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You can grow your career by joining an SME employer as a graduate

Want a management career? Consider a graduate job at a smaller business

Smaller organisations are often left in the shadows while large graduate employers with formal training schemes take centre stage but smaller employers could fast-track graduates into management.
Smaller companies give you the opportunity to experience management at an earlier stage.

Small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are organisations with fewer than 250 employees and they are an important force in the UK economy. However, they don’t have much of a presence on university campuses and as a result many graduates who want a career in management focus solely on trying to get a place on large management training schemes. Overlooking the smaller companies could mean you’re passing up the opportunity to experience a higher level of management responsibility at an earlier stage.

A good alternative to big graduate management schemes

Research conducted by TARGETjobs’ parent company GTI Media tells us that many are failing to consider seeking opportunities at small and medium organisations. Lisa Walker, director of White Apple HR, comments in the research report, ‘Smaller businesses – a positive career choice for graduates?’: ‘The thing I often see and hear that really concerns me is that many students have a one-track approach to their job searches. I often hear students getting hung up on the graduate schemes without reference to other employment possibilities. Very few of the students appear to have a "plan B"; the reality is that three-quarters of them are going to need one.’

The benefits of a graduate career at a smaller organisation

Working for a smaller organisation doesn’t mean that you will miss out on training. It may just be more informal and less structured. This might actually suit some graduates more than formal schemes because it can allow a more hands-on approach.

Employees in smaller organisations are often given greater responsibility and autonomy early on – ideal for graduates who want to work in a management role.  According to Murray Cowell, a senior consultant at Inbox Income also quoted in GTI Media’s report, progression at large corporations can be slow but graduates who start in a small business ‘could well find themselves high up in the organisation very quickly when that firm grows’.

Managers need to have a good overview of the business as a whole and a solid foundation of experience to draw upon. The close knit working environment at smaller organisations is good for would-be managers because it provides access to informal mentors and the chance to observe others, giving them a valuable insight into the different areas of the business.

The application process is often much shorter than at large organisations. In place of several stages including assessment days, they often just interview short-listed candidates.

How to track down jobs with small businesses

Unlike the big corporations, smaller organisations tend to advertise jobs as needed at any time of the year. There is no big intake of graduates in September; instead they recruit as and when they need new employees. This usually means that the starting date is soon after selection.

Graduate opportunities at SMEs can be found on TARGETjobs, through university careers services, local online job listings and through programmes such as Step. Step recruits graduates into project-based placements at a range of organisations and many smaller businesses go on to offer graduates full-time positions.

Speculative applications, work experience and internships can also have the potential to lead to permanent positions. Robin Powell, executive director of Ember Television, who is quoted in GTI Media’s report, initially recruits graduates as interns. He adds: ‘It’s a very useful way of trying them out, and for them to try us out. The internships typically last two to three months on a basic rate of pay, with a view to them moving on to some sort of ongoing employment with us beyond that.’