Why Intern with a startup or an SME?


April 19, 2021

With small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) making up 99 percent of all businesses in the U.K., there’s plenty of hands-on experience that startups and SMEs can offer to students. While you might think that some experience at a big, well-established firm will make your CV look more credible, a gig in the challenging, fast-paced startup world comes with its own set of perks, many of which are even more attractive if you’re an international student. 


Lately, many universities have also been running internship schemes specifically targeted towards SMEs. The Imperial College SME Graduate Internship Scheme offers students and recent graduates the chance to intern at an SME, with the possibility of landing a full-time job post-completion. The Careers Service at the University of Bristol also runs an internship scheme that places students in startups and SMEs working in various fields, including charities and social enterprises. If such an opportunity piques your interest, it might be a good idea to check if your own uni has a placement scheme of this sort. 

However, if you’re still on the fence, here are some reasons you should intern with a startup or an SME:


With great responsibility comes great power

At a startup or a small business, you will have greater responsibilities than at a larger organisation. However, you will also have greater autonomy to make your own choices and decisions, as long as they work in the company’s favour. Due to the small size of their workforce, startups are more likely to show you the ropes and let you take over specific tasks. Such an experience will make you self-sufficient and well-equipped to hold similar positions in the future. You’ll learn to take risks and to hold yourself accountable. At the end of the day, few joys equal that of seeing something you were in charge of turn into a success.


Easier induction process

As an international student, you’re used to finding yourself in unknown environments and adapting to them quickly. These can prove to be essential skills when working in a startup or an SME. Be open to learning and handling any kind of task, even something you’ve never done before, and see every challenge as an opportunity to learn. This attitude can help you get oriented with a new work culture quickly as well. If you’re a self-starter, a startup is the place to be.


A finger in every pie 

At a small business, you’re likely to learn a bit about the functioning of every department, from finance to marketing. Due to the small workforce and decentralised culture of most startups, interns are usually given a chance to voice their opinions and pitch their ideas. It is also possible, and often necessary, for you to get involved in various projects that your colleagues are working on, which ensures you make the most of the experience and accumulate a vast amount of knowledge and experience.


From an internship to a job

It’s no secret that finding a full-time job after you graduate as an international student is no child’s play. People often have to look for a job for months, and sometimes even give up on their job search and go back home. Working in a startup helps you with networking and building contacts since you’re likely to be in direct contact with clients or associates. These contacts can come in handy when you’re on the lookout for a job since they’re already familiar with your work. The absence of bureaucracy in most startups also makes it easier for you to make it to the good books of the higher-ups since you’re bound to either be hired by them or report directly to them. If they like your ideas and work ethic, it is highly possible that they offer you a job when you’ve graduated, or recommend you to others in the business.


Starting out on your own

Lastly, if your goal is to go back to your home country and start a venture of your own, interning at a startup or an SME will help you learn the intricacies of running a business by observing it up close. It will help you get a sense of how things are done and also alert you to the possible pitfalls one has to navigate when setting up a business of their own. You will also get to experience firsthand some essentials such as pitching to potential clients, negotiating with vendors, and fine-tuning a business model.


Interning at a startup or an SME might sound daunting, but it can also be equally, if not more, rewarding. If you’re an international student who would like to work with such a company, make sure to sign up on Student Circus which offers internships and placements with startups, and helps you improve your chances of turning an internship into a job offer!


Written by Snigdha Bansal

Snigdha Bansal is an Indian journalist pursuing the Erasmus Mundus Masters in Media, Journalism and Globalisation, with bylines in VICE and The Femedic, among others. Her work focuses on culture, mental health, and identity.

Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

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