How To Impress During Small Business Interviews

Love is in the air at small companies.

No, we’re not just talking about the chocolate and gift shops that are swamped with last-minute Valentine’s Day shoppers. We’re talking about all the small businesses where the co-owners co-habitate. They’re the real mom and pops of American business. Almost half of small businesses that are members of the National Federation of Independent Businesses have a second family member involved, whether they’re married or fathers and daughters and sisters.

Small business, those with fewer than 50 workers, account for half – and sometimes more – of total hiring most months, according to the ADP National Employment Report.  They represent 43 percent of total U.S. payrolls, the Small Business Administration reports, using 500 workers as its cutoff for small.

So prepare to pitch a pair – whether they’re a gay couple in business or a real mom and pop whose children show up at the business on most school holidays.

“Don’t assume because they’re in a relationship that they think alike,” said Stacey Jerrold, a Five O’Clock executive and business coach in New York City. They may be the opposites who attract and work on very different parts of the business. She may be the financial genius and also handle internal operations and procedures; he may be the outgoing sales and marketing person.

Here’s five tips on handling job interviews and job prospects at mom and pops:

Do your due diligence. “Find out more about each of their interests,” suggests Barbara Herzog, a Washington, D.C. career coach. Dig to understand their specialties and then come up with examples that are relevant to each.

Treat them as equals. Even if one takes the lead, the other seems unengaged or bored, “give them equal respect.” said Herzog. “This doesn’t mean flitting your eyeballs between them every 20 seconds, but it does mean making approximately equal eye contact over the course of the interview.”

Keep your questions handy. Sometimes when two or three people are interviewing you, their questions will be flying at you. Yet you need to find out about the culture and the job to see if it’s a good fit, said Jerrold, whose book is called What’s Keeping You Up At Night?  So be sure you have your questions on a card and available to wedge into the interview.  A few of your inquiries need to delve into “the pain points,” their challenges and worries, she said.

Try for separate interviews.  This can be especially important if you’re going to work primarily for one of the two people, or if you sense there could be some differences of opinion in what your job entails. Be sure to make notes on each person, their perspective and key issues, said Jerrold. This will be helpful later when you write thank you notes and when you consider the complexities of the job.

Understand how their love life spills over into the workplace. This is especially important if you’re going to have a key role in the company. So ask more pointed questions about this, Jerrold suggests, such as “How have you handled situations in the past when you two have disagreed and that affected the employees?” Or “If you were in my shoes what would you want to know about the working relationship here?”  During the second interview, you may want to talk to other staffers.

“Working in a family-held business can be tricky business at best, and meeting the expectations of a couple, even if they are passionately in love right now – can be doubly tricky,” said Herzog. Sometimes their squabbles, competitions and conflicting views can turn a good job into a good reason to job hop.  So if your entire career has been spent at a Fortune 100 company, take some extra time to understand the workplace culture and dynamics between Mr. and Mrs. Business Owners before accepting an offer.

After all, you want to accept a job and a workplace you will adore for years.