- Why did I not apply for those prestigious graduate schemes?
- I should have found out what I really want to do before now
- My studies were more important than getting a job, but now what?
- I think I have missed the boat on getting a graduate job?
These are comments I hear from students and graduates, especially at this time of year. So, as a Careers Consultant I am often reminding students of those opportunities that exist with smaller companies. Yes, the training package and chances to work alongside other new recruits may not be as glamorous. However, there are many opportunities to take on earlier responsibility, or really make a noticeable impact on how a business is doing.
Where are these job opportunities advertised I hear you shouting?
It is true that many of the opportunities that students and graduates see are advertised through larger recruitment websites, but that does not mean that these are the opportunities that most graduate secure!
Finding work with smaller companies is likely to mean being more inventive about your approach. Smaller companies are more likely to advertise through systems like http://www.coventry.prospects.ac.uk or use other sources where it is free to get the message across that they are recruiting. These companies often recruit via word of mouth, or will consider students and graduates who are approaching them with a genuine interest in what they do. Many of these companies may have limited websites, but you can potentially find out so much more about the company and what they are specializing in. By doing this you can make a credible and personalised approach to such companies, offering them ideas for how your skills, experience, commitment and recently gained university knowledge/ studies can make a real difference to what they are doing.
Just because the company does not have a detailed job description, does not mean that you should not prepare to present your skills in a way that is TAILORED (excuse the cheesy picture) specifically to them.
How they recruit may be different
Recruiting for a graduate scheme is likely to mean testing your abilities through a formal application process, interview, or often a lengthy assessment centre experience. So there may be advantages in applying to smaller companies. Smaller companies are unlikely to have the resources to run the same kinds of tests. Employers will still want to find out lots about you though, as the risk they are taking in hiring you is just as great. (or probably greater) This means that how you perform when meeting these employers will be just as important. It may not be a formal panel interview held at a prestigious venue, but could perhaps be 1 or 2 people interviewing in a small room within a busy office/ warehouse/ factory or wherever! They will still be judging you based on what skills and experience you can bring and how you will fit in with their company plans, ideas and culture. (so the student or graduate who can adapt their application and approach stands a much better chance!)
The initial wages or offer may not seem as attractive, but progression may be more rapid and your role much more interesting.
At Coventry University Careers Service we have run initiatives where graduates have been offered paid placements within SME companies. Students used these opportunities and secured permanent positions . This helped reduce the risk for employers in who they might recruit. So think about how you can reduce the risk for them in recruiting you!
When approaching an SME, remember that they may be trying to expand or develop a business, rather than having a secure, established job position in mind. The employer may need time to work out what you can offer, which is why the initial offer they make may not be as generous as with many larger employers. Proving your worth though can mean they revise your position, or even invent a new type of position for you. You may end up taking up a role that both you and the employer never imagined, when you 1st approached them ( or saw their smaller than usual advert, online posting or self-publicity!)
Tips for getting recruited
- Find out as much information as you can about the types of company that you want to work for. Knowing what you would like to do will help you find the type of company that you can make a difference to.
- Think about specialist projects from university, or niche interests that you have, or the links you have made through academics or from work experience.
- You could use a database to find out potential companies. The FAME database (picture below), through the Locate system is a great way to pull up lists of companies based on sector, employer size. You can even find out about the company turnover, or get links to their company website. (invaluable for doing that initial exploration into what they are doing.
- Understanding the challenges the company face, can show your real interest in them –as you need to show you are a highly useful recruit, not just focused on what is in it for you!)
- Make your CV, covering letter or personal pitch to them, sound like they are ideal company and that you have carefully thought about what you can offer.
- Think about how to present your experience, education and skills , highlighting how you are specifically suited to what they are doing. This can really make a difference!
- Keep in touch with the company if they are at all interested. Doing a short project, or creating a piece of work for them, could be the key that unlocks the door to your future career
It may not be a doddle securing a job with an SME company, but looking at the competition for securing a graduate scheme place and the limited window of opportunity, it is worth considering putting at least as much effort into making a well-reasoned, professionally presented application or proposal to companies that the government are relying upon as the engine for growth within the economy.