What is the recruitment process like at a startup or SME?


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Considering working for a start-up or SME? Find out what their recruitment process is like in this week’s blog post.

Over the past few years, there’s been a noticeable increase in the number of university leavers pursuing a graduate job at a startup or SME (small or medium-sized enterprise); over 50% of graduates now say they would rather work at a small company than for one of the larger, more traditional graduate employers. And it’s easy to see why, given working for an SME can be a great way of kick-starting your career. You’ll be given the opportunity to develop a wide skill set, take on high levels of responsibility and get the chance to really have an impact on the business and its development.

So, knowing the benefits of pursuing a role at an SME, you might be wondering what the application process actually looks like. Well, it certainly differs from that of a corporate. Although every startup and every SME will have their own hiring process in place, we’ve rounded up 4 important points that apply to the majority of startups and SMEs and that you should be aware of if you’re thinking of going for a role at one of these companies.

They move quickly

Unlike at larger companies where the recruitment process can start a year in advance of the start date, startups and SMEs don’t have that sort of time at their disposal so tend to start their recruitment drive just 1-2 months before the expected start date of their new employee. This means that it’s perfectly reasonable (and actually encouraged) to start looking for vacancies after your finals or even after graduation, depending on when you’d like to start your new job. You can also expect to hear the outcome of your application a lot sooner!

The interview will be less structured

Whereas at a corporate the hiring process will be run by a fully equipped HR team, at a smaller company it will usually be the founders or CEO who will be going through applications and conducting interviews. This means that the whole process will be a lot less complex. Expect there to be a maximum of 2 interviews and perhaps a test to be carried out either during or prior to the interview. The interview itself will usually be a lot more conversational, and you might at times be expected to take the lead in driving the discussion.

Of course, none of this means that you should put any less effort or time into your interview preparation. It’s still essential that you have researched the role and company thoroughly, their product and their competitors. A smaller company, even more so than a larger company, will be looking for someone who is really passionate about and interested in what they do.

They’ll be looking for slightly different qualities

As a fresh graduate, neither a corporate nor a smaller company will expect you to have lengthy experience in their industry. Instead, they’ll be looking to see whether you have the potential to develop. However, what smaller companies do tend to care about more so than larger companies is cultural fit. Working in such close proximity with one another, it’s essential that everybody gets along. For this reason, it’s not uncommon for you to have part of your interview with different employees or a chance to meet the team after your interview. Of course, each company’s culture varies so this is really a personal decision to be made by both employer and candidate.

They’re less formal

Whereas at most corporates you’ll be expected to turn up to interview in a suit, this might not go down so well at a startup or SME where the dress code is usually pretty casual. Turning up in a suit in this instance would give off the message that you aren’t a very good fit for the company. Think carefully about your interview outfit as it is key to making a good first impression and be sure to do some research beforehand though on the what the company’s employees wear (this will vary from industry to industry). At interview it is still always good to dress a little bit smarter than you would if you worked there.

Similarly, be mindful of the tone and language you are using in any emails you are sending to your prospective employer. Whilst it’s good to start off formally, if you receive a more casual response then try and match their level of formality (whilst still remaining polite and professional). Being overly formal when they are greeting you on first name terms might also raise issues of compatibility with the company.

Guest blog post by Sophie Hudson, Head of Community at TalentPool – a recruitment platform matching recent graduates with job and internships opportunities in startups & SMEs.

Need help with applications? Visit our website for resources, or book an appointment for additional guidance.

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