When it comes to getting a job at a small business, who you know is what really matters. Many small businesses won’t turn to an executive search firm or post an advertisement on a job board, relying instead on referrals from friends, family and colleagues. Because of that, job seekers have to go about their search much differently than when trying to work for a large corporation.
“Small businesses can’t afford to make mistakes when hiring,” says Jeanne Yocum, founder of the blog Succeeding in Small Business. “They often rely heavily on referrals and people they trust.”
According to career experts since most small business jobs come through word of mouth it’s important for the job seeker to get out there and network.
But what does networking really mean? Career experts say it means going to networking events, spreading the word that you are looking for a job through your professional contacts and even joining your local Chamber of Commerce, which will give you access to businessmen and women in the area.
Let’s say you are pursuing a career in human resources but want to work somewhere small. Susan Ruhl, a managing partner at OI Partners – Innovative Career Consulting in Denver, says to find associations and networking groups in that field. One way to do that is to search LinkedIn for associations that have a physical presence in your city. But don’t limit it only to the human resources industry. After all, every field needs a good HR person, says Ruhl. “Go to a meeting with like-minded people and then start branding yourself as an expert in the field,” says Ruhl.
When it comes to networking, it can’t be a one off thing. You’ll have to keep attending events and follow up with the people you meet whether it’s sending them a quick email about an interesting article, grabbing coffee or having an informational meeting. That way when a job does arise, you’ll be front in their minds, says Ruhl.
Typically, small businesses don’t have a lot of layers, which means accessing the owner or person who does the hiring is a lot easier than in a large corporation. Because of that, another way to potentially get a job is to call or send an email to the business owner directly, says Mei Lu, founder and CEO of Jobfully.com. “It’s very likely the email will get to somebody,” says Lu. “It’s not going to go into a black hole” like at a big company, she says.
Lu says a good way to get noticed by a small business is to start a conversation on its social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, company blog and LinkedIn. You can ask questions, give comments, and share your knowledge and insights with someone inside the company, she says.
Applying for a job at a small business is also different than at a large company. Small companies are risk adverse when brining new people on board so they want to feel confident in whom they decide to hire. It is your job to provide that comfort level, say experts. “You can’t send out a canned cover letter and resume,” says Yocum. “You need to find out as much as you can about them and have that reflected in the cover letter.”
According to Ruhl, instead of the traditional cover letter you’re better off explaining in three steps what it is about you that will help the company. If you are coming from a large firm, Ruhl says you really have to demonstrate in your cover letter or email correspondence that you are resourceful and the type that will do whatever is needed to get things done. Showing passion and being flexible are also ways you can make a good first impression with the small business. “The ultimate goal is to sell yourself whether it’s a small company or a large one,” says Ruhl.