Written by:
Brandon Shah BA
Junior Consultant

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) differ from big companies due to their size and stature, with SMEs having up to a maximum of 250 employees. SMEs play a massive part in the UK economy with over 5 million businesses in operation – a nation in itself, with diverse small businesses operating in every sector. With the growth of SMEs, they surprisingly employ significantly more staff than the large UK companies that dominate the job market including opportunities for graduates.

In this blog, we will discuss the recruitment and application of graduates into roles within SMEs, the current challenges graduates face to enter graduate roles, and how graduates can stand out in the application process.

What do SMEs offer Graduates?

SMEs most often do not follow the traditional entry-level and rigid structure of graduate programmes. Rather, they are particularly interested in finding out if the candidate is the right person for the job, if they are willing to become part of a dynamic team with early responsibility and whether they have the potential to add tangible value to the organisation. Additionally, while bigger companies often place more emphasis on the specific qualifications the candidate has achieved, SMEs show less interest in the candidates’ qualifications and more on their individual characteristics, personality, and potential for growth.

There are also several benefits of being part of an SME which include:

  • SMEs offer a clearer communication network from colleagues to senior managers for advice and development.
  • SMEs are known for having fast and easy promotion prospects and job satisfaction for graduates.
  • There is a prominent level of responsibility with a mixture of teamwork and independent working.
  • As you progress in the company, you are gradually more exposed to having a higher profile.

These benefits present when working for an SME overlay the potential negatives of not offering a clear graduate scheme or programme for training which a graduate would obtain when working for a larger company. However, even this potential negative has limitations as this process with larger companies brings high demand and increasing levels of competitiveness, which may not be a suitable or comfortable environment to work in.

Challenges Impacting the Application for Graduate Roles

Traditionally SMEs have been hesitant hiring graduates for roles in their company due to the concerns over finances involved with training and guidance. This becomes a concern when the graduate is joining the company short term, purely to gain this experience to move forward in their career outside of the company.

However, Covid has had a significant impact creating new limitations not only regarding the number of roles available but also the high number of current applicants at the time of writing. According to the Financial Times, nearly a third of graduates from the past year in the UK lost their jobs, and over a quarter lost internships or had job offers rescinded/deferred.

These changes have had a subsequent impact on the number of applications per vacancy, across all sectors and roles. The ISE recorded the highest recent growth of number of applicants per vacancy since 1999. This high density of applicants has created a greater need for graduates to stand out in the recruitment process.

SMES’ Graduate Recruitment Process

Most small, medium-sized businesses recruit candidates by advertising on-job boards and social media channels such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.  SMEs face a strong challenge in the form of other conventional recruitment processes. These more conventional ways of recruiting graduates are recruitment fairs, internships, placements and promoting programmes through universities

This process is very time consuming and costly when the purpose is to recruit a graduate for a single job role. As a result, SMEs find it difficult to go through this process as they can’t put out the average cost of recruiting many graduates like big companies can, who spend around £900 million per year attracting the best and brightest graduates. This limits the range and potential talent of applicant for their roles.

To replace the more conventional recruitment process, all SMEs have their own specific process for finding the right hire for the proper role at the right time. To get a positive result, some make use of an assortment of some of these processes.

  1. Identifying the hiring needs
  2. Preparing a job description
  3. Attracting qualified candidates by posting job ads to job search sites
  4. Filtering, screening, and shortlisting applicants
  5. Online Assessment
  6. Interviewing selected candidates
  7. Making a job offer
  8. Onboarding new hires

Of these processes the most common and notable hiring methods for SMEs include CV submission and Interviews, this is due to how these processes supply SMEs who commonly utilise smaller HR teams and resources the opportunity to make informed decisions. This recruitment strategy builds a solid talent pool of potential hires which can be utilised for identifying and hiring individuals for future positions. However, for SMEs this strategy offers more than just finding potential new hires, it is also a cost-effective method for improving employer brand awareness and expanding their network into a more streamlined and direct system.

How a Candidate can stand out in the Recruitment Process

This more streamlined and direct recruitment process used by SMEs implies an importance of making sure that an application catches the attention of the company over the other prospective candidates. To accomplish this, there are certain characteristics that should be made evident in the applicant’s description that will increase attention.

What are they looking for?

  • Individuals that are flexible with work and are all round
  • They possess good critical thinking skills.
  • They can work independently and work in teams.
  • Fast learners and work through a task with a short deadline

Concluding Remarks

While SMEs may not use the more conventional methods for hiring graduates, they do look to hire graduates into working roles and with a strong focus on collaboration, communication and development opportunities for the future. The increasing number of applicants to roles has brought an importance for graduates to ensure that their application stands out from the rest. By using the criteria stated, the graduate will be able to accomplish this and be one step ahead of the competition for the foreseeable future.