Careers and Employability Service

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What is an SME?

Small medium-sized businesses are often referred to as SMEs. These are companies whose number of employees or turnover falls below certain limits.
Why work for a small business?

  • A survey by the TUC found that employees in small businesses are the most satisfied at work:
    • they are committed and loyal to their organisations
    • they feel most engaged by their employer and have freedom to choose their working patterns
    • there are far fewer reports of bullying, lower stress levels and fewer complaints about long working hours
  • 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 SMEs. While the big, household-name 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
  • 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
  • Variety, early responsibility, the opportunity to work on your own initiative
  • 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
  • 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 and quick to learn


  • 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

Qualities required by SMEs

  • The ability to learn things quickly but informally – “learning by doing” – and the ability to produce results
  • A practical and common-sense nature, and the ability to find 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, and work well under pressure

Where to find job vacancies with SMEs

SMEs 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. Typically, you will apply by CV and 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 have been trained in interviewing, so you will need to make sure that you bring out your strongest selling points and ask lots of questions.
Where to look:

  • Our vacancy database
  • Prospects
  • Local and national newspapers
  • Start networking – using contacts in a particular location or business sector, or creating your own contacts!
  • Look in the local or business press for 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!
  • STEP (Technology Enterprise Programme) offers 600 2nd or penultimate-year undergraduates the chance to undertake 8-week project-based assignments in July and August for SMEs and other organisations. You choose where you want to work - it could be your home town, university town or anywhere in the UK. You are given your own project, which requires 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 senior members of staff. The scheme includes an induction course covering business procedures, project and time management, and prizes are awarded for the best projects nationally. Students who have successfully completed a STEP project are entered on a database for employers looking to recruit the best graduates.

    KTP (knowledge transfer partnership) is a government-funded scheme that places graduates in SMEs to work on projects central to the needs of the company. Most vacancies are for graduates in engineering, IT and business-related subjects, and these 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. Projects last between 12 to 36 months. You need to be qualified to an upper 2nd class degree.

SMEs in Kent

Around 75% of jobs in Kent and Medway are with SMEs. You should use all the vacancy sources mentioned here – as well as making speculative approaches direct to employers. You can also use:

  • Kentgrads - our own database of local employers;
  • The Enterprise Hub is the one-stop-shop specifically tasked with interfacing between the University of Kent and industry
  • Locate in Kent - information for investors but also useful background on employers and opportunities in Kent

Further reading

  • Prospects Sector Briefing
  • Enternships: niche recruitment firm which connects students and graduates with start-ups, small companies and larger organisations that can provide entrepreneurial internships and full-time placements worldwide



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The University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7ND, T: +44 (0)1227 764000 ext. 3299

Last Updated: 16/05/2019