Internship in an SME

Over my senior year in MBS I have heard numerous debates on the pros and cons of having an internship in a SME. Recently I even came across this dilemma on Quora. The comment thread is just as interesting and worth the read if you have a minute to spare.

Personally, I can comment that working for a small organization is a good way to learn fast. As a part of my EBA degree I have completed my placement in Radius Ltd. – Russian SME based in St. Petersburg that offered me work in four different projects over the period of 6 months. The projects were in the fields of children education and entertainment and involved a lot of strategic thinking and creativity. Since Radius did not have a marketing manager, they appointed me to take care of marketing and advertising tasks along with building Radius website and creating its corporate presence on social networks. From my experience I can tell that working for such small company was very beneficial for me as for a 22-year-old graduate and here I explain why:

  1. You own your work and see the difference you make

In small companies, people know about each other much more intimately. It means that your hard work and good ideas are likely to receive the recognition they deserve. Work particularly hard or have a fantastic idea in a small company and the owner is likely to find out about it by the end of the week. In a large company, you might never even meet the owner or any senior staff at all. When it comes to promotion, again, in a SME you have better chances to climb up the ladder faster than in a large corporation, since SMEs are free from such binding structures as graduate programmes with clear-cut rules for promotion and just promote people who do well.

In the beginning I have worked among the project team and by the end of the placement I worked hand-in-hand with the CEO of the organization. The management directly could see the results of my work and hear the new ideas directly from me. Thus we have managed to build trust and maintain excellent mutual understanding.

  1. More time for you

A career in a startup or an SME doesn’t necessarily mean saying goodbye to your weekends. Working in a small firm allows workers to get off the “billing treadmill” and often provides greater flexibility. It’s easier to be flexible on working hours in a smaller, more collegiate work environment. I could sometimes come later to work or stay for a half of a day or work out of the office – my boss was fine with anything as long I met the KPIs.

  1. No two days are the same

A job in a small firm may not be as stable as a job in a big firm, but it’s more varied. You get to do a lot more tasks that sometimes come up very unexpectedly. You have a chance to try yourself in various spheres of business and figure out what do you enjoy the most. It helps a lot in finding you niche in the job market. My direct responsibilities in Radius were focused on marketing and I expected them to include digital marketing, PR, social media planning. It turned out that my duties covered even more than that: I was involved in product and operations management, client service optimisation and even recruiting. Since Radius developed educational programs for children, I have been also involved in organizing intellectual games and competitions. The picture below shows me taking an interview with the game champion and his father.

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Along with other duties, I once was representing the company at Chief Time magazine awards ceremony (see the picture below).

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4. A chance to meet a good mentor

The amount of information and quality of education available at small companies is literally yours for the taking. Graduates that have lively enquiring minds and are genuinely interested in the industry they are working in will find that managers and bosses (even owners) have much more time to talk to you than employees at major firms. Furthermore, when asking for references after a job move, the chances are much higher in a small company that the reference will be accurate, and quite possibly that it will come from the boss, or a much higher manager than at a large company (where it will probably come from the HR team).

I am very thankful to the CEO of Radius for her help and guidance throughout my placement. Although she couldn’t assist me on particular digital marketing tasks, she taught me very important skills like negotiation, conflict management, B2B relations and leadership. She became a role model for me since I could witness how one highly intellectual woman with a strong character could effectively lead people toward the set goal.

To wrap up, I admit that big name firms certainly do give your resume weight. However, working for a small firm will give you a more diverse job experience with increased responsibilities that may turn out to impress employers more than a company name. Furthermore, if you plan to start your own company, there is no better experience than working for a small-size firm to learn the basics of what you will need to do.

These are just some of the benefits of “working small”. I hope that these arguments can help students to decide on what kind of internship they want and be not afraid of joining small firms.  If you are about to become are part of a small team already today – congratulations. You’ve got plenty to look forward to, and you might just be doing better than you think!

Aleksandra Bodekhina, EBA12 alumna

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