Tag Archives: SME

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.

Why you should consider working at a start-up

Stuart Harrison graduated from Aston University in 2014 with a degree in International Business with Modern Languages (French). He is now Co-Founder of a start-up called Remedy Roots (who are nourishing better health through a range of signature loose leaf tea blends) based in Birmingham. Here he tells us about his career journey, what it’s like working in a start-up and how his placement year helped him to get where he is today.

Tell us a bit about your career journey. How have you moved from being an Aston student to where you are now?

After graduating, I moved down to Reading to work for a B2B marketing agency. I started off in their client services team – helping clients and managing projects for them. I then worked my way over to the planning department, where we would plan marketing strategies and campaigns for our primarily tech-focused clients. During that time, I studied for a Postgraduate Diploma in Digital Marketing with the IDM.

After two years, I decided to move back to Birmingham to live with my girlfriend (a fellow Aston student I met on placement year!). I was briefly the head of marketing for a small tech company, which sadly went bust after four months due to some lingering issues from before I joined.

That left me with a choice – to get another job, or work for myself. I decided to start working as a freelance marketing consultant. Soon after, my cousin approached me with an idea for her own range of health-beneficial herbal teas.

You are Co-Founder of Remedy Roots – how did that come about? Did your degree support you with the work that involved?

My cousin originally asked me for a marketing plan for her new business. After looking at what she wanted to achieve, and the values she would have along the way, I fell in love with the idea. I asked her if she would consider a 50/50 business partner, and she said yes!

My degree formed a solid base of knowledge that I could use to guide us in taking the first steps to creating a business.

What does your work involve? Do you have any highlights you’d like to share?

As a start-up founder, there is no task or job that you can consider as ‘not for you’; you very much become a jack of all trades. As a digital marketer, it’s been really interesting to learn how to sell at events and fairs, which has taught me a lot about the thinking process people actually go through when buying. We’re quite proud of ourselves that we’ve gone through all the steps needed to start getting our products stocked in shops and cafes, which has been a steep learning curve.

Before you graduated from Aston, what was your opinion of working at an SME or start-up? Has this changed?

I’ve always wanted my own business – the degree I chose and the jobs I took after were deliberate, to try and prepare myself for when the right idea came along. The all-consuming nature of a start-up is definitely much clearer to me now, but I’m still really happy to be working for myself!

What do you think are the greatest benefits of working at an SME/start-up?

If you’re working for a start-up, you’ve got a voice that will be heard. There’s no getting lost in the mix and if you’ve got an idea, you can test it out without having to go through three months of getting the right department members on-board. On top of that, if you’re with the right company then there will always be room for progression, because you’re helping the business to expand into bigger and better things.

What advice would you give to other students looking for job at an SME/start-up or considering starting up their own business?

Find something that you love. Whether it’s your idea or someone else’s, if you’re getting involved at a small business level, there’s no room for coasters – you need to really believe in what you’re promoting. At the same time, make sure you’re going into business with someone that’s interested in seeing you profit as well as themselves.

Did you do a placement whilst you were at Aston? If so, where was it and what did it involve? Did it help shape your career path in any way?

Yes! The placement year sealed the deal when I was looking at University courses. I did six months in Nice, France working for a boat rental company, then six months in Paris for Orange Business Services. A placement is invaluable. I found that at all my subsequent job interviews, I spent more time talking about my experiences on the placement year than anything else. It completely broadens your thinking and helps you to appreciate what the working world looks like beyond the part-time jobs that are available to a student.

You can find out more about Remedy Roots here: remedyroots.com

If Stuart’s story has inspired you to find out how small companies can offer you big opportunities, 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.