Are you ready to take the next step in your career? Many of us are gunning for advancement in our current roles, but opportunities aren’t always easy to come by, especially when you work for an SME. Whilst moving on to a larger organisation is always an option, it’s not the only way to step up. Smaller businesses offer their own unique possibilities for professional growth – if you know how to find them.

Climbing the career ladder in an SME often means looking beyond a job title or promotion to find alternative paths for progression. Whilst having a linear career trajectory was commonplace in the past, we’ve now evolved from a corporate ladder to a corporate lattice— where a professional’s career trajectory may not always be linear, but instead, diagonal or horizontal.

With this in mind, here are our top career growth tips to help you identify your next step when working for an SME.

Be Pragmatic

Firstly, it’s important to have realistic expectations and stay open-minded. A small company with fewer management roles will likely have limited opportunity, and no matter how well you perform, an SME simply may not have the resources to offer a standard promotion. There often isn’t a linear path to move up the ladder within this kind of organisation, so it’s important to be pragmatic and think outside the box.

Instead of focusing on a specific job title, look at other ways to boost your career development. Leadership opportunities, awards and recognition, greater autonomy and training others can all end up becoming more valuable in the long run than an impressive title.

Similarly, don’t just wait to be given new duties – show initiative and actively look for chances to go the extra mile. Consider approaching your manager about getting involved in other areas of the company or being included in any professional development opportunities. A proactive approach and a go-getting attitude will always propel your career forward, regardless of the organisation’s size.

Create Your Own Opportunities

One of the major benefits of working for an SME is the ability to create a career tailored to your needs. Smaller organisations often don’t have structured job descriptions, so you’ll likely play a part in defining your own role and performance goals as you go. This is your chance to expand your responsibilities, evolve the role and identify areas of growth and improvement in the business.

Discussing your ambitions with your manager and working with them is key to develop a career plan. Keep a journal of all successes, such as new processes and initiatives implemented, along with any concrete results to back it up. Tracking your progress and communicating achievements will make it easier for management to recognise your impact.

Build Solid Relationships

Establishing positive relationships and maintaining a good reputation with colleagues is crucial in SMEs, particularly with everyone regularly working together in close quarters. It may sound obvious, but it’s important to maintain your integrity – always be honest, professional, and willing to go the extra mile. Be generous as well, giving credit where credit is due and remember to congratulate your colleagues for a job well done. Additionally, never pass the blame – be ready to take ownership when things don’t go to plan. When others in the company feel like they can trust you, they’re more likely to offer opportunities and additional responsibilities when they arise.

It can also be valuable to find someone who’s already walked the path before you. Seek out a reliable mentor, preferably someone in a position that you’d like to be in one day. They will likely be able to offer a world of advice on how to guide your professional development, maximise your career growth and ultimately, carve out a meaningful career in an SME.

With people tending to be more familiar, it can be easier to find this type of connection in an SME. However, be careful if considering a direct manager as a mentor because it can complicate the relationship – in some instances looking for an external mentor outside the organisation could be a better option.


Ultimately, while SMEs often don’t have the same resources and established hierarchies as their larger counterparts, their size and flexibility provide other ways to develop professionally and allow the opportunity to pave a unique career path that goes far beyond job titles and figures.

If you’re on the lookout for your next job opportunity or would like support with your career development, get in touch with the team at Southside Staffing today.