Author Archives: Harjap

My placement year as a Digital Marketing Intern in Spain

Shashi Lallu is currently working towards a Sociology BSc degree. Last year he completed an international placement in Madrid, Spain where he worked as a Digital Marketing Intern for King’s Group. Find out more about his placement experience here…

What did the work on your placement involve?

The work on my placement involved website development and support, social media content creation and management, market research, email marketing, digital design and event management.

What skills did you develop during your placement?

The skills I developed include attention to detail and various specific skills including using the website creation tool WordPress, social media tools like Hootsuite, the email marketing tool MailChimp, Adobe Photoshop and InDesign, and Power Editor for Social Media ads. I also learnt the importance of meeting targets and the value of keeping calm during stressful situations.

What was the highlight of your placement?

The highlight of my placement was receiving the Employee of the Month Award for my work on a new website for a sub group of the company.

Has doing an overseas placement helped or changed your plans for the future?

It’s definitely helped me for the future in the sense that I know that I can push myself and achieve a lot regardless of where I work in the world. I also think it’s made me more employable due to the fact I was willing to go abroad for work, which shows a degree of commitment and readiness for adaptation.

What advice would you give to other students thinking about doing a placement abroad?

I would recommend it 100% and would urge people to go abroad. I wasn’t sure beforehand, but I didn’t even know any Spanish when I arrived in Madrid, so if I can do it and have a great year, then they can too.

What tips would you give to other students to help them make the most out of their placement?

I would tell them to meet as many people as possible and visit as many places they can whilst abroad to make the experience unforgettable.

Do you have any other comments you would like to add?

Not only did I have a great time working on my placement, but I’ve also made great friends from the experience, and I would do it again if ever given the opportunity.

Has Shashi’s experience inspired you to undertake a placement abroad? Find out more about international placements, visit Aston Futures to search available opportunities or chat to us about your options. 

My placement at Stockholm Business School

Jordan Wrigley is currently studying Economics and Management here at Aston. Last year, he undertook a study placement at Stockholm Business School in Sweden. Here he talks to us about his placement experience…

What did the work on your placement involve?

I was on a study placement, so the work wasn’t too different to what I was used to at Aston. Exams, essays, group work: the placement functioned much the same as a year at Aston would, but was structured differently – with modules taking place one at a time, a month each – and with many more opportunities for language study and picking modules outside of my usual area of study, such as Fashion and Psychology.

What skills did you develop during your placement?

Multiculturalism – Being an international student meant I met people from all around the world, rather than just the local Swedes. I learned how to communicate with people from other countries, in a place where English isn’t a requirement, and had ample opportunity to learn about fellow students’ home countries.

Languages – Learning a language is great, but there’s so much more development when you use it outside of a classroom. Being able to develop Swedish day to day, and French with the other international students was amazing. I learned more of a language in a month than I would do in a year back in the UK with a textbook.

Timekeeping – Juggling university and a part-time job in the UK can be a challenge, but when you’re also wanting to see everything the new country has to offer, you have to learn how and when to fit sightseeing trips into your schedule.

What was the highlight of your placement?

Being mistaken for a Swede was the highlight outside of studying! Knowing that I’d adapted to the language and culture so well that I could be mistaken for a local was overwhelming; I felt like I belonged there.

In terms of the placement itself, being able to study something so different was a real highlight. As much as I enjoy Economics, after four years of studying it, it was amazing to branch out and learn about topics I’d never have been able to consider on my degree otherwise.

How did you secure your placement?

As with all study placements, I applied through Aston Futures with my CV and a cover letter, and went to an interview with Aston’s international placements team.

Has doing an overseas placement helped or changed your plans for the future?

Living outside the UK was always something I’d considered, but was never sure if it was really something I could do. After a placement overseas I saw the benefits of living outside the UK, and I found a culture that I could embrace and be a part of. My goal now is to move to Sweden permanently!

What advice would you give to other students thinking about doing a placement abroad?

Do it! There’s no other time in your life when you can live in another country without the risks. Aston supports you the whole way, and you have your home country and home university to fall back on at the end of the placement. Don’t wait until you’re locked into a job, a family, or a home in the UK and find yourself unable to try life elsewhere in the world – do it now!

What tips would you give to other students to help them make the most out of their placement?

