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Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)

What is an SME?

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are defined by the European Commission as a company that employs fewer than 250 people and has a turnover of less than €50million.

Did you know if you want to work for an SME, you can search vacancies on myAdvantage by company size, using the advanced search function?Link opens in a new window

Why work for an SME?

In the UK 99.9% of private sector companies are SMEs, employing over 16 million people (FSB 2020). SMEs account for three fifths of the employment and around half of turnover in the UK private sector.

The SME sector often drives innovation and competition; they tend to be growing organisations and cover just about every business area and function.

Working in a small business provides the opportunity to get your ideas heard and to get hands-on experience quickly.

The main benefits that people say they gain working for an SME are:

  • variety in day-to-day work as well as a varied working environment
  • early responsibility and autonomy, and possibly a higher profile within the business
  • opportunities to make a real contribution to the business
  • more contact with senior members of the company
  • greater likelihood of getting to know everybody, staff and clients
  • opportunities for career advancement in expanding companies
  • accelerated progress for high performers

If you think you’ll thrive in a constantly changing environment which requires you to take responsibility, be flexible, adaptable and you like sharing your creative ideas and seeing the impact - then this might be the right choice.

How do small businesses recruit?

Small businesses offer more informal work experience throughout your studies, as opposed to traditional ‘Spring Weeks’ and ‘Summer Internships’ and are unlikely to have formal graduate training schemes, offering graduate jobs as more permanent positions, with ‘on the job’ learning – vacancies may occur at any time of the year.

As they are small their recruitment practices tend to be a little more informal and applications are usually by CV and covering letter, although they are often happy to receive speculative applications. Small businesses tend to have very little information on their websites about career opportunities as the information is generally aimed at clients and customers; you should consider networking to make contacts.

Once hired, an SME will have high expectations regarding your ability to be flexible and take on responsibility immediately. There may be a steep learning curve and lots of challenge to embrace. Although the salary may be lower, the opportunity for progression and subsequently earnings may be quicker.

Further information and resources

Where to look for internships, placements, work experience and graduate jobs

  • myAdvantage – you can search by organisation size
  • For temporary work Unitemps will have details of local opportunities
  • Knowledge Transfer Partnerships
  • STEP
  • Research SME companies you might be interested in and follow them on their social platforms (e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter)
  • Send speculative applications (NB: A speculative application is made when there are no advertised vacancies)
  • Use your network – family & friends, build you network on LinkedIn
  • Be Enterprising and start your own business