Should I work for an SME instead of the mighty corporate?

By J&C Team

Intern-turned-freelancer Livy Watson on why she doesn’t regret avoiding the big grad scheme route…

I’ve never been tempted to apply for grad schemes in large corporate firms, despite their obvious and many attractions. Though the pay’s good, the training extensive, and being able to add an impressive, well-known brand name to my CV and conversations certainly has its appeal, I favour hitting the ground running in a smaller outfit where it feels like my contribution makes a difference.

I felt lost and confused (as many people do) on graduating in 2012 and spent six months doing a series of journalistic and PR/Communications internships while I tried to figure out what to ‘do’. Part of me envied my grad scheming friends their smooth transition from education and their structured and clearly mapped out (at least for the next year or so) working life, but I knew that a scheme wouldn’t be right for me. I’ve since wondered whether many people seek a place on a corporate grad scheme not necessarily because they feel it’ll suit them, but because it’s a convenient way to postpone – or avoid – trying to work out what they actually want to do. No one can accuse you of dithering if you’re climbing the golden rungs of a corporate giant: you’ve made a decisive step into the working world and adulthood, and you’re gaining experience, money and LinkedIn kudos.

I stuck to my guns, accepted the instability and confusion, and, luckily things worked themselves out. Following conversations with a freelance copywriter I know, I discovered and got a job as Team Assistant working across two SMEs: Eyes Wide Opened, a small social enterprise helping people find fulfilling work, and its sister company Creamer and Lloyd, an agency using creative people/approaches and the arts to solve business problems.

I was intrigued by Eyes Wide Opened, but my cynical streak made me sceptical of the value of ‘career coaching’ – I remember asking in my interview whether it had a tangible effect on participants’ lives or was just temporarily uplifting. My suspicions proved unfounded, as even without attending a full course (I sat in on workshops and had numerous 1-to-1 conversations) their approach clarified things for me. The coaches posed strikingly different questions to the ones I’d been asked and had been asking myself. I realised that my preoccupation with working out a firm answer to what I wanted to do had been blocking me from thinking more laterally about myself, my values and my strengths, and what kind of opportunities would align with these to allow me to fulfil my potential.

The insights that followed led me to strike out as a freelance copywriter and editor: I still work for both organisations and have taken on various other copywriting projects. I’ve never regretted not taking the grad scheme route, or wished I’d leapt into the first full-time graduate job I could get. In my work for SMEs I’ve been able to get involved in so many projects, have had to teach myself lots of new skills, and have been given responsibilities that exceed the standard ones for someone of my age and experience.  I manage Eyes Wide Opened’s marketing and comms, and have formed and maintained some of their most important partnerships.

Most important, for me, is the fact that when you work in a smaller organisation you are the furthest thing from being a little cog in a huge wheel – your presence and contribution has a real, visible effect on the organisation and the people it serves.
Do you know which route would suit you best?

Eyes Wide Opened’s next course runs on 25 and 26 April in central London. Visit for more details.