Accessibility statement

Working for a smaller business

Students at a computer

I quickly realised that by working in the heart of this small business, my work was guaranteed to be incredibly varied.

Smaller companies may be referred to as SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises), defined according to their number of employees and turnover.  Medium-sized enterprises have up to 250 employees; small enterprises employ up to 50 people, and include much smaller start-ups or micro-enterprises.

Many finalists focus on graduate schemes with large, high profile companies, but in fact many graduates find employment with small and medium sized companies.  However, SMEs are often part of the hidden jobs market, and may recruit through personal contacts rather than spending a lot of money on advertising job vacancies or attending university careers fairs.

In the UK, SMEs employ around 60% of the private sector workforce. They cover all business sectors and are often growing organisations, increasingly important in graduate employment.

Pros and Cons

People working in smaller companies generally report a high level of job satisfaction, for various reasons. In a small business you are likely to find that

  • your contribution is recognised and you will have a higher profile than in a larger organisation

  • you can expect early responsibility, your own projects and greater variety in the work you do

  • you will get a clearer understanding of the business as a whole

  • there is likely to be less bureaucracy, so you can expect to have more contact with senior management

  • you can take responsibility for your own development and training, and this will be more tailored to your individual needs

  • you will have more opportunity to make an impact and have a sense of ownership

  • there are often opportunities for promotion and career progression as the company grows

  • you may find employers are less insistent on a particular class of degree.

You will also find

  • there won't be a structured training scheme. You'll be expected to learn on the job and take more responsibility for your own training

  • starting salaries are likely to be lower than in the very large companies and the benefits package is unlikely to be as enticing

  • you may be the only graduate, rather than part of a larger new graduate cohort

  • Early responsibility may be daunting for some

Where to look for jobs

Smaller organisations will tend to recruit as the need arises, so vacancies may be advertised at any time of year. They are also often happy to receive speculative applications. You can look for information about SMEs and potential job vacancies in:

  • Individual company websites and their social media. Many SMEs advertise on their own websites and actively use their own networks and social media channels to find employees 

  • Handshake

  • Student Internship Bureau for summer internships to give you experience working with a local business

  • recruitment sites such as Yorkshire Graduates, and other regional sites eg Grads South WestBrighterBox (London) S1jobs and ScotGrad (Scotland), GradIreland as well as sector specific jobs boards

  • Best Companies to Work for lists (include lists for Small and Mid companies)

  • STEP - UK-wide programme offering paid student work placements and graduate internships in smaller businesses

  • KTP (Knowledge Transfer Partnerships) - one of the UK's largest graduate recruitment programmes. A KTP is a three-way project between a graduate, an organisation (often, but not always, an SME) and a university, offering graduates a key role in managing a project central to business development

  • speculative applications can be effective, if you have researched the company you are targeting and can demonstrate that you have useful skills and experience to offer them. Try online business directories to start identifying possible companies (eg UK Small Business Directory and Mister What?

Note: International students should read the latest information about working in the UK as a graduate, and check out additional information about working in the UK after your studies on our international student pages.


Next steps

Vacancies in a smaller company may be advertised at any time, so to give yourself the best chance of being prepared to make a great application:

  • Start building your network, in person and using social media
  • get experience of working in a smaller organisation through a Student Internship Bureau internship

  • look at current vacancies to get a feel for what kind of jobs are available and to help you focus your search

  • make sure your CV is up to date, use the CV resources and CareerSet to help you.