A year goes by so much faster than you think, especially when you’re working/studying most of the time. It’s not a holiday where you can take a week out to visit somewhere nice. Plan ahead, and make sure you know everything you want to do while you’re out there, and fit it around your work/study.

At the same time, don’t treat your placement as just a year that you have to do: throw yourself into it and work on improving yourself in every way that pops up. Your placement year is the year to do things you’d never do otherwise, so use the time wisely!

Make sure you’re also prepared for the climate of wherever you’re going. So many of the other international students were surprised and complaining when Stockholm had four months of snow. Plan ahead!

Has Jordan’s experience inspired you to undertake a placement abroad? Find out more about international placements, visit Aston Futures to search available opportunities or chat to us about your options. 

Some Retrospection…

It’s now been over a month since I finished my placement with AirFrance and left Toulouse, so I have had some time to reflect on the quickest three months of my life!

A pic of my office from the first day

I was working in the Air France’s IT department across two sites, delivering English conversation classes to the staff.

The job itself entailed scheduling, planning and running hour-long conversation classes on different topics each week- usually articles or videos on topics from that week’s news.

For me, the people definitely made the job. Everyone was so fun to teach- the lessons are voluntary, so all the students are under no obligation to be there, they come because they want to learn. They were all so enthusiastic and it was fascinating to speak to everyone and hear their opinions and experiences.

One challenge of the job was thinking of original themes for each class which would be interesting and valuable for the students, as well as being adaptable to different levels of English speakers.

The only downside of the role is the almost exclusive speaking of English. Admittedly there were opportunities to speak French which I didn’t always exploit, such as with the other Aston intern, but after three months there I must say I was anxious about how little I felt my French had improved. Of course the experience has been valuable in many other ways, namely learning how to be a ~functioning adult~ working a full-time job and (mostly) coping with living alone. Another thing I’m grateful I learned from the job is the ability to be able to talk spontaneously in a professional environment with people much more senior to me whom I don’t know.

Overall the environment was so nurturing, and everyone was more than willing to help with any problems. It’s a scary thing to move to another country, start a new job and speak to all these new people, but as soon as I started, a lot of my students said that they in fact had children my age and would look after me should I ever need it.

All in all the people were wonderful, the job was fun and I’ve come away feeling like I experienced and learned a lot.

And a pic from when I was walking out on the last day

Of course, the highlight of the stay was being able to call such a gorgeous city home. More on this next time.  

A la prochaine,

J

Aston student to HR Graduate at Wesleyan Assurance Society

Jess Lambie graduated from Aston University in 2016 with a BSc Psychology (Hons) degree. She is now working as an HR Graduate at Wesleyan Assurance Society. We caught up with her to find out more about her life after Aston.

How did you secure your graduate scheme?

I love to learn new things, to analyse patterns and to create – and I am very much a people person. That’s what led me to study Psychology, and then on to a career in Human Resources.

When I saw this graduate scheme advertised at Wesleyan, offering rotation around the various disciplines within HR as well as the chance to complete my CIPD qualification, I knew I couldn’t miss the opportunity! Following a video interview and a full day’s assessment centre, here I am – and I love it!

What does your typical day look like? 

I would say that I’m very lucky in the sense that I don’t really have a typical day! Currently I’m sat within recruitment, so my day can involve advertising jobs, organising interviews and assessment centres, CV sifting and video interviewing. But I also get the opportunity to work on projects that utilise my analysis and creativity skills.

I get exposure to all areas and levels of the business, through Employee Relations cases, interviews, Employee Networks and Reverse Mentoring.

What skills have you developed through the role? 

The amount of project work has been a huge help in pushing and developing my organisation skills and independence. Self-motivation and communication are key to my role, and I’m slowly working on my ability to challenge processes – but I know I have all the support I need to work on my development areas.

What would you say to final year students or other recent graduates considering a graduate scheme?

Graduate schemes are ideal. It’s continuous learning, in all forms; you are supported through a professional qualification that will enhance your knowledge and skill set, but you also get hands-on experience in the role, and exposure to experts in your field.

How has this scheme shaped your future plans? 

