Landing a job at a mom-and-pop store is not the same as getting hired at a Silicon Valley giant. Small businesses often want different traits in their applicants, have a different process for submitting cover letters and résumés, and even a different interview style. How can you put yourself in the best light to be hired by a small business?
We spoke with Matthew Wiggins, program manager and business consultant with the Louisiana Business & Technology Center, a startup and small-business incubator, in Baton Rouge.
Here’s what he says are the keys to landing a job with a small business.
Most small businesses don’t have enough manpower for employees to be siloed strictly in their areas of expertise. You will likely be given a general set of duties and then be expected to cross-train or pitch in when other areas need assistance. You can use this to your advantage by highlighting your versatility on your résumé, Wiggins says.
For example, instead of focusing your résumé mostly on your deep knowledge of accounting, broaden it to include your financial skills, customer service acumen and comfort with technology. “This allows a small business to fill multiple roles with only one person,” Wiggins says.
In that same vein, small companies don’t have extra manpower for a lot of handholding or babysitting. You need to show that you can learn your tasks and then do them independently, Wiggins says. On your résumé and cover letter, point out instances where you led teams or projects and did the overseeing. This will show the hiring manager that you can direct yourself and work independently, he says.
It’s simple math: If a company has 20 employees and treats them well, they likely aren’t hiring a new person every week. But you can get a leg up when openings do arise if you’ve already expressed an interest.
“Be proactive in getting to know the company and expressing your interest in working there,” Wiggins says. Don’t wait until you see an ad for a job opening. If you’ve heard good things about a small company or there’s a store you really like, figure out a way to learn more and get on their radar, he says.
You can begin with social media. Because people in small companies often wear several hats, it’s possible the owner is even the one also posting on Facebook, which can give you some insight into the company’s values, Wiggins says. If you know people who work at the company, ask how they like their jobs. Ask about openings and what would be the best way for you to submit a résumé or have an informational meeting. The owner of a bakery or hardware store definitely won’t have time to chit-chat all day, but you’re more likely to be successful with a casual drop-by at a small business than at a giant corporation, he says.
Small businesses also rely on references more heavily than large companies do, Wiggins says. If someone can put in a good word for you, that’s the best. Even if you don’t know anyone there, if you make it to the point where the business is calling references that you provided, those references should be coached ahead of time to make you sound like a great candidate who’s enthusiastic about that company, he says.
Cultural fit is everything at a small business. When there aren’t many employees, anyone not fitting in can really disrupt the flow of work. To be sure you’ll get along, it’s likely your interview will be more conversational than formal, Wiggins says. Expect fewer critical-thinking questions or queries along the lines of “Sell me this pencil,” he says. It’s more likely to be a conversation, possibly with a few people, about whether you can do the job and how you’d fit in with their atmosphere, he says.
This conversational interview style means you should ask questions as well, Wiggins says. It’s important that they like you and that you like them, plus you don’t want to sit there in a conversational-style interview and seem like you have nothing to contribute. Ask who you’ll report to. What is the dress code like? Does everyone arrive at 8 on the dot or do some stroll in a few minutes late? Will you be working independently or as part of a team? Small businesses may not have policies written down in a formal handbook like bigger companies, but that doesn’t mean the accepted behaviors aren’t taken just as seriously. Use your interview to find out some of them and make sure the cultural fit works both ways, Wiggins says.
Louisiana Job Connection is a full-service employment hub. Complete your profile today and let Louisiana Job Connection match you with a job that’s tailored for your skills and experience.