SMALL companies, BIG opportunities

What’s it like to work in a small company? The majority of companies fall into the category of ‘small and medium sized enterprises’ (SMEs), so ignore them at your peril ! My previous blog gave three tips on how to find them, this time I’m highlighting the career of a Product and R&D Manager working in a small company based in Sweden. Copied from my careers book – which showcases 19 other career stories – you’ll see that flexible working practices, a creative attitude and a ‘flat’ management style make them an attractive option for many researchers: 

juggling girlWhen you work for a small company it is important to be flexible and to be able to take on a number of diverse roles to keep the company developing so it retains an advantage in the market. A small company faces greater risks than a larger one so a versatile attitude is essential. I was taken on in order to utilise my expert knowledge in plant science which I gained during the course of my research. Although I have many roles to play within the company it is communicating with researchers as well as coming up with new ideas and being able to see them through to a final product which I enjoy most.

When my postdoctoral position was coming to an end I applied for a research grant which was rejected and I knew this was a turning point in my career; I made a conscious decision to leave research and move into industry. It seemed an easy decision at the time – I had started to become slightly frustrated with research and was thinking of a career where I could still use my plant science training but where I would see more immediate and tangible results with obvious utility and application. I wrote around 10 – 12 companies to find out what they were doing as part of my job search. As it happened my current company was considering employing an expert to help develop the company so my email arrived with perfect timing and I was offered a job which has since become my own, i.e. I have been able to steer the job and take ownership of it. 

Many people consider small companies to be a bit risky and target large ones instead. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with working in a large company, it doesn’t suit everyone and may feel restrictive to some. For me, I like autonomy and being able to see my ideas right through to the end product. I also like the close-knit team in which I work and the sense that we are ‘all in it together’. My advice to those thinking about small companies would be to search out those with around 5 – 30 employees, preferably with a forward-thinking boss. If you do approach companies in the way I did, my advice is to come at it from the side rather than head-on; that is, enquire about the work of the company which gives you more scope for an opening rather than asking for a job directly which could be turned down flat with no room to negotiate further.

Also, don’t be afraid to show who you really are when you approach companies or when you attend interview. If you aren’t your genuine self and pretend, for example, to be knowledgeable or capable of everything you may come across as being false. The important thing is to have the right can-do attitude which will instil confidence into a company director who will be relying on your input far more than a company of thousands.

Generally speaking, small companies cannot afford to employ people who can’t be adaptable and turn their hand to a range of tasks. That’s not to say you would be expected to be able to do anything and everything; I would not be able to programme a computer but I can offer extra input in marketing and advertising, others may be able to assist with the technical or financial side, for example. Dedication and commitment is crucial!

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