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14 pros and cons of junior-level jobs in SMEs

In recent years, the government and big business have been giving a big push to graduate schemes.

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An unfortunate by-product of this is a lack of awareness for junior-level jobs in smaller companies, or SME’s. More often than not, they will have great junior positions and a productive and positive atmosphere, but the idea of working for a small company with less job security scares many.

In a number of cases though, taking on an junior-level position as a trainee, assistant, researcher, etc. is more beneficial for your personal and professional development than a graduate scheme could ever be.

But first…

What is a SME?

SME stands for Small and Medium-sized Enterprise. These are companies which have anywhere between 1 and 250 employees and therefore normally have a little less in the way of high wages and extra perks to offer to potential candidates.

They normally make up for this through business culture and atmosphere. You’ll have the opportunity to build a closer relationship to the company directors, CxO’s and board members, as well as all senior and junior colleagues. It requires a lot of hard work, but the rewards you reap from it come in the form of professional development and personal satisfaction.


+1: Closer-knit teams

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If the size of the company is 10-15 people, there’s a good chance you’ll get to know everyone there really well. You’ll even get to speak to the company director on a regular basis.

Not only that, but because there’s a mutual understanding that everyone needs to fit in, existing colleagues will go the extra mile to make you feel welcome.

+2: More sectors catered for

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Should you choose to avoid graduate schemes and go for a regular, junior-level job, you’re free to search for more diverse roles in any sector, such as software development, web design, SEO, you name it.

Not only that, you’re more likely to work with more facets of that sector. For example, you could take on a role which spans the full development cycle from inception of design to release, ass opposed to being pigeon-holed into development or testing.

+3: A feeling of value

Small companies need everyone to pull their weight. As a result, you’ll be making a more major contribution to the workplace than the negligible one you’d make somewhere larger.

If you take a role in a company with 4 or 5 people, you’ll be doing a significant percentage of all the work done and you know that it’ll have an impact on the complexion of the business, which should in theory nurture motivation.

Everyone around you will be incredibly passionate about what they do, as will you. You have to be if you want the company to succeed.

+4: More hands-on from the get-go

As a shoot-off from positive #4, the work you do will be less of the shadowing, dull kind, and way more hands on. For example, if you get a junior-level job as software developer, you need to get stuck into the code early, as to learn the practices the company implement.

+5: Good performance = career progression

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Growth from a small to a medium sized company, or medium to a large size, means that more jobs will be created. Who gets first call on these roles? You do.

If you’ve proven your worth in a more junior role, a move up to a senior position isn’t far away. You’ll be on the wage of a graduate job, but you’ll actually feel like you’re earning the money in your bank account.

+6: Much less bull

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One of the less thought-of perks available to those at SME’s is the lack of politics. Because everyone is helping each other with the wider aim of driving business, there’s little room for politicking.

Similarly, a lot of offices are open plan, which also means it’s harder to gossip. If you see yourself as someone who has a tendency to complain about something or someone without making it apparent to those involved, you may find the larger environment of big corporations more homely.

+7: A different kind of incentive

While having a company car and a health package is handy, there are some more intangible perks which graduate schemes don’t offer. The keystone of these perks is the value you have within a business.

As a result of feeling valued, you’re also more likely to be rewarded for your good performance with a career boost rather than a consumerist gift.


-1: Less financial security

There’s no guarantee that if you take on an junior-level job that you will get the awesome perks offered by companies like Aldi. Private healthcare and company cars are luxuries that the smaller businesses can’t afford.

Additionally, pay will be lower, as will bonuses. It’s fair to say that taking on a junior-job is a calculated risk financially.

-2: Less opportunity to train/gain professional qualifications

Smaller businesses usually wouldn’t have the financial clout to buy their new hires professional qualifications. For example, smaller law firms are unlikely to be able to afford to pay for your law qualifications than larger ones.

-3: Inevitably lower pay, depending on your sector

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A biggie for a lot of people is money, and understandably so. If it’s money you are looking for from a career as opposed to prospects and progression, you’re unlikely to want to apply to smaller businesses, which wouldn’t normally have the finances to prop up graduate scheme-esque wages.

This is largely dependent on your sector though. Those in software, web and mobile development, or in an engineering or scientific field, are likely to have a starting salary close to that of a graduate scheme because their skills are so in-demand.

-4: Working environment may be less impressive

Inevitably, smaller businesses don’t need glamorous offices. As a result, you could end up in a pokey office on the top floor of a block of offices. Sure, the view is great, but the facilities are minimal.

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With graduate schemes, you could end up working in some truly lovely areas, such as the Co-op bank pyramid in Stockport, or one of the many glorious architectural designs inhabited by PwC.

-5: Can’t hide – smaller environment so can’t go unnoticed

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In an environment where the work you do has a minimal impact on the overall business, it’s easy for the mistakes you make to slip under the radar.

In a small company, it’s much different. For example, if you say you’re an elite Frontend developer, but you regularly make mistakes when coding in CSS, the consequences are much greater.

Your weaknesses are on full display, and more often than not, you cannot cover them.

-6: Commitment level

Some say that graduates on grad schemes have a lot of hard work to do, in often unsociable hours. In a smaller environment, every second is even more precious, and the resources available to you are more finite.

Those who don’t have the work ethic required to put in a real shift on a daily basis may not enjoy the rigours of working in a small or local company.

-7: Less senior staff

An invaluable source of knowledge which you must tap into in any role is the advice of senior staff. While you may never get to meet them in a graduate job, I’m sure if you sought them out they’d speak to you. They range from departmental heads right the way up to executive board members and presidents.

There is always going to be less people to talk to in a smaller company, and in some cases there may only be one truly senior member of staff you can go to for guidance. The upside is that they will always be around.

Much like with graduate schemes, different types of role suit different people. Many graduates leave university with more than a year of commercial experience under their belt, and don’t require immense supervision. Others will benefit from the one-to-one learning environment SME’s provide.

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