Want to land a job at a small business or a startup?
Many job seekers do: In the average small business there's usually less bureaucracy, greater opportunities to step outside defined roles... and if you someday hope to own your own business, a look behind the scenes at some of the realities of entrepreneurship.
Great — but landing the job can require a different approach. While some business owners do have a corporate background, many are lifelong entrepreneurs. And many see the hiring process as a necessary evil; as a friend says, "I don't have time for this... I have a business to run."
That perspective makes getting hired a lot harder for a job seeker who takes a conventional approach... and a lot easier for a job seeker who puts in the time and effort — and it will take time and effort — to understand their audience and really set themselves apart:
1. Decide who you want to work for.
Obvious, right? Not really. Many job seekers play the numbers game and respond to as many job postings as possible.
That means the owner has to sift through dozens of potential candidates to find the right person. (Good luck emerging from that particular pile.) To show a small business owner that you are the right candidate, that means you have to do the work.
Instead of shotgunning your resume, put in the time to determine a business you definitely want to work for, and then...
2. Really know the company.
Pretend I'm the owner. "I would love to work for you," you say to me; what I actually hear is, "I would love for you to pay me."
You can't possibly know if you want to work for my company unless you know a lot about my company; that's the difference between just wanting a job and wanting a role in my business. Talk to friends, relatives, vendors, customers... anyone you can find. Check the owner and the employees out on social media; when you know the people, you know the company. Learn as much as you can.
Then leverage what you learn and...
3. Determine how you will hit the ground running.
Most small business owners hate to train new employees. Training takes time, money, effort... all of which are in short supply. An ideal new hire can be productive immediately, at least in part.
While you don't need to be able to do everything required, it helps if the owner is confident of getting some level of immediate return on their hiring investment. (Remember, hiring you is an investment that needs to generate a return.)
Identify one or two important things you can contribute from day one. Then...
4. Don't just tell. Show.
Put what you can offer on display. If you're a programmer, mock up a new application. If you want a sales position, create a plan for how you'll target a new market or customer base, or describe how you will implement marketing strategies the business is currently not using.
A show and tell is your chance to prove you know the company and what you can offer. Your initiative will be impressive and you'll go a long way towards overcoming concerns that you're all talk and no action.
Is it fair you're doing a little work on spec? Should you have to create a mockup or plan in order to get the job? Not really and probably not... but doing so will definitely set you apart.
Never let "fair" — when the only person "disadvantaged" is you — get in the way of achieving your goals.
5. Use a referral as reinforcement.
Business is all about relationships. Everyone has made made bad hiring decisions, so a referral from someone we trust is like gold.
You may have to dig deep into your network or even forge new connections, but the effort will be worth it.
Knowing that someone we trust is willing to vouch for you is a data point that often tips the decision scale towards giving you an interview... and even giving you the job.
6. Knock on the door.
You don't have to wait for an opening to be posted; after all, you've identified ways you can immediately help the company you want to work for. Show up, ask to speak to the owner, and pitch away.
Just make sure you go straight to the benefits of what you will do. You could say, "Your website is good but it could be a lot better. Here are changes I will make in the first month, and here is how those changes will improve conversions and SEO results. And here's a mock-up I created of a new site design."
I promise people will listen. I don't know any entrepreneurs who won't drop everything to learn about ways to improve their business.
7. Assert yourself during the interview.
Many small business owners are terrible interviewers. As a friend of mine says, "I don't work in HR. I run a business."
Be direct and to the point. Explain what you can do. Describe your background. Talk about how the owner will benefit from hiring you. Show you know working for a small business is different and you're excited by the challenge. Sell yourself, using what you know about the company and how you'll make an impact to back up your pitch.
And never be afraid to run the interview. Many business owners will be happy to let you.
8. Ask for the job.
Business owners know how to close a deal, so most don't mind being closed. Plus a decision put off until tomorrow is a decision added to the to-do list; no one wants more on their plates.
If you want the job, ask for it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. If you've worked hard to truly set yourself apart you might get hired on the spot.
More For Job Seekers:
- 5 Questions Great Job Candidates Ask
- 9 Things You Wish Job Candidates Knew
- 4 Vital Interview Questions to Ask
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