Working for Small Businesses
Small & Medium-sized Employers .....
Small medium-sized enterprises and small and medium-sized businesses are often referred to as SMEs. These are companies whose number of employees or turnover falls below certain limits. The EU defines companies with fewer than 50 employees as small, and those with less than 250 as medium-sized.
|"Household name companies get about three times as many applications as less well known companies"|
- A survey by the TUC found that employees in small businesses are the most satisfied at work. They were also found to be the most committed and loyal to their organisations.. They also felt most engaged by their employer and had the most freedom to choose their working patterns. There were far fewer reports of bullying, lower stress levels and less complaints about long working hours. The Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses said "In terms of the way they treat their staff, small businesses consistently out perform their bigger competitors. Small business owners know that the greatest asset is their staff and they are more likely to treat them as individuals and recognise their needs. By having a committed and loyal workforce that has a say in how the organisation is run, the smallest business has a bigger advantage."
- Small and medium-sized employers (SMEs) are increasingly interested in recruiting graduates and offer good prospects for graduates who do join them.
- In fact, the majority of graduates now work in small and medium-sized companies. While the big, household-name, blue-chip companies may be the first to come to mind when you think about graduate recruitment only 14% of graduates join these companies’ graduate training schemes.
A study by Baard, Deci and Ryan of 320 small and medium sized businesses found that businesses offering autonomy (the ability to control their own work) to their staff grew at four times the rate of control orientated firms and had only one third the turnover of staff.
- 95% of employees in the UK now work in businesses with less than one hundred staff.
- You may be able to get a job near where you live rather than having to move.
- Research has shown that promotion prospects and job satisfaction are often higher with small companies.
- A higher profile within the business - you aren't a small fish in a big pond, so if you perform well this will be noticed. (On the other hand, if you perform badly, there will be nowhere to hide!)
- Variety, early responsibility, the opportunity to work on your own initiative, to work closely with other people (including senior management) and to have your work noticed.
A survey of 200 UK graduates commissioned by Give A Grad A Go found:
- 91% believed big corporations paid more
- 79% felt they provided greater job security
- 74% felt they offered better career progression.
- encouraged creativity in the workplace (95%)
- provided greater job satisfaction (82%)
- better work ethic (75%).
- better work-life balance.
Cary Curtis of GAGAGO said "Graduates are often unaware of the fantastic career opportunities that exist in SMEs, and certainly have no idea how to take advantage of them.”
- Flexibility to get involved in a number of different tasks and functions: job roles are often less rigidly defined.
- A working environment that may be more informal and less bureaucratic than in larger organisations
- Feeling that you are making a real contribution to the business: seeing your ideas implemented and seeing projects through from start to finish.
- These are things that students often seek in their first graduate job and SMEs can offer all of them! In return, they want graduates who are practical, flexible, quick to learn, willing to "muck in" and who do not expect special treatment just because they are graduates.
- In general, SMEs do not offer “graduate training schemes” – you are expected to learn on the job and take responsibility for your own training;
- The pay and benefits will be less than in larger companies;
- You may be the only graduate, or the youngest employee, in the company – working relationships may be affected by this
Further outlines of the pros and cons of working for SMEs can be found at:
- The Careers Group, University of London www.careers.lon.ac.uk/output/Page480.asp
According to a study described in in Freakonomics employees of smaller companies cheat less (e.g. by stealing company property) than those in larger ones - they tend to have more loyalty to the organisation. Employees in companies with higher morale cheat also less and lower level employees tend to cheat less than managers!
In the past, small companies could be reluctant to consider employing new graduates, considering them too expensive, lacking in practical skills, unwilling to “get their hands dirty”, and having unrealistic ambitions for rapid progression.
However things are changing. Graduates are now far from an elite and will soon comprise 40% of their age group. Increasingly, they are realising that a degree is no longer a passport to the boardroom and that hard work and a flexible attitude are required for a successful career. The qualities shown below that are required by most small businesses are precisely the qualities that many new graduates possess.
Small businesses that have recruited graduates have frequently found great benefits in terms of new ways of looking at problems, enthusiasm, and new skills brought into the company.
- The ability to learn things quickly but informally - learning by doing.
- A practical and common-sense nature. Someone who is good at finding workable solutions to problems.
- Flexible individuals - all-rounders who can pick up a basic knowledge of finance, marketing and law as required.
- People who can work with minimal supervision.
- People who work well under pressure.
- Ability to get things done - to produce results.
- Often, they prefer graduates who have done a relevant degree or summer placement or job
Obviously there is a huge variety of small businesses covering all sectors, but some of the more common types which employ graduates include:
|The Association of Graduate Recruiters identified small businesses as the only significant sector that could absorb the increasing numbers of graduates.|
- Finance and professional services
- Legal services
- High-tech/software companies.
- Marketing, advertising and public relations
- Arts, music, media and publishing
- All kinds of manufacturing
Small employers tend to recruit as required - they don't have formal graduate training schemes and are not tied to any set methods of recruitment or to a fixed recruitment programme, so vacancies may occur at any time of year.
Small companies also won't have a formal graduate recruitment brochure or application form. Typically, you will make applications by means of a CV accompanied by a covering letter. SMEs do not usually have much information about working for the company available, but may have information aimed at clients and customers on their website or available as a brochure.