I had never been completely sure where I wanted my career to progress. I came into HR by accident, but I soon decided that was the path for me. This graduate scheme has not only confirmed that I made the right decision, but it has also shown me the potential I have to develop in this field. HR is a rapidly developing area, which makes it an exciting and ever-changing role. Thanks to this scheme, I now feel that I have the tools, the support, and the opportunity to gain the necessary experience to progress my career to the HR Business Partner level. There are so many challenges, and I look forward to the next one!

This could be you! If you’re currently searching for your dream graduate role, why not head to Aston Futures to explore the wide range of graduate opportunities advertised there? Don’t forget, you can also come and chat to us in the Careers+Placements Centre if you need some support with your career journey. 

 

The whos, whats, wheres, whens and whys…

Here goes a post to cover some of the practicalities of moving abroad to do a placement for a year, from the big things like finding somewhere to live, down to remembering to bring plug adaptors.

Accommodation

Originally the other intern and I had planned to live together, either just the two of us or with other students. For flatshares, we got told some sites to consult: leboncoin, appartager, housinganywhere, and some sites to avoid. In theory it seemed simple enough- we both needed to be in a similar area and had a similar budget in mind, however after many solid days of trailing through these sites we had still found nothing. For me the next logical step was to phone estate agencies in Toulouse and ask directly if they had any properties. This in fact proved very time consuming and everyone I spoke to (in my best very polite French) were unwilling to help. Another friend in Toulouse found this to be the case too- they don’t really cater to students, many only do rentals for a year or longer. The ones who were willing to help wanted enormous deposits- 9000€ for a three-month let, which of course had to be from a French bank account.

Thus, a dilemma was born. Paying for accommodation required a French bank account but acquiring a French bank account required a proof of a French address- I couldn’t get one without the other. (See: banking fiasco).

It seemed the only remaining solution was for us to split up and find separate living arrangements. I then resorted to Airbnb, feeling fresh out of other options. I booked flights to Toulouse, made appointments to visit several promising-looking Airbnb properties and went for a weekend-long property search. I eventually found a studio flat in a really nice area, visited it and booked it on the same day. Of course, another advantage of Airbnb is the security in terms of paying rent and deposits, and the fact that you don’t need a local bank account to pay.

Retrospectively, I can say up to this point all has gone well with the logistics of accommodation and would recommend using Airbnb for year abroad accommodation to anyone. In the three-month period I only hit one problem: the night before I was due to move out (how typical)- my flat was burgled. Other than this one-off, the rest of the stay was fantastic.

One thing I did learn is the importance of viewing the properties beforehand if you can. This does seem strange for Airbnb, but when I explained I would be staying for three months, most people were more than happy to show me round, and those who couldn’t kindly gave me the street address, so I could visit the area. This is not only to ensure the property does actually exist, but to get a feel for the area and to see what your journey to work will be like.

Bank

If you’re lucky enough to be doing a paid placement it is common to find that the receiving business will only pay into a local bank account, or if your placement is unpaid a local bank account is still the best way to avoid hefty conversion fees which can mount up if you use an English bank account overseas. This can be a tricky process.

In most banks it’s necessary to book an appointment in advance and take the following documentation with you:

Identification

Birth certificate

Convention de stage

Attestation d’herbegement (signed statement from your landlord to confirm you live with them)

Copy of your landlord’s identification

Proof that your landlord owns the address

After looking into this process and the previously-mentioned catch-22 situation regarding needing a local address, I opted to open account with Credit Agricole’s English speaking service Britline. All the registration is done online, with just a phone call to discuss what services you need, and you can receive all your documentation and cards etc to an English address before you go. So far I can’t fault the service and have found reassuring to know that if I experience any disasters that I can contact them in English.

Another product which came in handy at the start of my placement before my Britline account was set up was a Caxton card. Essentially the same as any foreign exchange card, you can top up the Caxton using a mobile app and convert into any currency you want. The charges are not bad and in some cases you can even get paid into your Caxton account as well. Another bonus is the super-simple registration process and small amount of documentation needed. The Caxton would be a great solution for anyone travelling, not only for stagiaires.

Insurance

Although your workplace and the university should definitely have you covered by insurance for your time away (of course check this), I decided to take out some insurance which would cover my phone, laptop, camera, debit cards, etc while I was away, as well as covering myself in case of illness, and which would insure me and my belongings for any other travelling in Europe during my year abroad. For this I used Endsleigh, who specialise in student insurance, and their Study Abroad Insurance. The policy I opted for was super cheap but covered everything I needed and thus far has been relatively stress-free, which is more than can be said about some other aspects of the move.

