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Kick Start your Career with an Internship in an SME

By Joe O'Brien, on 24 February 2020

Written by Katharine Evans, Internships & Vacancies Officer at UCL Careers

On your first day at UCL, graduation was so far around the corner it didn’t even figure in your thoughts, you knew that the next three or so years would be a transformational journey. You’d be learning new skills, meeting new people, and reading a subject that you were passionate about. These years were to be your formative adult years in so many ways, and clearly the most important of these would be your career (not that we’re biased at UCL Careers). Then September 2019 arrived and you realised that the end was fast approaching. If you’re studying a postgraduate degree, then it’s likely you’ve always felt that “the real world” was just around the corner.

There’s no correct answer to where you should be in your career planning at this stage. Some of you may have had your career ambitions and route decided since you were six, and others may not yet have a clue! At times it might feel like everyone else is sorted career wise, but we see over 6,000 individual students a year at UCL Careers, and we know that there’s no standard to how your career path is!

This might sound scary, but graduate unemployment is at its lowest rate in 39 years. In part this is due to graduates filling the country’s skills gaps. A big part of this is graduates utilising their transferrable skills into roles within sectors that may not appear obvious. A great way that graduates are able to do this is by getting experience in a range of roles and sectors, and taking a holistic approach to their education, realising that simply studying at university gives one a whole range of desirable skills, regardless of the subject one reads. After all we’re working for longer than ever and moving jobs more frequently than ever before. 96% of graduates switch careers within three years.

So much choice can become overwhelming, so a great way to get a taste of different opportunities, sectors and roles is through internships, whether this be as a graduate or during the course of your studies. This year our Summer Internship Scheme in association with Santander is open exclusively to UCL Finalists and Graduates (PG and UG)

The UCL Careers Summer Internship Scheme (subsidised by Santander) hosts a range of opportunities that are exclusive to UCL. These opportunities all pay the London Living Wage, and are with SMEs based across London. SMEs make up 99.8% of all London’s private sector businesses.

Employment in SMEs represents 60% of all UK employment. But often when people think about graduate jobs they think about the large, internationally known employers. There’s no doubt that working for a bigger employer has its benefits, but there’s also drawbacks to this employment choice, and some people may prefer the chance to work in a smaller organisation. Some of the advantages to working in an SME:

  • Greater scope of role.
    • When working in a smaller organisation it’s likely that you’ll be far more hands on, and the remit of your role will be wider, you’ll be able to explore different aspects of the role and see where your strengths and passions best fit. Widening one’s skillset allows you to be more competitive within the job market if you decide to move on.
  • Closer working relations with colleagues
    • If you’re working in a department at a large organisation it’s likely that you’ll be based in an office with the rest of the department. In an SME you’re more likely to be working in an office with multiple departments and you will be able to see a range of roles in action; so although you’re working in one specific role, you’ll likely see how other staff and teams work, and maybe you’ll see that a different role is of interest to you.
  • Recognition of the interconnectedness
    • Smaller organisations are often aware of the amount of collaboration across all their teams so are far more likely to explain this to you, and you’ll see it in action, giving you an unrivalled bird’s eye view of how businesses function and how all the cogs fit together.
  • Impact and increased responsibility
    • A close-knit working environment with a less hierarchal environment often enables you to take more ownership over the work you do. As everyone plays a key role in contributing to the success of the business you’ll see the impact of your work and have a sense of pride and achievement at the fact that you are directly adding value towards the bigger picture. This means that you’ll get directly noticed for hard work and achievements.
  • More personable
    • You’ll never feel like you’re just a faceless employee if you’re constantly interacting with the leaders of the organisation. A smaller team can help you feel more welcomed into the organisation. SMEs are often seen to be doing their upmost to improve employee wellbeing, with many providing free breakfasts, fruit, drinks, and breakout spaces, etc.

An SME isn’t one size fits all, there’s a huge difference between working in a micro organisation with just 4 employees and an SME with 249 employees across 6 offices, but through the UCL Summer Internship Scheme you can spend 7-8 weeks in an organisation getting an idea of the work environment you thrive in, and the type of role you’re passionate about, and it may end up being the first step on your career ladder.

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