For those keen to get an internship, SMEs provide a different kind of experience, and placements may be easier to come by.
By Rob Blythe, contributor
Securing internships and graduate placements in 2012 is difficult. There has been a 25% increase in applications to graduate employers since 2009, with an average of 52 applications for each job, according to a comprehensive survey by High Flyers Research.
Certainly, as you’ll know if you’ve found your way to this blog, research roles are particularly competitive, but the landscape isn’t as bleak as the statistics suggest.
There are only vast numbers of applications for a small minority of well-publicised opportunities. Big corporations spend enormous amounts of money making sure their roles are really competitive both because it ensures they are introduced to the very best candidates but also because graduates subsequently really want their jobs.
But what about smaller companies? A recent survey produced by UKCES that interviewed over 15,000 UK employers from a cross-section of sectors reported that 27% of businesses have recruited someone aged between 19 and 24 in the past twelve months. There are jobs out there, but the vast majority will be with companies you won’t be familiar with and won’t have been on campus trying to reach you there.
‘SMEs’ (or small to medium enterprises) is an umbrella term for a real array of businesses. It might be a company run from the founder’s kitchen table or a business with hundreds of employees and very slick offices. The category represents the vast majority of UK employers – and a vast majority of prospective jobs.
If you haven’t considered applying for work placements at SMEs, you could be missing out. Not only are there fewer applicants per role but also some real advantages to the roles themselves. Working in close contact with senior management gives any new recruit the chance to learn from the best, and fast-growing businesses delegate real responsibility early on.
Finding the roles can be the hard part. To increase your chances of success:
- Scour job boards. Interesting roles are swamped by uninteresting options so you have to dig around to find the gems.
- Be generous with your applications. It might be difficult to see from a job spec online quite what the employer is looking for and equally, what they might be offering. You’ll only get a real sense of the role at interview when you have a chance to meet the people you’ll be working with.
- Don’t dismiss low-budget websites. While the businesses you might be familiar with will have interactive careers pages highlighting the benefits of their formal internship programs, for small companies how they appear online isn’t always a priority.
Small businesses work in different ways to big corporations that you need to understand before you start applying.
- They have no foresight when recruiting but instead only advertise when they are absolutely desperate. As opposed to submitting applications months in advance the turn around can be really fast. It’s often the case that companies would be happy to have you get your feet under a desk the day after you send your CV. That is the most fast-paced scenario and there is no need to panic, but you should only apply when you are either available or soon to be.
- When small businesses are recruiting the decision makers will have extensive contact with every member of the team. Personality is a higher priority than it might be for other employers. Include details on your CV that show your interests and feel free to introduce some charisma to your use of language. At interview it’s more important than ever to relax, smile and make a personal connection with your prospective employer.
- There won’t be a HR function so you may well be dealing with the Managing Director from the outset. This changes a number of things. As there’ll be no one else involved in the decision making process there might not be a number of interviews. Any interviews will be scheduled last minute on a flexible basis. Again, this means it’s crucial for your personality and positive attitude to shine through from the start.
Best of luck with your applications!
Rob Blythe is Co-Founder of Instant Impact, an intern and graduate recruitment agency that unites young people with roles in fast-growing SMEs. To apply for paid roles across all sectors submit your CV here.
Stay posted for more on our Internships series over the next few weeks.