Paperwork

One really useful piece of advice I received was to make scans, photocopies and printouts of everything- especially as I had no access to a printer before starting work. This includes copies and scans of your convention de stage, passport, birth certificate, student card etc. As well as this, a set of passport photos was invaluable- I needed one handy as soon as I landed in Toulouse to buy a travel card and since then have got through another four for various bits and bobs.

Potentially forgotten things

  • Plug adaptors
  • Check if your accommodation includes bedding/ towels

I hope at least some of the above advice has been helpful, even if much of it is the same advice which has been repeated by everyone you mention your placement year to.

As always, get in touch if I can be of any help, and I’d love to hear other people’s experiences.

A la prochaine,

J

My graduate role at JD Sports Fashion plc.

Manreet Atwal graduated from Aston University in 2017 with a BSc Psychology and Business degree. She is now on a Multi-channel Graduate Programme at JD Sports Fashion plc. Here she tells us more about her role and how it’s helping to shape her career journey. 

How did you secure your role?

I used LinkedIn often in my search for graduate roles. I had a rough idea of companies I would like to work for because of my placement search. I followed JD Sports Fashion plc on LinkedIn to see their updates and spot any career opportunities.

I saw an advertisement for their Multi-Channel Graduate Scheme and applied. The application involved uploading a CV and two-minute video describing yourself as creatively as possible. After this, there was an assessment centre. The final stage involved a presentation to the Director of Multi-Channel and a face-to-face interview.

What does your typical day look like?

Over the course of two years, I will move across multiple departments within Multi-Channel. The departments include; Content, Merchandising, CRM, PPC, SEO, Social Media & Marketplaces.

During my placement in each department, my role is to understand the functionality of each team and learn the programmes and processes they use to complete tasks. No day is the same because we have to constantly react to the fast-paced market.

What have you learnt so far?

I’m gaining a really great overview of how an entire department functions. JD Sports is one of the UK’s biggest retailers so the insight I’m gaining is invaluable. I’m learning how teams work within themselves and as part of a wider team, and I am able to provide feedback at the end of each placement of what works and where there may be opportunities.

What advice would you offer to final year students or other recent graduates?

Don’t take the first job you’re offered just because it’s there. Take time to decide; look into the company, look into the role and decide how much experience you want to gain.

It’s okay to have a job before you hand in your dissertation, and it’s okay to be searching for months after you’ve graduated – just find the right match for you. You didn’t study at Aston University for four years to take a job you don’t love!

How has your current role shaped your career plans?

This Graduate Scheme is great because I graduated with the certainty that I wanted a career in Marketing, but I didn’t really know what that meant. This scheme allows me to get stuck into multiple departments and learn my own strengths and weakness. I also get to work in departments I hadn’t considered before such as SEO and various other means of Traffic. JD Sports has also offered me lots of training opportunities, which have helped me grow more confident in my career plans of becoming a high-level manager. 

Looking for your own dream graduate role? Why not head to Aston Futures today to explore the wide range of graduate opportunities advertised there? Don’t forget, you can also come and chat to us in the Careers+Placements Centre if you need some support with your
career journey. 

4 tips to a fruitful placement experience

Hello everyone, my name is James Chew. I am a third year International Business and Management student, currently undertaking a year-long placement as the Products and Affiliate Assistant at British Tourism Authority in London. Getting a placement is tough, ensuring that you learn and develop skills during your placement is tougher! Here are some tips to ensure that you get the most out of your placement year!

1.Management Style

Take the time and effort to understand the management style of your line manager. This is crucial as different managers have different ways of leadership. My manager loves to give us the ideal outcome and ask us to suggest solutions to achieve that. This gives us a lot of freedom and creativity space to find the ideal solutions. In addition, you should also learn how your manager processes information. My manager loves to view information in the most visually appealing way. Hence, I would usually do mock-up designs or add lots of diagrams and colours in my spreadsheets when I’m presenting to her. Happy Boss = Happy Me!

2.Office Culture

Every team, department and company has a different vibe. You should try to immerse yourself in this office vibe as much as possible. By immersing yourself in the office vibe, you will learn to better communicate with your colleagues even if you are not on the same team or department. Being able to communicate with people is an important skill to learn and it takes constant practice to perfect the art.

