Guest post by Careers Group, University of London: How working for a small business can boost your career

It is my firm belief that an underappreciated career path for graduates is working for an SME. It may be a term you haven’t come across before, I know I hadn’t, and it stands for ‘Small and Medium Enterprises’. These are organisations that turn over less than £11m and have less than 250 employees.

Firstly, a few important stats* before I explain myself.

  • SMEs accounted for 99.9% of all private sector businesses in the UK
  • SMEs accounted for 59.1 per cent of private sector employment
  • Over 40% of graduates (in 2010/11) worked in graduate level jobs at an SME

It seems to be accepted that only between 10% and 20% of students will get onto a graduate scheme. It is better odds than winning the lottery, but it does suggest that it might not be a good idea to put all your eggs in the grad-scheme basket!

So, a great deal of us will end up working for an SME! Perhaps you could take this into account and target great smaller employers as part of your job hunting strategy.

When I first started my career, the only kind of employers that registered with me were the bigger companies in my area. I was lucky to work for a large IT firm (turning over hundreds of millions a year) and it was a blast, I loved it. But there came a point when I had to see what else was out there and that is when I tried working for an SME.

I was employee number 3 in a small company and I finally got a look at what the alternative was! It was VERY different and although I missed the canteen, it turned out to be the biggest growth I experienced in my career. These are my thoughts on why an SME could do that for you too:

1.       More responsibility, more quickly

As the company grew quickly, in a couple of months, I had to go from sourcing and ordering goods in the UK to importing and exporting out of China and the USA!

2.       More opportunity to be creative

With a focus on the results, I was given freedom to get on with it and make things happen.

3.       Small companies can become bigger companies.

By the time I left the company, we had built up to about 30 permanent employees, it was very different but we hadn’t lost the drive and personality of the place.

4.       Can offer accelerated career progression

As we grew, I was buying hundreds of thousands of pounds of products; setting up whole company HR policies and recruiting everyone from administration to the Finance Director.

5.       Interesting work

For me, that meant working with the biggest retailers in the UK and eventually the USA. I got to visit New York and had discussions with the likes of Barnes & Noble and Facebook!

6.       See the results of your work

A smaller organisation can allow you to see the impact of your actions on others in the organisation. I was able to see the impact of the people I recruited on the success of the company.

7.       Commercial awareness

When you are working as closely as you do in a smaller company, you get to really understand what makes the company tick. You are often insulated from this in a bigger company. This awareness is an invaluable skill to build up for future career development.

8.       Interesting workplace perks

Our staff room was more of a games room, and I became a demon table football player during my time there! There are some really innovative perks being offered by smaller companies, this is one of my favourites.

I’m certainly not saying that you should NEVER work for a larger company. I have deliberately been a little provocative, but I wanted to offer an insight that I was never given at University. Consider whether working for a smaller company, could actually improve your prospects and entry point at a larger company. Take a moment to look around your area of interest and see which of small companies out there could give your career a turbo boost!

For further information and some practical tips, have a look at a very comprehensive page about SMEs on the Kent Careers website.

*sources: &

Trevor Bibic – Careers Consultant, Careers Group, University of London. Also editor of the ‘Develop Your Career’ blog.


2 thoughts on “Guest post by Careers Group, University of London: How working for a small business can boost your career

  1. I am working for a small company right now, just wanted to say that this is a great piece. Also – I was unemployed for 6+ months out of university, had I not been so stuck up about working for some company whose name everybody knows I’d have found a job the moment I graduated and gained valuable skills.


    • Hi Sulaiman, thank you for your comment. You’re right, there are so many benefits to working for an SME. A lot of people go for “big name” companies and are sorely disappointed if they don’t end up working for them. Often, you learn as much (if not more!) from working in a smaller company.

      Don’t forget, you can come and see us at the Careers and Employability Service for upto 3 years after you graduate, so please do come in if you need any help.


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