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Jobs with smaller companies

Large graduate recruiters are often the most visible, but if you look at smaller enterprises you will find a huge hidden market for jobs.

It might not have the high profile of the big graduate recruiters, but add up the jobs within the SME (‘small and medium-sized enterprises’) sector and you will find it is a big employer overall. In the Republic of Ireland, 97 per cent of businesses are SMEs – organisations with up to 250 employees. Of the various economic regions of the UK, Northern Ireland has the biggest SME base: nearly 80 per cent of employment and 75 per cent of turnover.

Will I get a ‘graduate’ job?

There is a now growing recognition that the quality as well as the quantity of jobs in the SME sector is improving all the time and that a job in a smaller enterprise can represent a very good career move. SMEs are building links with educational institutes and are feeding into practice-based skills training and work experience programmes. It’s still true that if a graduate takes on a low-skill job in an SME just to fulfil their need for employment they can hit a career dead-end, but this can happen in any sector.

How do the jobs compare with larger companies?

Roles can be less rigid within a smaller organisation, so a good graduate has an opportunity to develop skills across a range of functions. Someone starting with a new company on a steep growth curve can develop their career quickly in line with that growth. A big advantage of SMEs is that they encourage and support creative and entrepreneurial types.

Training and promotional opportunities may be less structured in an SME, and the uncertainty of a less than clear career path ahead will not suit everyone. Starting salaries may be less attractive in this sector but, since financial reward is very much performance-based, salary scales can rise rapidly once you have shown what you can do.

How do you find jobs with SMEs?

SME recruitment works quite differently from larger company recruitment. While university qualifications and achievements are highly rated by the corporate giants, other personality-driven factors such as attitude, character and discipline-related experience are valued in the SME sector. Of course it is essential to acquire the appropriate academic/technical qualification but demonstrable skills and relevant experience are what really cut ice here.

In this sector you don’t have the milkround type of recruitment based on an annual cycle of promotional and recruitment activities. This means that job hunting strategies based around personal contact, networking and good intelligence about what’s happening in a particular sector are essential. If you keep an ear to the ground and are able to demonstrate that you have the required skills, you will be well placed to get that job.