If you are an introvert like me, then you can always start with attending social events and just starting with “How’s your day been?”. Being friendly with your colleagues from other teams and departments don’t just create a vibrant office environment, it always makes collaboration easier.

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3.Time Management

Most people usually work for 8-9 hours a day with an hour of lunch in between. That may seem like a lot of hours for those who have never held a full-time job, but trust me it is never enough to get all the work done. Especially when you are an intern, there will be times when you are assigned multiple tasks from various colleagues or even managers. Here is a tip, always ask for the deadlines for every task or assignment that lands on your desk. This would allow you to manage your tasks better.

If you realised that you have too much on your plate, don’t be shy to voice out and ask for help. Learning to put your pride down and ask for help doesn’t make you weak, instead, it makes you stronger as an individual! As the saying goes, “Time is Precious”. Do not waste time on inefficient ways of doing things.

 

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4. Results & Achievement

Results and achievement may seem quite straightforward to most students. However, it is almost impossible to constantly deliver results and achievements in the work environment as the definition of it changes over time. Take note of your company’s management directions, this will guide you on what the management deems important which would then be classified as results and achievement.

Here is an example, the management has decided to focus on increasing revenue for the next 6 months but you were more focus on developing a new function which is not crucial to increasing revenue. Even if you had succeeded in getting the new function to work, it would not have been an achievement as it was not the management’s focus.

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As I reach the conclusion of this blog entry, I would like to tell students on internships/placements to not be afraid of failing, getting reprimanded or even shun away by your colleagues. We are all in this to learn and gain professional experiences which would contribute to our future career paths. How much you want to gain from your internship/placements is not in the hands of your company but in yours!

DREAM BIG, REACH HIGH and NEVER GIVE UP!

My placement experience at Stanley Black & Decker

Hi guys, my name is Ryan Ball. I am now 7 months into my 13-month placement at Stanley Black & Decker and so far, it has been a valuable experience.

The first month was a crossover month; the old and the new intern undertake a transition period. I was taught by another Aston student from the previous year, this was useful to learn the tasks I would be undertaking throughout the year and made the start of the placement much less daunting. This was also a great month outside of work as there was a large group of us that could get together after work and on weekends to go and check out the neighbouring cities and see what Idstein (where I am living) had to offer. After this month, I felt well prepared to be able to handle the role on my own and I was less anxious speaking German to my colleagues. My team understood that I would struggle at certain points and let me sneak in the odd English word if I couldn’t articulate what I wanted to in German which was helpful to begin with! 

I’m the intern for the ‘Brand and Communication’ team, which means I get to complete tasks involving all brands under the Stanley Black & Decker conglomerate including Black+Decker, Bostitch, DEWALT, Facom, Irwin, Lenox and Stanley. My team are responsible for the development and distribution of POS materials, catalogues for each brand, managing merchandise/giveaways and conceptualising and organising company events. My line manager is responsible for events, so some of my work includes helping her to prepare for them. For example, I create preparatory documents for each event known as ‘Dispos’ that include information about our stand, a personnel plan, addresses for the event venue and the hotel as well as any other necessary information. I also organise the delivery of different items for the event, such as displays, catalogues and any products that will be shown on the stand. I got to visit Eurobaustoff in Cologne last year and I will also be helping to run a competition at Holzhandwerk at the end of March which will be a great opportunity to practice my spoken German.

More recently, I have been involved in the development of new catalogues. My tasks include checking that corrections have been made by the external media agent, sourcing any product pictures that our needed from our media library and checking that the correct product prices are being used. Once these catalogues go into print, I break down bulk orders and send them on to our sales representatives who pass them on to customers. My other main task regarding catalogues is to maintain an overview of the stock levels of catalogues for each brand. To do this I use SAP to check the current stock in our warehouse in Belgium. The report is then sent on to colleagues in different departments of the business so they can see how many of each catalogue are available and how to go about making any orders that they require.

Other tasks can range from translating E-Mails for my team from German to English, to creating ‘Etiketten’ (stickers with the barcodes and prices of our products) using Excel. My role often includes lots of short-term tasks to complete, therefore it is important to manage priorities and be aware of any deadlines that are upcoming and distributing time between tasks accordingly. Sometimes the role can become repetitive, but having the support of my team, the other interns (and a solid music playlist) makes these periods manageable! Overall, the placement is enjoyable and has helped me develop a lot of skills, especially my German competence. The crossover period and length of the placement makes it possible to learn as much as possible and gives me the maximum time to try and absorb as much German as I can before I head into final year.

