The joys of the small business graduate scheme

Looking for a graduate scheme that's flexible and personal, with a friendly application process? Two recent recruits explain why you should consider small businesses.

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The only problem with graduate schemes run by small businesses is finding out about them. And that, thanks to, is no problem at all.

That’s the verdict of two recent graduates who are now working for advertising agency Blackbridge Communications. Both Emma Mitchell and Hannah Rawson applied for the Blackbridge Communications graduate scheme last summer, after graduation, and both of them found out about it because they had chosen to receive emails about marketing and advertising jobs from

Emma says, ‘I was really worried I wouldn’t get a job. Then this came through. I applied in August and started in September.’

Fast and friendly: applying to a small business graduate scheme

Both Emma and Hannah agree that the work they are doing suits them down to the ground – and they are both enthusiastic about the recruitment process, which they portray as friendly, efficient and surprisingly enjoyable.

Many big graduate employers ask candidates to fill in a lengthy application form and also attach a CV; telephone interviews and psychometric tests prior to an invitation to assessment centre are commonplace. By way of contrast, the first stage of the application process at Blackbridge Communications was a CV and covering letter, plus a choice of three quirky questions.

Emma, a maths and philosophy graduate from King’s College London, chose to answer the question, ‘Which are best, cats or dogs?’ She says, ‘This was a test of creative and persuasive skills, but it wasn’t a long application process and there were no psychometric tests. When you apply for a big company, you often end up staring at a computer screen for hours.’

Hannah, a French and theatre studies graduate from the University of Warwick, answered the question, ‘How do you sell ice to eskimos?’ She explains, ‘I tried to be witty and get some personality across. You have to be yourself. It’s not jumping through hoops, as it could be with a large company where the application form might include stock questions such as “Have you ever held a position of responsibility?”’

All hands on deck: the small business assessment centre

The two-day assessment centre for the Blackbridge Communications graduate scheme took place at the company’s HQ in Shoreditch. The assessment tasks included a presentation prepared in advance, a challenge involving taking a shopping list of 10 items to the market and haggling for them, a case study discussed in groups and a one-to-one interview.

Emma says, ‘I was really nervous. I wasn’t expecting it to be fun, but it was. It was based in the office, and loads of the staff helped out and came along to the market with us. It finished on Friday and I got a call on Monday morning offering me the job.’

Hannah also enjoyed the experience and explains how, when she started work, she realised how effectively it had tested the applicants’ skills. ‘Teamwork is very important here, as is how you interpret and approach a brief, and all of that was covered.’

The Blackbridge Communications graduate scheme in action

Over the course of the one-year graduate scheme, both Emma and Hannah will be given the opportunity to experience different aspects of the business. Emma comments on how flexible and personal the scheme is: ‘One of my housemates is on a graduate scheme where they started off teaching them in a classroom. This is much more tailored to me.’ She has found her new colleagues extremely supportive: ‘I wasn’t expecting there to be so much camaraderie and team effort. People are happy to help you out.’

Hannah agrees, and highlights how training in a small business gives you the satisfaction of knowing your efforts have made a difference. ‘The experience we’ll gain here will be invaluable. Because it’s a small agency, I feel valued and I feel part of the team. I can be given a task, see all the steps in the process and see how I’ve contributed.’

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