Working for Small Businesses



  • "Most jobs in the future will be with small businesses" - The Confederation of British Industry
  • "Blue Chip companies will increasingly contract out services to small businesses"




small employer

medium employer


Small & Medium-sized Employers .....


Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.

Steve Jobs


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"




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.



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.


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.


  • The more pretentious a corporate name, the smaller the organisation. (For instance, The Murphy Centre for the Codification of Organisational Software Applications, compared to IBM and Apple).
  • You can go anywhere you want if you look serious and carry a clipboard.
  • Never ask two questions in a business email. The reply will discuss the one you are least interested in, and say nothing about the other.
  • When bosses talk about improving productivity, they are never talking about themselves.
  • If at first you don't succeed, try again. Then quit. No use being a fool about it.
  • Everything can be filed under "miscellaneous."
  • Never delay the ending of a meeting.
  • To err is human, to forgive is not company policy.
  • If it wasn't for the last minute, nothing would get done.
  • At work, the authority of a person is inversely proportional to the number of pens they are carrying.
  • When confronted by a difficult problem you can solve it more easily by reducing it to the question, "How would the Homer Simpson handle this?"
  • The longer the title, the less important the job.
  • An "acceptable" level of employment means that the government economist to whom it is acceptable still has a job.
  • Success is just a matter of luck: just ask any failure.


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

Otherwise, SMEs are most likely to advertise in local and national newspapers – see for a comprehensive list arranged alphabetically by title

You will probably also need to use creative job search techniques, such as the following:


MisterWhat can be used to research companies and to collect information about small and medium businesses. It is a free database of business listings organised by location and category. Company profiles include useful information like address, postcode, phone number, official website, business category, local map.

Useful information sources include:

STEP (Technology Enterprise Programme)

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


KTP 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 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:


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 for some advice on how you can do this even as a new graduate.


Last fully revised 2013