Graduation has passed and, with it, shoals of graduates embarking on their new professional journeys. But what if you’re still searching for that elusive first opportunity? Little is said of the organisations that provide 60% of private sector jobs and are often cited as ‘the backbone of the British economy’. These are our SMEs: small and medium-sized businesses – and if you’re not sure where to turn for your graduate career path, they could be worth exploring.

Graduates throwing caps in the airWe’ll deal with some negatives first. Small firms may be unable to offer as high a salary as their larger counterparts, which is a consideration for graduates emerging with hefty levels of debt. Then there’s the prestige of working for a well-known name, the security and structure bigger organisations can provide, and the social perks of joining a large grad scheme that smaller companies may forgo.

So why eschew this and join the small super heroes of business? Here’s why starting your career with an SME might just be the smartest move you can make:







1. The variety show – Having staff pitch in and work across a range of services and functions is often a necessity for small companies. From a professional perspective, this can only serve to strengthen your CV and skillset, whilst on a personal level every day will be unique and interesting.

2. The good, bad and ugly – Generally, wherever you work you’ll be introduced to a broad mix of people. In a small business however, you may get more opportunity to collaborate with employees of all seniorities, specialisms and personalities. It’s a great way to hone your interpersonal skills, and the flat management structure of many SMEs may mean you can benefit from valuable one-to-one time with Company Directors or Senior Management.

3. Increased responsibility – There’s sure to be the obligatory first day of ‘research’ and an unnecessary spreadsheet, but a small business will urgently need your skills and will want to put them to good use immediately. You may be thrown into the deep end and managing projects very quickly. This can be steep learning curve, but offers great scope for you to rise to a challenge.

4. Climb, grow and learn – With a more fluid company structure, many SMEs offer great potential for progression. Roles can be created as the needs of the business evolve, and you may find yourself ascending the ranks more quickly than your peers who are bound by a rigid hierarchy.

5. Personal fulfilment – Your contribution can have a tangible impact on the growth of a business. You’re a person, not a number, and in a small team you can see the results of your work, get a pat on the shoulder from the MD and feel a part of something significant.

How do you find those opportunities with an SME?

Recruitment budget is often a consideration for small businesses, so they’re unlikely to appear on the major job boards, and many don’t offer formal grad schemes. Uni job shops are often free to advertise with so keep an eye on those, and your local press may also prove fruitful.

Ultimately though, it’s up to you. Choose your area and desired field and get Googling. Companies might not even be actively hiring, but it’s worth emailing speculatively. It might not have crossed their minds that they need a marketing assistant or junior developer until the perfect candidate (e.g. you) comes a-knocking.

Get digging – SMEs are a gem.

This post first appeared on the University of Reading Careers Blog.

About the author

Tristan Potter

Tristan has a decade's worth of experience writing content and copy for organisations across Bristol and the Southwest of England. He has written on a diverse range of topics, including technology, philosophy, politics, and recruitment. His writing has appeared in The Drum, HR Grapevine, and The Guardian, among other publications. He joined Hireserve in March 2022.