We aren’t all cut out for a medium- large company; in fact UCGR knows a lot of students aren’t even interested to work for a medium to large company.

Have you considered working for a small and medium sized enterprise (SME) before? Undercover Grad Recruiter wants to explain to you what an SME is classified as and what these opportunities may look like for you.

Classification & facts of  SME’s:

Generally an SME would have 250 employees or less (this varies between small and medium companies).

Depending on region, would have a turnover limit to classify as an SME. For example a medium enterprise in the United Kingdom should not exceed EUR 50 million, whilst a small enterprise should not exceed EUR 10 million.

SME’s out number large companies globally and also employ more people combined than large companies do by country.

SME’s can be at the cutting edge of innovation, creativity and design.


Do you see your future in an SME? Owning your own business or wanting to be an entrepreneur one day?

Starting your career in an SME is a fabulous proving ground as it potentially gives you exposure to a wide range of tasks. In a large company, you may be pigeon holed into just the area you have studied or applied for.

UCGR connected with SME owners to get an understanding of the type of work fresh graduates may be involved in, irrespective of their degree type. The common theme we heard loud and clear was that you would get exposure to multiple of the below, and in fact owners and execs in SME’s expect you to gain broad exposure.

* To note responsibilities below are across a various number of industry types.

  • Branding and marketing
  • Finance and accounts
  • IT and technology
  • Engineering and consulting
  • Consulting
  • Design and development
  • Testing and product implementation
  • Account management
  • Supplier negotiations
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Sales
  • Public relations
  • Social media engagement
  • Procurement/ supply chain
  • Manufacturing

This broad exposure will allow you to open your mind to different ways of thinking, lateral thought, innovation and creativity.

Advantages of working in an SME world:

  • You will have a variety of work alongside early responsibility
  • The opportunity to use initiative and innovation in the way you see it
  • Work closely and alongside senior people, business owners and CEO’s, learn from them and have your work noticed.
  • You will gain real, hands-on experience with the ability to have impact on the running and performance of a business
  • Less hierarchy or specific business units means you can have broad variety of tasks to help you gain a broad understanding of a business and how it’s run
  • Career advancements and opportunities may be broader
  • A great training ground for someone who may see SME’s as their future or a future as an entrepreneur
  • The ability to have more flexible work hours as strict working hours aren’t as prevalent
  • A faster and swift recruitment process
  • SME’s often don’t wait 6-8 months until the next calendar year to start you on board. Once you complete your degree, you may start working straight away
  • Small business owners know that the greatest asset is their staff and they are more likely to treat you as individuals and recognise your needs

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Disadvantages of working in an SME world:

  • Generally, SME’s do not have formal graduate programs or schemes so you may not receive the formal training large corporate provide. However your training is via real experience and learning on the job.
  • Initially, the pay and benefits may be less than in larger companies, however when you progress through the ranks, this has the ability to change dramatically.
  • You may be the only graduate in the company- so if you are after a big group of graduates to hang out with- an SME is not the place you are going to find them. This means you may not receive the level of peer support you would find in large corporates, but don’t forget you can always find this type of support through many other ways.
  • There may not be straight forward procedures or practices in place, which is a huge plus for some people, but not for everyone.
  • Some SME’s don’t perceive or understand the value of Graduates or trainees as they may see you as ‘hard work’ to train or that you may not be able to hit the ground running. This means you may need to prove yourself, demonstrate your knowledge learnt through your studies and show your value through outcomes.

I’m interested, so how do I find an SME to work for?

You may often find SMEs don’t have much information about working for the company as a graduate (don’t forget they do not have dedicated HR, recruiters or employment brand team members to do this for them). Therefore finding information about working at an SME, progression or development can be difficult. Don’t view this as a negative; instead consider it as an opportunity to get researching and networking as this may actually help you get connected with the right people.

Start researching by heading to their website and look for information aimed at clients and customers. Put the company into google and find articles or business information on them.

Via your university or college careers services, investigate programs available which involve SMEs as partners, also use local government initiatives which support employment and growth for SME’s.

Traditional job search methodologies using print on local and national papers, job boards, internet, social media and employment agencies will also yield results.

Many SME’s use employment agencies, job centres, existing networks and their own or professional association websites to publicise new positions.

Use a proactive approach in which you contact companies directly rather than waiting to respond advertisements and as some SME’s don’t advertise in obvious places, so you may miss the advert altogether.

What is the recruitment process?

Small to medium companies typically don’t have dedicated human resource or recruitment team members, so all recruitment is either completed by senior employees or owners, alternatively in the early stages by recruitment agencies.

The above point means that often there is no strict or extensive recruitment process, there may not even be an application form. Therefore you may see a recruitment process similar to the below:

  1. Apply with either your resume, accompanied by a covering letter or a basic application form
  2. A phone chat or informal phone interview
  3. Face to face interview, often there will be at least 2 interviews so different team members can meet with you
  4. You receive your outcome

*It will be rare to undertake psychometric testing with an SME, however don’t take this for granted as for example those applying for technical roles such as Engineers may find they have to complete various assessments.

SME’s are less concerned with your grades or extracurricular involvement and more interested in your skills set, work experience and future potential.

You have now read about the definitions of an SME, the type of work you may get involved in and the advantages and disadvantages of working in an SME. If you are still interested, we encourage you to keep researching and find out more to begin your SME journey.

We have inserted some handy links for you to start your research:

UCL- Working for a Small or Medium Sized Enterprise

 The Institution of Engineering and Technology – Working for an SME

University of Kent- Working for Small Businesses

The big choice-Choosing your career path: SME or blue-chip?


The University of Warwick- The careers blog

Good Luck,

UC Grad Recruiter

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