I want to work in a Small Business

Find out how you can start a career in a small business. Here we list potential job roles and some of the leading companies in that sector.


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 government defines companies with fewer than 50 employees as small, and those with less than 250 as medium-sized.

Why work for a small business?

  • Small and medium-sized employers (SMEs) are increasingly interested in recruiting graduates and offer good prospects for graduates who do join them.
  • You may be able to get a job near where you live rather than having to move.

Advantages of working for an SME

  • Research has shown that promotion prospects and job satisfaction are often higher with small companies.
  • 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.
  • 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.

But are there any disadvantages?

  • 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 may be less than in larger companies;
  • You may be the only graduate, or the youngest employee, in the company

Qualities required by SMES

  • 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

Types of SMES

Obviously there is a huge variety of small businesses covering all sectors, but some of the more common types which employ graduates include:

  • Finance and professional services
  • Legal services
  • High-tech/software companies.
  • Consultancies
  • Construction
  • Marketing, advertising and public relations
  • Arts, music, media and publishing
  • All kinds of manufacturing

Recruitment methods

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.

SMEs arelikely to advertise on local job sites, via social media (including LinkedIn) and on their own websites.

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.

Ten good reasons to looks for work experience with small employers
Work experience: large organisations vs SMES


Where to Find Job Vacancies with Small-Medium Employers

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

Creative Job Searching

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 booklet 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...

STEP (Technology Enterprise Programme) The ‘STEP’ programme connects enterprising students and recent graduates with smaller, growth focussed businesses through a portfolio of student placements, graduate internships, and permanent positions.

KTP (Knowledge Transfer Partnerships) 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

SMEs In Kent

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:

Find out more

Further Information

Business Centres in Kent


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