who have participated.