The office is in Idstein, a small town, so it is slightly different to a lot of people I know who are in placement in large cities such as Munich and Nuremberg. It is quite quiet but there’s everything you need, plenty of supermarkets, restaurants and most importantly ‘Lokale’ (pubs) to enjoy. The nearest big city is Frankfurt which is about a 30-minute train journey away. It’s great to have such a big city nearby that you can go to for shopping, a night out or to visit the English shop so you can pick up some home comforts. Another one of the great things about the Stanley Black & Decker internship is that there’s a group of interns, this year there are 5 of us in Marketing and 1 in the Engineering department. This means that we can organise things to do together and helps to make the most out of the year abroad experience. For example, we’ve adopted Mainz as our German football team and we often go to games, most recently against Bayern (Mainz lost, but 15 Euros to watch Bayern play is a bargain!). Some of us also went down to Munich for Oktoberfest for a few days, which I would recommend. We are planning to visit Amsterdam as well as plenty of other German cities such as Berlin, Bonn and Hamburg so there’s plenty to still look forward to for the rest of this year!

My graduate job in Careers+Placements

Hi all!

“Guess who’s back, back again,

Ali’s back, tell a friend,

Guess who’s back,

Guess who’s back,

Guess who’s back”…..

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For all those who don’t know me, my name is Ali! I’ve written blogs previously in the past for the Careers+Placements team as an Honorary Assistant Psychologist during my placement year. Now fast-tracking myself a few years later…and zap! I’ve landed myself a graduate job in the C+P team working as an Assistant Placement Coordinator!

So how did I get here? It’s a good question to ask, and if I’m entirely honest… I’m not sure myself either! During my time at Aston University, I always kept a go-getter mentality when presented with opportunities. Whether this was volunteer work in and around university or part-time casual, I always strived to get involved to do my part and make that difference! At the time whilst participating in all these opportunities, I had only assessed the benefits that I would’ve gained over the short term:

  • Successfully identifying and applying my strengths
  • Stimulating and promoting positive self-development
  • Developing a stronger insight into services provided by Aston University
  • Networking with academics and professionals alike.

However, through constant volunteering opportunities, I had the chance to further develop my networks and meet some really interesting people. As of such, my passion soon developed into a commitment and I found myself becoming a student ambassador for Aston University. It was through my perseverance, commitment and a helpful recommendation from the Learning Enhancement team that I was able to secure a temporary contract shortly after graduating. It was then, through continuous work during my role as a Student Support Assistant, was I able to progress into a Placement Coordinator role. Not only did this allow me to play on my key strengths but also gave me the opportunity to better prepare students for their upcoming placement year.

It soon dawned upon me that this role was starting to provide me insight into the careers and education sector. I was starting to draw the dots together between the services we provided to our students and the high level of graduate employability. Upon working as a Placement Coordinator, I had only realised how beneficial the Careers+Placements team were in developing and nurturing Aston University’s students in preparation for the working world!

Currently working full-time, I’m always finding ways to improve upon student engagement and delivering the best support service possible! I like to believe that when an opportunity presents itself, seize it at once. The experiences we gain now as graduates will only benefit us further and become critical in future decision-making and employability.

Whatever you do, just remember in life that there is no elevator to success; you have to take the stairs!

What’s the big deal with SMEs?

It can sometimes feel difficult trying to find the right placement or graduate role for you. Large companies can offer attractive graduate schemes or placement programmes, but competition for them is often fierce. But don’t despair, there are plenty of opportunities out there – you just need to look in the right places. Don’t make a big mistake and ignore the opportunities offered at small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – just because they aren’t household names, it doesn’t mean they can’t offer you exciting prospects.

What is an SME?

An SME is defined as a company that employs fewer than 250 people. In 2017, 5.7 million SMEs were recorded in the UK, which means there are a lot of options out there! New and upcoming businesses tend to be SMEs and they cover almost all business sectors, so whatever you are interested in, there should be something for you.

Why should I consider an SME?

There are lots of benefits of working at an SME. Here are just a few that you might find rewarding.

