3 Reasons You Should Hire Candidates with SME Work Experience

Don’t waste a chance at hiring good talent just because you’ve never heard of their SMEs before.

When I was an unemployed mum and desperately looking for a job, I sent out about a thousand job applications, secured less than 10 interviews, and only received one job offer.

I also applied for around 30 jobs via careers@gov but only received one reply that I didn’t qualify for an interview (despite previously clinching a Spring Singapore scholarship and completing my bond at a local SME).

No chance for careers@gov

One hypothesis I have is that my previous full time jobs were with SMEs, not famous big brand name MNCs or government agencies.

This alone may have put off a few hirers who prefer candidates from “tried-and-tested” organisations.

Some hirers may think if a candidate was previously hired by a “branded” employer, the candidate is worthy to be interviewed. If not, no thanks, next!

SMEs hire the majority of our workforce, and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt working in SMEs, it is that SME workers have many strengths that may not be known or acknowledged.

Singapore SME
Source: Spring Singapore

Amongst these SME workers whom I’ve worked with, either as colleagues, customers, vendors or business partners, here are 3 traits that I’ve come across quite often.

1. Cheaper, better, faster

We work with really really tight budgets and learn how to DIY a lot.

For example, in my first job, I had to type out science exam papers from a teacher’s hand-drawn manuscript into Microsoft word document.

We didn’t have illustrators then to ask for their Photoshop help and no budget to even install Photoshop on my computer.

Have you ever tried creating multiple variations of science laboratory set ups using a combination of Explorer, Paint, and Microsoft Shapes? Yes, it can be done.

Science laboratory distillation
Source: wikipedia

It was a really steep learning curve for me, but it didn’t cost a bomb and once I got the hang of it, I could type out future papers faster and faster.

In fact, I even brought over these “cheapskate” skills to my next SME job which required a cheap and fast way to create multiple graphics for roadshow displays.

SME workers value budgets because they are rare. They will look for ways to maximise the dollar, and save where possible if a task can be done for free.

2. Team-players

In an SME, you will drown if you don’t work well with others.

In my second job, we had people from many different backgrounds:

– Singaporean PMEs, predominantly English and Mandarin-speaking

– older Singaporeans who could speak Mandarin, Malay or Tamil with very basic English

– Malaysian Chinese who could speak Mandarin, Malay, dialects and decent English

– PRCs who could only speak Mandarin

If you only stuck to your group, you’ll find you’re pretty much useless to the SME.

It is common for everyone to ask each other for help and return the favour.

Even though we struggled to understand each other sometimes, we still made things work together to the best of our ability.

There was no such thing as xenophobia even though we were aware of each group’s differences. We were a family and judged based on our ability to contribute to the company.

Diversity benefits in Singapore workforce
Source: SMU

3. Humility and willingness to learn

If you’ve worked before in an SME, your pay wouldn’t be as high as an MNC, and 13-month bonuses are not a given.

You know your place in the world and appreciate opportunities.

You understand that as a candidate with SME experience, you need to try harder than most to be heard, acknowledged and given chances.

Nothing can be taken for granted.

Coming from an underdog background, without a silver spoon or safety net, those with SME backgrounds are usually more sensitive to shifts that affect their company and are prepared to be on standby to respond if needed.

Aren’t these good strengths to have in a candidate?


Does this mean all candidates with SME backgrounds should be given chances?

My answer is that hirers should look at the strengths of the individual candidate and not simply the companies he/she has worked for.

Singapore jobseekers
Source: JobsDB

For jobseekers with SME backgrounds:

I found it useful in my job search to:

– get a second opinion of my résumé (you can ask a headhunter or career coaches at e2i)

– set up a LinkedIn account and get endorsements from business contacts

– network at events in fields I was interested in

– go through your namecard contacts to ask for job openings

– subscribe to job alerts from job portals, cast your net wider and don’t limit yourself to the same type of job or industry

– take up a new course that you like

– don’t look down on yourself, give yourself chances to prove yourself

– freelance to get by, a freelance job still brings in the money you need to survive

– stay positive and use your time to think of ways to improve your skills

Don’t give up on yourselves. Having SME work experience is an asset, you just have to find the good parts in it.