Considering what life after university might look like? Many careers are open to graduates from any degree and you can use our resources on what can I do with my degree and planning your career to start your search.

One decision you may be considering is choosing whether to pursue a career in industry or enter further study.

When considering working in industry, there is a huge variety in prospective employers. Organisations come in all sorts of shapes and sizes so a good way to start narrowing this down is to explore if you’d like to work for a big, multinational organisation or a smaller company, often known as start-ups and small to medium enterprises (SMEs). The two routes have different things to offer, and although the culture of each company will vary regardless of its size, there are things you should bear in mind with your industry research.

If you have an idea for a business and would be interested in taking this to industry, review our guidance on starting a business and the support available from the Imperial Enterprise Lab.

Working for a large or small organisation?

Working for an SME

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are defined as companies that employ less than 250 people and have a turnover of less than £50 million (European Commission).There are 6 million SMEs in the UK (House of Commons Library, 2021) and they account for 61% of employment (FSB, 2020). A startup is a type of SME, and is a young company founded by one or more entrepreneurs to develop a unique product or service and bring it to market 

Advantages of working for smaller businesses

There is a huge variety of SMEs across all sectors, from micro businesses (traditionally less than 10 employees) to medium-sized enterprises (less than 250 employees).

The advantages of working for a small business include:

  • The opportunity to have greater responsibility and influence operations
  • Working more closely with decision makers and senior colleagues
  • Networking and liaising with management teams
  • Variety and autonomy in your work
  • Making tangible contributions to the business that are visible
  • Experience of different tasks and functions within a company

Imperial students that have undertaken internships in an SME have said:

“During my internship I gained valuable insight into both the biotechnology industry as well as the intricacies of working for a start-up. I improved my pitching ability; pitching in front of CEOs and executives of biotech and health companies in the pre-final judging round at MassChallenge.” Anonymous, 2018, MicroQuin

“As sole researcher, I designed a trial to extend this primary remit, managing all stages and reporting the improvements in hydration and wellbeing. I have learned a lot about research. I have also gained skills in problem solving; being flexible and adapting research to fit the constraints I am given.” Diana Shroff, 2019, Jelly Drops

Where to find opportunities?

SMEs are less likely to have formality around their recruiting practices and you may need to take a more creative and proactive approach to finding opportunities. The ‘hidden’ job market describes vacancies that employers do not advertise yet still want to fill. A speculative application is an application made to an employer where a job or internship is not publically advertised but you want to enquire if there is the potential to create a job or internship.

Start-ups and smaller businesses can often be harder to find but below we have directed you to some places to start your search:

  • British Chamber of Commerce – represents businesses of all sizes in the UK and have regional chambers for you to research into local companies
  • UKSPA – there are over 130 Science Parks across the UK that are home to innovative companies.
  • Sifted – the Financial Times backed media platform for Europe’s innovators and entrepreneurs.
  • WorkInStartups – the meeting point between start-ups and talented, creative candidates.
  • Unicorn Hunt – advertises the latest tech jobs in European start-ups.

Imperial College London is home to a vast start-up ecosystem and below we have directed you to some places to start your search. You should look out for companies and start-ups mentioned on some of the following Imperial resources, and research any you are interested in, perhaps using a speculative application to contact them, if they’re not advertising a suitable opportunity:

Networking is also an effective job searching technique and a way to build a strong community of contacts. Once you have identified the sector you are interested in, you can look for relevant associations that host networking events such as Tech Nation.

Working for a large organisation

Large organisations can be defined as companies that employ more than 250 people. They are often recognised internationally and may be strong household brand names.

Advantages of working for a large organisation

In a large company you are likely to start out as a small fish in a very big pond and there are various advantages to exploring this route:

  • Structure – big companies often have an established way of doing things and you will tend to work in a clearly defined role within this set structure.
  • Training – if you secure an internship or graduate role you will undergo a training programme designed to support your integration and career growth and this may include different placement rotations for you to explore more areas of the business.
  • Salary and benefits – generally salaries are higher in larger corporations and they often have the resources to offer a wide range of benefits such as pension schemes or dental care plans.
  • Job security – there may be more job security in an established organisation, however this is not always the case.
  • Specialisation – if you are interested in advancing your knowledge in a specialist area you are likely to find this easier in a large business where you will have a clearly defined role.
  • Brand reputation – a big company is more likely to be a well-known brand and working there could be a way to add value to your CV. An established name can sometimes hold weight when moving on as a stamp of quality.

Where to find opportunities?

Large companies are more likely to offer advertised structured opportunities including internships and graduate jobs. Explore our resources on work experience and job hunting for further guidance on finding opportunities.

When researching, it is important to visit the company’s website and follow the company on social media. This will help you understand a company’s culture and direct you to additional opportunities to engage with them including networking events. We host or advertise hundreds of events each term to help you build success on your own career journey. For more details explore our resources on what’s on including upcoming employer workshops and career fairs.