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Five things SMEs offer graduates that corporates can’t

As a new group of graduates face the task of job-hunting, why not think about hiring one and allow them to take that first step on the ladder of their career? It could have far-reaching benefits for your business too.

University graduates are not simply a cost effective labour option for businesses. They are an asset to a workplace, fresh out of university, brimming with enthusiasm and motivation.

Small businesses have a lot to offer graduates which larger companies don’t have. For many graduates, salary is not the critical deciding factor with other aspects, such as training and career development, impacting their decision about where they would like to be employed.

They are willing to sacrifice some pay for experience as long as they can see there is potential for growth and a path to somewhere further. This article covers what you as an SME can offer graduates looking for employment to motivate them to join your team, rather than a large corporation. When interviewing a graduate, highlight these aspects in the recruitment process to attract more candidates.

1. Greater opportunities to learn new skills

While SMEs possibly can’t offer the salaries of larger companies, they have the right environment for graduates to learn a broad range of skills and gain responsibility more quickly than they would in a larger company. Graduates are looking for an environment in which they can develop skills and take on responsibility and being able to provide this is a major drawcard for smaller organisations.

2. Experience in a broader range of areas

Working for a smaller company means graduates will have the chance to take on tasks they may not have the chance to in other environments. This may be within their own field of study or outside of it.

This can put them in a greater position for the rest of their career. They are also more able to showcase their creativity on projects, bringing a fresh perspective on structures and ideas and growing as an employee.

3. Greater exposure to senior staff

In smaller companies with a flat structure, junior staff have more of an opportunity to communicate with senior staff. In a larger company the CEO or senior leaders may be barely aware of their existence whereas in a small team environment they have the opportunity to learn more from those at the top.

Learning from those who have been there, done that, is a great drawcard for graduates as they can hear first hand things that universities don’t cover in the curriculum and they can learn from the mistakes and experiences of others.

Also, senior managers will be more aware of any skills or talent the person have and is able to utilise those within a workplace context.

4. Benefits for the business

University graduates are enthusiastic and energetic workers who will bring fresh ideas and practices to a business. As recent graduates they will bring different skills, ways of thinking and newly developed efficient computer and possibly social media skills to the organisation.

To make the transition easier for both parties, SMEs should look into getting involved in internship or mentoring programs arranged by universities and view it as a ‘try before you buy’ system. Having an intern come in once a week for six months or for a few weeks during the summer or winter university break will allow you to see if that person fits into the culture of your workplace. Every time you take on a new staff member it is initially a drain on company resources. Internships give you the opportunity to discover if the initial outlay is worth it. Also, by taking on graduates as interns, unpaid or paid, you are allowing them to gain much needed experience whilst also discovering if they are a fit for your business.

Attracting graduates straight from university is more cost-effective than hiring experienced staff from the market. Aside from the extravagant fees of recruitment agencies, experienced staff will seek a higher wage, come with preconceived ideas on how their job, and other organisations, should operate, and may not value the experience gained from working at the business in the same way a graduate would

Who to choose

Skills, potential and personality should all come in to play when deciding who to hire. Someone can have the best skills in your whole company but not fit into the culture. An advantage of a new graduate is that they can be moulded to the culture of your workplace because they may not have preconceived ideas of how workplace is structured.

Try and look outside the square when finding the right staff as well. Don’t just take clones of people already in the company. As an example, around one third of students at Macquarie University are the first person in their family to attend university, they don’t have an insight into the world of professionals. Diversity can help a company to grow and add freshness to its structure and practices.

Making the transition as smooth as possible

The biggest factor in ensuring a successful transition from the world of university to full-time work is the graduate’s immediate supervisor. The supervisor has to be much more explicit than they think they should be with instructions.

Big companies have detailed inductions for new staff, this is more difficult in SMEs. Some things that will need to be explained in more detail to a graduate than someone who has been in an office environment previously include codes of conduct, dress code and use of the internet. These things will be picked up by osmosis, but to make both of your lives easier, discuss it at the beginning and be clear with guidelines and rules, something that may seem second nature to you can be foreign to someone who isn’t entrenched in the workplace culture on a day to day basis.

Office environments can be quite challenging and are markedly different to university. A supervisor needs to be actively involved with graduates for the at least the first six months to help them adjust to the new role and surroundings. Graduates will work hard for the company and are extremely motivated and skilled people, but sometimes they don’t know which direction to put enthusiasm in, a supervisor needs to be a guide for them in order to channel that energy in a positive manner.

There are graduates out there who want to work really hard and are just looking for someone to give them a chance. Universities are willing to discuss hiring graduates with SMEs in order to help them find a suitable candidate and make the transition as easy as possible.

Leigh Wood is Associate Dean Learning and Teaching in the Faculty of Business and Economics at Macquarie University.

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