A graduate’s perspective on seeking an SME career


This time last year, my head was buried in textbooks and my diet consisted predominantly of strong black coffees as I prepared myself for the final exams of my undergraduate honours degree. On top of the stress and anxiety caused by finals, in the back of my mind another concern was brewing. I was about to graduate from a prestigious Russell Group university, and with experience and decent grades under my belt, I knew I had a good chance of landing myself a place on one of the many graduate schemes recommended to me by the business school.

But that wasn’t what I wanted.

“Am I crazy?” I thought. Am I feeling this way because I’m scared of taking that step into the real working world? Am I being incredibly selfish for having such opportunities and not wanting to pursue them? My peers, family members and tutors kept reiterating that landing myself a job with one of the ‘big names’ would secure a stable and successful career. I would receive the training I needed in order to develop, and if I was worried about not having my voice heard, I shouldn’t worry, everyone has to start as a small cog in a big wheel to get to where they want to be.

But do they?

In the penultimate year of my course I was fortunate enough to complete an internship in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) start-up. In a team of five, I single-handedly managed the social media and content marketing for the growing business, and played an active role in developing the brand image and persona. With my prior experience mainly consisting of customer service roles in retail and hospitality, it is undeniable that with this new wave of responsibility I made multiple mistakes. Nevertheless, this was without a doubt the best experience I could have been given at that time in my life. It toughened me up, forced me to think logically rather than theoretically, and ticked every box for me in terms of my desire for autonomy, creativity, and the ability to play a significant role in strategising for a growing business.

From there on, I knew this was the space I wanted to be in, but how realistic was this? A number of questions went through my mind: How could an SME afford to hire me as a full-time graduate employee? Where do I even look to find an opportunity with an SME? Should I yield to the pressure and apply for a role within a large organisation just to get the name of the company on my CV?

Luckily for me, my questions were quickly answered as I secured a graduate job in a rapidly-growing software development SME, Gradintelligence. To my delight, on top of this, my role now involves helping students and graduates find the opportunities best suited to them, as well as helping SMEs attract the talent they need to develop their business.

I recently presented to a class of first year business students at the University of York, talking about my own experience of working for an SME and what SMEs look for when they are recruiting team members. After the talk, I asked to see a show of hands for those who would be interested in working for an SME after graduation, around 80% raised their hands. I felt enthused that the York Management School were introducing the idea of working for an SME to their students at such an early stage in their academic careers. I fear however, that despite these great efforts, the visibility of such opportunities can quickly be diminished as graduates are showered with information from the big players with higher marketing budgets.

It is important to mention that there are many fantastic opportunities within large organisations for the right candidates. My point here is that there are university students like myself who are not looking for this kind of career, and many of them are unaware of their options.

Director of Gradintelligence, Fraser Anderson, recently wrote a post addressing the issues facing graduate recruitment in the SME sector. His article sheds light on the fact that although SMEs make up a whopping 99% of the total UK businesses, the sector is not well served by current recruitment approaches.  This causes significant costs to both smaller business unable to access talent, and to the frustrated and disillusioned graduate job-seekers unable to secure work. A year ago I was definitely the latter; the only opportunities presented as being “in line with my degree” were Graduate Marketing Schemes in large corporations. So I applied, and received rejections from all of them.

We believe we have a solution to this problem. Gradintelligence is using the power of verified student and graduate data to connect talent to the best-suited opportunities in businesses of all sizes. As the leading provider of the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR), we are using university verified credentials to maximise the value of the degree and intelligently connect students and graduates to employers and further studies opportunities using thousands of matching criteria: degree subject; module subject; year of graduation; work experience; language skills, to name a few.

The most recent addition to our product portfolio, The Online Talent Matching Engine, is particularly aimed at SMEs who can use this service to gain access to talent that has previously been unreachable. This product has the potential to not only benefit thousands of SMEs, but also to act as a gateway to opportunities within smaller businesses for students and graduates. You can find out much more about how we are working to improve the student transition from university to employment and further study here.  I’m always happy to discuss this topic with employers, universities, students and graduates, so please do leave your feedback below, connect with me on LinkedIn or email me at lillie@gradintel.com.


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