Embrace the culture
The culture of SMEs is one of the biggest differences between smaller and larger companies – you will be in a smaller work environment and, therefore, a smaller team. This means you should be able to integrate well into the team and get to grips with the staff and departments more quickly. Not only will this interconnection between the departments make communication more effective, but you will be able to get a better understanding of your role and feel more comfortable in it much more quickly.

Make an impact
Linking to the close-knit community at SMEs, working within a smaller company means you are more likely to get your hard work noticed. It will also be easier to have your voice heard – you could potentially be working with more senior members of staff in smaller companies which is a great opportunity to share your ideas and make a difference! This will give you job satisfaction – watching your ideas being implemented and being able to oversee projects through from start to finish will help you feel like you are making a real contribution to the business.

Broaden your skill-set
Due to the smaller team size, you are less likely to be restricted to a single role – you will probably have varied responsibilities, maybe even across different departments. For example, if you worked in a marketing role, you could find yourself carrying out work in digital, print, advertising, sales or event workstreams. Not only does this mean you get to pick up transferable skills, but being exposed to different workstreams will help you gain a better understanding of how the company works and which area you may want to specialise in.

Where could I be working?

There are SMEs in all types of sectors, but here are some of the most common areas that you may consider when looking for opportunities:

  • Arts and culture
  • Marketing, media and publishing
  • Manufacturing
  • Financial services
  • Legal services
  • Consultancies
  • Technology/software companies
  • Construction
  • Charities

How do I find opportunities at SMEs?

Finding opportunities at SMEs can sometimes be a bit trickier than finding them at larger companies, as they aren’t often marketed in the same way. Here are some tips to remember during your search.

  • SMEs often rely on recruitment agencies to fill their roles, so it may be worth looking at this route.
  • When searching for roles online, don’t focus on brand identity. This means, instead of searching for companies you know about, focus on searching for specific roles or industries e.g. search for ‘auditing roles in Birmingham’ rather than ‘Deloitte vacancies’. The trick is to use buzzwords – such as sectors and role types – rather than company names.
  • Larger companies often recruit far in advance for their graduate schemes and placement programmes. SMEs don’t – they usually recruit as and when they need to. They often advertise for roles in the Spring, which is ideal if you missed out on some of the early deadlines before Christmas!
  • Don’t dismiss internships – if you are looking for a graduate role, you may only be interested in securing a full-time, permanent position. However, some SMEs may offer internships with the potential for you to be kept on as a permanent member of staff if you impress as an intern. Make sure to read all the details when you see internship opportunities advertised or contact the employer to see if there is a possibility of you being considered for a permanent role at the end of the internship.
  • It’s also a good idea to apply speculatively to SMEs if they aren’t currently advertising specific roles, as they may invite you in for a chat or keep your CV on file for when a role does come up. However, it’s important that you outline your expectations in these speculative applications – say you are looking for paid placement opportunities for example. Don’t say you are willing to work for free, as some companies may exploit that.

Things to remember when searching for opportunities

While we do want you to take SMEs into consideration when searching for opportunities, make sure you take some time to think properly about whether an SME is the right company for you.

  • Think about whether you are happy having a varied role in a small team, or if you would prefer to have a more defined role within a larger team. It can be hard work having to juggle a variety of responsibilities, so think about what kind of work you would be happy with. 
  • How much training do you want? A graduate role at an SME for example won’t be structured in the same way as a larger graduate scheme – it will usually be an entry level role. Additionally, SMEs often focus on on-the-job learning as they often have fewer resources for training compared to larger companies.
  • Do background research about the company before applying – find out what type of work they do, what the work culture is like, what their values are etc. to see if it’s a company you would feel happy working for.
  • There is sometimes the option to negotiate your start date at an SME which you might not be able to do for larger companies. Therefore, if there is a role being advertised with a starting date that is before the end of your exams/you graduate, you may be able to speak to the employer to see if there is any flexibility with the start date.

If you want to find out more about the big opportunities an SME could offer you, we are here to help! Visit our dedicated webpage: www.aston.ac.uk/sme, join in the conversation on social media using the hashtag #AstonSMEs or come and speak to us in the Careers+Placements Centre. Don’t forget, you can also explore a range of placement and graduate opportunities at SMEs on Aston Futures.