Top Tips for Applying to Jobs at Start-Ups and SMEs

Tara Sallis

It is so easy to find advice about making a competitive application to a graduate scheme or a big corporate, but it can be more difficult to know what small companies are looking for.

There are slightly different things to think about because the application process is not the same and neither are the priorities of the employer! Check out our top 5 tips to make sure that you are in with the best chance of landing a great job at a start-up or SME.

1. Know the company inside out

Of course, whatever job you apply for it is a good idea to check out the company first, but this is particularly key if you want to get a role at an SME. Often, the founders will carry out the recruitment process, rather than an HR team, meaning that the people who created the business are the ones assessing your application and interview answer. If you show passion, enthusiasm and knowledge about their business, then they are likely to trust you to fuel the growth and development of the business.

Also, particularly if the role is in an early-stage start-up, joining the business involves having a chance to shape its future and you need to really back the idea of the company to get be a part of that!

2. It is not all about qualifications

One key difference between applying to a corporate and an SME, is that rigid entry requirements matter less at smaller firms. For example, there probably will not be university or A level entry grades at a smaller company and they probably will not require you do tasks like psychometric tests. Instead, they are looking for potential, creativity and initiative. Focus on what you specifically can bring to the company and how you have demonstrated the key qualities that a smaller employer is looking for.

3. Company culture is key!

One of the top priorities of any employer running a small company is how well a new individual is going to slot into their existing team, both in terms of skills and character. In a small team, people are often expected to work across multiple areas of the business and everyone will be involved in the big decisions, so if you can demonstrate a breadth of skills and the ability to take initiative then you will definitely stand out.

Also, think about the impression that you make at interview. If you arrive in a suit and tie to an office where everyone else is wearing jeans, it might raise questions about your compatibility with the company culture. This should be as much of a red flag for you as it is for them! Try to be friendly and approachable and make an effort to meet the team if you get the chance. If you are a good fit for the specific gap they are filling in their business, then make sure they know!

4. Move quickly

When it comes to getting a role at a smaller company, there are no long application windows and recruitment a year in advance of the role starting. Start-ups and SMEs move fast: a role might have been opened, filled, and an employee has started at the company all in a matter of weeks. If you see a role you are interested in, make sure to get in an application quickly and expect the process to start moving straight away.

Applications happen all year round, rather than just at the start of the academic year, so keeping an eye out for great opportunities on an ongoing basis is crucial. The benefit of this is if you miss out on one role, there is always another one around the corner!

5. Ask around even if you do not see an advert

When you are looking for your perfect role, you cannot guarantee that it is going to come to you! If you come across a start-up or SME that you would like to work for who are not advertising any jobs, send in your CV and a cover letter anyway in case they are thinking of hiring soon. Many small companies hire in more informal ways or may create roles when they come across good candidates, so it is always worth asking just incase!