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Kick-Start Your Career with an Internship: Working in SMEs and Start-Ups

By skye.aitken, on 12 April 2021

Read time: 4 minutes

Written by Nasima Bashar, Internships & Vacancies Officer at UCL Careers.

It can be a daunting task to begin thinking about your future career whilst still at university. In the first few months of your studies, graduation can seem quite some time away. However, you’ll find that your time at university can go quickly so it’s a good idea to get a head start where you can. The ongoing global pandemic further reinforces this, as students and graduates may feel the mounting pressures to establish concrete employment plans for this summer.

There is no “right” way to plan for your future career and no correct answer to the question of where you should be in your career-planning journey at this stage. UCL Careers is here to help you, whether you have known your career ambitions for years, or you still feel confused about which career path to take. We see over 6,000 individual students a year, all who follow different and unique paths to their future careers. Wherever you may be at this stage, UCL Careers is here to help you.

A great way for students and graduates to gain experience is through taking an internship. This allows you to gain experience in a range of roles and sectors, take a holistic approach to your education, and apply the skills that you have acquired from your degree. It is important to remember that 96% of graduates switch careers within three years. While this may sound discouraging – it highlights there is no set path for you to follow on the search for your ideal career. So much choice can be overwhelming, and internships are a great way to get a taste of different opportunities. This year the UCL Summer Internship Scheme is open to all UCL students including undergraduates and postgraduates, and recent graduates. .

The UCL Summer Internship Scheme hosts a range of opportunities across various sectors. All opportunities are exclusive to UCL students and recent graduates, and pay above National Minimum Wage. Two of the most common internship opportunities as part of the scheme are in affiliation with Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups.


 SMEs make up 99.8% of all London’s private sector businesses. Furthermore, employment in SMEs represents 60% of all UK employment. Students and graduate often envision working for large corporations that are well-known internationally, but it is also important to consider the benefits of working for a smaller organisation. Some of the advantages to working in a SME include:

  • Greater scope of the role.
    • Working for a smaller organisation, it is more likely that you will have a hands-on role, where you are able to quickly get stuck-in to the company’s daily routine. Widening your skillset in such a way allows you to be more competitive within the job market after completing your internship.
  • Closer working relations with your colleagues.
    • If you work for a large organisation, it is unlikely that you will come into contact with colleagues that are outside of your department. If you work for an SME, it is more likely that you will work closely with colleagues across multiple departments. Although you will be working in a specific role, this will allow you to see how other teams work and potentially allow you to identify a new area of interest.
  • More personable.
    • You will never feel like a faceless employee if you are in constant contact with the leaders of your company or organisation. A smaller team can help you to feel more welcomed, and more valued. SMEs often do many things to improve employee wellbeing, with many providing free breakfasts, fruit, drinks, and breakout spaces, etc.


Start-ups are newly founded organisations that aim to solve a problem or fill a gap in their respective sectors. By joining a young company, you will typically be involved with a diverse range of tasks, giving you great exposure and allowing you to grow with the business. You may even contribute to shaping future strategies. Some of the advantages of working for a start-up include:

  • A chance to “hit the ground running”.
    • Working for a start-up is likely to never be boring. Joining an organisation in their early stages of development means it is likely that you will be expected to do a little bit of everything. Taking on a dynamic role in a fast-paced environment will prepare you well for future opportunities.
  • Increased responsibility.
    • A close-knit working environment that is less hierarchical than a large company often enables you to take more ownership of the work that you do. As every employee plays a key role in contributing to the success of the business, you are likely to see the direct impact of your work.
  • Opportunities for growth.
    • Start-ups are always looking for valuable team-players who will stay with the company for years to come. Joining a start-up as an intern may allow you to become an essential part of a new team, and you may be given the opportunity to take on a more permanent position.

SMEs and start-ups are not a one size fits all, there are many different types and sizes of organisations to work for. Through the UCL Summer Internship Scheme, you can work a part of an organisation and explore the type of work environment that best suits you.

2 Responses to “Kick-Start Your Career with an Internship: Working in SMEs and Start-Ups”

  • 1
    Saja wrote on 20 April 2021:

    Is the internship scheme only available to final year students ? Can first year students apply ?

  • 2
    Joe O’Brien wrote on 13 May 2021:

    It is available to all students. Good luck!

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