SMEs are like all of us: we are people, but we can be very different from one another. When you think about it, there is no reason that a structure made of people is anything different from ourselves.
SMEs can show many different faces: It is crucial that as an early career job seeker, you recognize the type of company you are looking for, or going to interview with.
The number of employees or the turnover of a company is an important information, but at the most basic level, you need to understand what the company does.
Roughly speaking, a company can sell a product or a service, although there would be a little more to say to that. When selling a product, more and more often there is an associated service (think: installation, training, maintenance..).
A company can manufacture their own products, or they can procure products from different companies and sell them. The former is a STEM factory like most companies I have listed in the SME register: they will design and make, for example, their own radiation sensors or raw material.
The latter is a distributor. They have a large catalogue of items that they do not make, so they are a sort of specialist supermarket. Effectively, a distributor sells a product to their clients and a service to their suppliers.
The services that can form a business in the STEM industry at large are also very wide. I touched upon a few above. Consultancy, metrology, project management or software development are other typical services that a business might need.
And then, who does the company sell to? Roles are differently oriented depending on whether the SME’s clients are institutional, individual end users or other companies.
Why is it useful to know all this? It clarifies the type of roles that you can have in a given business, each with their opportunities and limitations. It can also help you asking the right questions during an interview and show that you understand the ecosystem in which a business operates.