There is something very appealing about joining a small or early-stage team. Sure, it’s not for everyone, but I know a lot of you have thought about it. Getting in at ground zero with the hopes that you can be an integral part of helping it grow.  Influencing strategy, product, and hires; or just being knowledgeable of every facet of the business. It’s very different from joining a large company where you may feel like a single cog. I have learned firsthand what it means to join a small team and have made it a point to absorb as much as I can about the dynamics of a small team.

As indicated in one of my earlier posts, the Hire Smart Small Business Event took place this past Saturday (April 27, 2013) and was very much geared towards small business owners and the complexities, hurdles, and anxieties of hiring their first employees. The objective of the day was to take the “scary” out of hiring and give the entrepreneurs the tips and tools for acquiring the right new team members. Naturally, I took this as an opportunity to learn about the characteristics these companies are looking for in their first employees and to get an idea of the psychology behind making such decisions. All-in-all, it was a great event with a lot of ambitious and interesting people looking to utilize such tools as LinkedIn.  In addition to the great speakers, there was a bevy of food trucks slinging free food; unfortunately, that awesomeness won’t be able to be relayed through this blog post.

What I will relay to you are the major takeaways from the day that a job seeker should be cognizant of to better their chances of getting hired by a small business: business is family; good is not good enough; and hire for attitude.  

Business is Family

When joining a small team, you will be one of the first people that they are trusting with their “baby.” This not only includes the inner workings of their business, but also includes their first customers whom they have built relationships with. The transfer of trust and reputation is something that can’t be taken lightly. In some cases, you may even be working out of their home, on their computers, or around their family. This draws the analogy even closer. Their business is their family; they are bringing new employees into their family.

Fully understanding this dynamic will allow you to recognize the importance of connecting with the business owner on a whole other level. Show them that you can be trusted, that you’re loyal, and that you share similar ambitions.

Good is Not Good Enough

In the early stages, otherwise known as the growth phase, every person counts … a lot. In addition to the elements described above, as the new employee, you will be directly contributing to the collective image of the company. No matter how your role is described on paper, you will be influencing much more.

Anything that can help put the employer’s mind at ease will benefit you greatly. Think referrals, references, or other activities that speak to your character.

Hire for Attitude

Attitude is the paramount factor when an early-stage business is hiring. As Alison Salisbury of Fiscally Fit, Inc. said, you can teach any smart person to use Quickbooks, but you can’t teach someone how to be personable. Be prepared to answer a lot of open-ended questions that will give the employer a window into who you are. Here is a list of example questions that help them get to know you as a person:

  • What sort of jobs or companies have you been applying for and why?
    (They want to know that you are targeted in your search)
  • At the end of your career, what would you have liked to have achieved?
    (They want to see where your ambitions and motivations lie)
  • Tell me about one mistake you’ve made in your career?
    (People are surprisingly honest when asked this on the fly)
  • Based on what you’ve heard today, what do you think this job is all about?
    (This is a good way to see if you understand their needs)
  • What do you do when a coworker or client wants to chat if there is work to be done?
    (This is an evaluation of interpersonal skills and ability to prioritize)
  • Tell me about a time when a customer or coworker got mad at you.
    (Again, evaluates interpersonal skills and the ability to deal with conflict)
  • Tell me about the toughest decision you made in the last few months?
    (This evaluates reasoning ability, problem solving skills, judgment, and ability to take calculated risks)
  • Tell me about a time when you knew you were right, but still had to follow directions.
    (They want to see your ability to follow, potential to take the lead, and the ability to choose)
  • Tell me about the last time a workday ended, but you still needed to get things done.
    (An evaluation of commitment, ability to prioritize, ability to communicate)

You can feel free to visit the Hire Smart website and view the recorded sessions by clicking on the "LOGIN TO VIEW LIVE STREAM" button. The sessions that I found most valuable for job seekers are Finding the Perfect Fit with Luke Baxter, Asking All the Right Questions with Alison Salisbury, and the Small Business Panel with three local business owners. In addition to the content itself, I found it most helpful just to understand the perspectives of the business owners.

I hope you find this useful. If you have any questions, happened to make the conference yourself, or just have additional takeaways you would like to share, please feel free to discuss them below in the comments section.

AuthorBen Larson