SMEs – a ‘Hidden’ Jobs Market

Graduate training schemes with the major corporates are the most visible, well-publicised type of graduate job, but they are not the only option. There are many rewarding roles for graduates with Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs). You might have to use your initiative and delve deeper to find these opportunities, but there are plenty out there!
In this section we discuss this ‘hidden’ jobs market, why it’s definitely worth considering SMEs and how to get into them:

SMEs – a ‘hidden’ jobs market
‎Why graduates should consider SMEs
 A review of the pros & cons of working for small companies vs. large corporates
How to get into SMEs
How to find out about companies & access opportunities




What is an SME?

Small or Medium-sized Enterprise – a business with less than 250 employees

Source: Department for Business



SMEs – a ‘Hidden’ Jobs Market


Only a quarter of graduate job vacancies are with the big blue chip corporates; the bulk of openings are in SMEs, the public sector or charities.
Added to that, small companies meet many of the top criteria that graduates look for in a job (e.g. to make an impact, feel valued and enjoy a good work/life balance).  So perhaps it’s surprising that just a third of young people leaving education want to work for an SME, according to recent research by Santander UK. The study points to concerns about job security, salary and career progression.

But by ignoring these smaller companies, graduates are missing out on an abundance of exciting opportunities: SMEs are big business! They are the backbone of the economy, accounting for over 99% of all businesses in the UK, with many enjoying rapid growth, leading innovation and creating new markets.
The relatively low interest in SMEs is probably largely due to a lack of exposure to what they can offer. There is undoubtedly a problem of accessibility, for both employers and young talent – SMEs struggle to reach graduates, and graduates are largely unaware of opportunities in smaller companies.
There are several reasons for this mismatch:

Universities don’t promote SME opportunities

Universities have traditionally focused on the big corporates who recruit large numbers of students onto graduate training schemes, and who can operate within the university system of annual milkrounds, work placements and internships. SMEs are not generally very visible at careers fairs or through university careers services.

SMEs struggle to access graduate talent

Small businesses don’t have the budget for big recruitment campaigns, nor do they enjoy close links with the universities/colleges who could provide potential employees. So, when recruiting, SMEs often rely on networking – personal contacts and referrals. These openings form part of the ‘hidden jobs market.’
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Students & graduates can’t find the jobs

The lack of exposure to SMEs means they tend to fall under the radar for graduate jobseekers.
Top grad schemes are well-publicised at university, to the extent that many students think this is the only route open to them. But competition is intense, and in reality, only 14% of applicants are accepted on to these programmes.  Students who miss out, or want an alternative to a large corporate, don’t know where to begin to find out about smaller companies and start-ups, or how to access job openings.


‘You get access to loads of the top grad schemes, but there’s no forum for small companies, I wouldn’t know where to start looking.  Uni career fairs all have the big corporate firms from the Times Top 100 list, but you never really hear about smaller companies or start-ups – that would be more useful for graduates. I think you could ease in better, you’d feel like you’re wanted more, there’s a chance you would settle in quicker and enjoy it.’

Chloe, postgraduate Marketing

‘If I find a small company or start-up I might like to join, if they don’t have a grad scheme, how would I find out about them, what would I say when I applied, how do I contact them?’

Georgia, Management & Spanish


There’s a whole world of untapped SME career opportunities, right there for the taking! And HelloGrads is here to help you find them!  Just think, 5-10 years on from graduation, you could be sitting on the board of the next Airbnb, Instagram, Under Armour or Tough Mudder. They all started small…
Read about why you should consider working for an SME and judge for yourself whether it’s a potential route for you. Then discover how to find suitable openings.

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