As a fresh graduate, it can be tempting to only apply to larger tech employers offering brand recognition and structured training opportunities. However, don’t forget that there are plenty of jobs in tech available at small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) as well!
SMEs can range from new start-ups with just a handful of staff, to companies with anywhere from 50 to 200 employees. They make up more than 97 percent of all businesses in Malaysia, so you definitely won’t be short of choices when seeking employment with such companies.
Here are some reasons why you should think about giving IT jobs at SMEs a shot, and how and where to find such opportunities.
Why work at SMEs?
You get wider exposure to areas of work
Because SMEs typically hire far less staff than big corporations do, staff there usually find their work spanning across multiple roles. For instance, as a developer, you won’t solely be working with code, but may also end up handling DevOps or doing basic cybersecurity work as well.
This is a huge plus if you’re the kind of person who enjoys tackling multiple challenges or learning new skills across various areas of work. You’ll have chances to develop a more broad-based skillset as opposed to specialising in one area right out of the gate.
You get to see the direct result of your work
Tech staff in larger corporations are usually assigned to large complex projects in teams. Each team member may only work on certain parts of the project in isolation, making it hard for them to see what direct result their work has on the project as a whole.
At SMEs, you will typically work independently or with smaller teams, and thus get a more big-picture view of how your work contributes to the project. Depending on the employer, you may also get more direct ownership over your projects/tasks and play a key role in determining how to further proceed with them.
You can hone your innovation and problem-solving skills
As SMEs often have to work with much more limited resources than larger corporations, forward-thinking ones recognise the importance of being innovative and creative with tech as a competitive advantage. Working in such an environment has benefits for you as a tech professional as well.
You may get the chance to drive innovation for your employer by experimenting with new technical trends or working on interesting niche projects. As SMEs usually work with smaller budgets, you will also have to consider how to make tech solutions as cost-effective as possible. This will help you hone your entrepreneurial skills, which will benefit you in your future career.
You may advance your career faster
Since SMEs have lower headcounts, you can potentially climb the ranks and take on new responsibilities a lot faster if you prove yourself.
You could go from being a rank-and-file developer one year to managing a team of other developers in the following year. Likewise, your employer could task you with handling an entire business area, or fast-track your promotion to a management role, depending on the business’s priorities. There are more possibilities that come with being in a smaller organisation than a larger one where you have to stand out against hundreds of other employees.
How to find tech jobs with SMEs
There’s certainly no shortage of entry level tech positions available on job portals or LinkedIn right now. However, the real challenge is finding an SME that matches your values and can provide you the career growth you need. As such, you will need to put more effort into screening potential employers and hearing what they have to offer.
Here are some platforms you can make use of:
University career centres and fairs: The career centre at your university may screen IT and tech employers before allowing them to engage with students. Using their services and attending university job fairs are a good way of finding a curated selection of SME employers.
Specialist IT forums: Smaller employers often try and source candidates on specialist IT forums or online communities like Stack Overflow. Other members on such forums may also connect you with relevant opportunities or give you further insights on what to look out for in your search.
Start-up events: If joining a start-up SME is your thing, attending start-up events or pitch sessions is a great way to see what new ventures are out there. They are also a good chance to meet with founders or company representatives to find out more about job and internship openings.
Networking: Talk to everyone about your job search, including your family, friends, past internship employers, mentors, and even fellow students. You never know who might be able to put you in touch with a possible job opening.
Training and salaries: what can I expect?
SMEs typically offer less formal and structured training to tech staff compared to large organisations. The majority of it is done through on-the-job learning rather than a proper training programme. So the onus will be on you to take the initiative on your own learning journey.
You will often need to be in charge of your own upskilling and development, whether it’s actively learning from senior tech staff, or attending courses or conferences on your own time. Be sure to check with potential SME employers if they have training budgets set aside to assist you with this process.
As for salaries, the pay can vary greatly depending on the company and their area of business. However, on average, expect SMEs to pay less than larger corporations typically will. They may however compensate you with other things instead such as company equity options, more flexible working hours, annual incentives, or other such work-related benefits.
Try and interview with a range of SME companies so as to get a better idea of the scope of offers on the table. Ultimately though, it is up to you to decide whether the tangible and intangible benefits you can get from working with an SME employer of your choice sufficiently outweigh any trade-offs in direct salary.