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Going from a large corporate firm to an SME

29/10/14

A growing number of finance jobs are being generated by SMEs, but not everyone can easily manage a move from a big company to a small one.

The number of SMEs in the UK has risen rapidly in recent years, driven by the growth of new start-ups. But would professionals really want to move from a large company to a small one?

For many people, the answer is yes, as some would enjoy the challenge and responsibility that such an undertaking would involve. For others, however, it may be a case that their first choice would be another large firm, yet the availability of posts in this area is restricted - necessitating a wider job search that considers the possibilities of small firms.

This shift has been driven by a number of trends beyond the simple increase in SME numbers. For instance, in companies with over 5,000 employees in London, new financial roadmaps have tended to restrict internal opportunities.

Another development has been a rise in investment banking chief financial officers and financial directors among SMEs, pushed by the continuing key requirement of raising funds. These post holders will need to be backed up by deputies who have the small company experience to run an SME finance function.

A common question asked by candidates is just how an employee can manage a move from a huge multinational to a small but agile business.

The first part of the answer is to note that while the London recruitment market is busily hiring, it remains risk averse, so any candidate will need to show their value. This is undoubtedly a market focused on proven talent.

For smaller companies, this focus needs to be greater still. In a large firm with a big team, it is possible to delegate tasks and ensure the tougher ones are shared out more. In a small firm, the responsibility levels placed on each individual are inevitably greater. Potentially, that makes each hire riskier in a small firm.

Small employers will look to mitigate this in a number of ways. Personality tests and psychometrics are being increasingly used at small firms to assess whether candidates seeking to leave large companies really can cope with the transition from big to small.

There has certainly been a rise in the number of finance professionals seeking to move from bigger firms to smaller ones where they can have a major impact. Those who succeed in landing such roles will be the ones who have a track record of exceeding expectations and the ability to not only add value, but go on doing so into the future.

It is advisable, therefore, to carry out some self-assessment before seeking to move to an SME. Consider whether you need a more diverse skillset. Are you innovative enough? Can you improve in these areas before you start seeking such roles?

These are not answers to be guessed at. It is important to tap into the experiences of others who have made the same transition, who will have much to say about the culture shock involved, but also about the rewarding nature of being able to make a bigger difference.

One chief executive put the situation in a nutshell: "First off I want you to ask any candidates you send my way two questions: Can they use a photocopier themselves? Would they have an issue picking up milk on the way to the office?"

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