Interviews are likely to be informal and staff may not be trained in interview skills, so you will need to make sure that you bring out your strongest selling points and ask lots of questions.
MURPHY'S LAWS OF WORK
They are very unlikely to appear in the graduate employer directories, such as the Times 100, which focus on major national recruiters. An increasing number do advertise in graduate vacancy lists as and when they have an immediate vacancy: these may be local (such as the University of Kent’s vacancy database or national – which may include sites such as Prospects www.prospects.ac.uk/links/jobvacs
Otherwise, SMEs are most likely to advertise in local and national newspapers – see
www.kidon.com/media-link/unitedkingdom.shtml for a comprehensive list arranged alphabetically by title
You will probably also need to use creative job search techniques, such as the following:
- Networking – using contacts in a particular location or business sector, or creating your own contacts! See our Creative Jobhunting pages www.kent.ac.uk/careers/sk/CJ.htm for more advice on using this approach.
- Look in the local or business press for evidence of companies that are expanding, have won new contracts or are relocating to a new area and which may therefore offer job opportunities.
- Focus on a particular industry or service in which you have a particular interest or where you have relevant skills to offer. In the course of doing your research to find the potential recruiters, you are likely to become highly knowledgeable about the industry and therefore impressive at interview.
Useful information sources include:
- Yellow Pages www.yell.com
- Thomson's Local Directories www.thomweb.co.uk
- Directory of UK Organisations www.dotukdirectory.co.uk
- The Kompass Directory www.kompass.co.uk
- British Chambers of Commerce www.britishchambers.org.uk
- Specialist Trade Directories: Yahoo Company Directories http://uk.dir.yahoo.com/Business_and_Economy/Directories/Companies is a good starting point.
This scheme offers 600 second or penultimate-year undergraduates the chance to undertake eight-week project-based assignments in July and August for small and medium-sized businesses and other organisations over the summer vacation.
You choose where you want to work - it could be your home town, university town or anywhere in the UK.
The STEP programme is different from many other work placements in that you are given your own project for which you are responsible throughout the placement period. The projects require you to put theory into practice and to use your own initiative to perform key tasks for the organisation, which often involves regular contact with the managing director or a senior member of staff. Typical projects may include the design of a web site; developing marketing plans; HR initiatives; environmental audits; cost analysis studies and financial projects.
Placements may be with businesses, charities or community organisations. The scheme includes an induction course covering business procedures, project management and time management, and prizes are awarded for the best projects nationally. Payment for summer 2009 is £210 per week exempt from tax and National Insurance contributions
Students who have successfully completed a STEP project are eligible to be entered on a database which is made available to employers looking to recruit the best graduates. For more details see www.step.org.uk
KTP www.ktponline.org.uk is a government-funded scheme that places graduates in SMEs to work on knowledge transfer projects central to the needs of the company. Most vacancies are for graduates in engineering, IT and business-related subjects. Vacancies arise throughout the year in a wide range of employers and locations. As well as salaried employment, graduates receive support to study for a higher degree and to gain a management qualification.
Knowledge Transfer Partnerships can help to enhance your career prospects by providing you with an opportunity to manage a challenging project, central to an organisation's strategic development and long-term growth. Projects last between 12 to 36 months.
You need to be qualified to an upper 2nd class degree. Throughout the project you will receive training and development leading to a qualification in Management to National Standards. You will also have an opportunity to apply for a higher degree during the project. Around 62% of KTP Associates are employed by the host company when the project ends.
There are other, similar schemes to place graduates in SMEs within a specific geographical area or region – see our Regional Links pages www.kent.ac.uk/careers/sitesgen.htm for some of these
Around 75% of jobs in Kent and Medway as a whole are with SMEs employing less than 200 people. These are obviously an important source of work for graduates hoping to find employment in Kent, but recruitment is often irregular and jobs may not be widely advertised. You should use all the vacancy sources mentioned here – local newspapers and websites, the University of Kent vacancy database, Job Centres and recruitment agencies – as well as making speculative approaches direct to employers. The following information resources should be helpful:
- Kentgrads www.kentgrads.org.uk - our own database of local employers;
- The Enterprise Unit www.kent.ac.uk/enterprise is the one-stop-shop specifically tasked with interfacing between the University of Kent and industry;
- Locate in Kent www.locateinkent.com information for investors but also useful background on employers and opportunities in Kent
- Reference File 082 on Small and Medium-sized Employers in the Careers Information Room
- Prospects Sector Briefing www.prospects.ac.uk/links/SMESB
- Business Bridge www.business-bridge.org.uk Liverpool-based organisation with links for graduates to small and medium-sized employers
- Enternships www.enternships.com niche recruitment firm which connects students / graduates with start-ups, small companies and larger organisations that can provide entrepreneurial internships and full-time placements worldwide.
Flying Start webinars. Throughout this summer FlyingStart is providing FREE online webinars to help any students and graduates continue to develop their business ideas. www.flyingstartonline.com/public/fsworkshops/upcoming
If you value the flexibility and independence that working for an SME can bring you may also be interested in setting up your own business one day! See our Self-Employment pages www.kent.ac.uk/careers/selfemployment.htm for some advice on how you can do this even as a new graduate.
Last fully revised 2011