What It Takes to Get Hired at a Small Business

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Want to get hired at a small business? Then look beyond the job title, be open to taking on new responsibilities, and be willing to step outside your comfort zone.

That is just some of the advice from small business leaders and recruiting/hiring professionals like Mollie Delp, an HR specialist with Workshop Digital, a 28-person digital marketing firm based in Richmond, Virginia.

“Roles at a small business are often flexible and can change, so an applicant who is interested in taking the lead on more than just the basic job description will stand out,” says Delp.

At small businesses, “people are able to wear multiple hats and take more chances,” she adds. “You are not working in silos and are exposed to a lot more unique projects. You’ll be counted on to brainstorm with other coworkers – including upper management.”

As CEO of College Recruiter, a small and growing business that has 17 employees and contract staff who all work on and off site, Faith Rothberg looks for individuals who want to make a difference in helping college students and recent graduates start their careers off right. She hires people who work hard to accomplish goals and can work independently to benefit the greater team.

“At a small business like ours, it’s also important for team members to look beyond job titles,” says Rothberg. “While each team member has certain responsibilities and a role they play, we rely on each other to collaborate, share ideas, and to work together to help the business grow. What’s exciting about that is we never want to limit the sharing of ideas. This collaboration is essential for our company, as our industry is constantly changing and innovating and we must stay ahead of the curve if we are to continue to grow.”

The most attractive candidates show small business owners and hiring managers they can solve problems, says Leela Srinivasan, chief marketing officer at Lever, a recruitment technology company.

“Leadership is often stretched thin, and every hire at a small or medium-sized business should add to its collective problem-solving capacity,” says Srinivasan. “At Lever, we scale by trusting all of our people to make good decisions – whether they are an intern or joining the executive team.”

laptopAccording to a new study from Lever, it takes small and mid-sized businesses an average of 86 candidates, 15 resume screens, 4.7 onsite interviews, and 1.5 offers to secure one hire. The study also found that only 17 percent of all candidates who submit their resumes directly, without a follow-up or referral, will get an invite for an interview or prescreening phone conversation. On the flip side, candidates who are referred to the company get an initial phone call or interview 57 percent of the time – more than three times the average. The reason? Employers like to hire people they know or people who are recommended by people they know.

If you can’t make a connection with a recruiter or through an existing employee, be sure to go the extra mile when applying, like Noah Feingold did. Feingold recently graduated from the University of Illinois, and it was his ability to follow simple job application instructions and take initiative on those instructions that helped him land a role as a marketing associate at FB International LLC, a Chicago-based international business development firm.

“The bottom of the job application said to call if you want a better chance at an interview,” Feingold says. “So I called the recruiter and it pushed me to the top of the pile. Once I went to the interview, I worked on developing a relationship with the president as opposed to trying to highlight every single skill that I had.”

Keep in mind that small businesses don’t have large recruiting budgets. Without face-to-face connections made at recruiting fairs, recent college grads need to do everything they can to stand out from the competition. That’s why Melissa M. Lagowski, CEO and founder of Big Buzz Idea Group, a Chicago-based organization that powers nonprofit organizations to fuel positive change, was so surprised at how many applicants didn’t send cover letters when they applied for two recent openings at her company.

“I could not believe how many resumes we got without cover letters,” says Lagowski. “The cover letter helps an employer get to know a candidate beyond the accomplishments on the resume, and the cover letter is an opportunity for a candidate to make their case to the employer why they are the ideal candidate.”

Small employers also want to hire team members who fit the corporate culture and bring a personality that fits or blends well with the team.

“You’re going to be seeing a lot of your coworkers, and probably in a small office or space, which means it’s crucial that they like you and that you get along,” says Feingold.

BusinessmanSmall businesses like College Recruiter like to empower their employees to come up with and share ideas to benefit the business. In addition, they like to find employees who can have a little fun, while also focusing on community involvement.

“Small business owners want people who have the right education and skills, but they also have to be able to fit in with the culture of the team because they will be communicating and working together a lot,” says Rothberg. “We like to find employees who believe in what we do, are not afraid to try new things, and are passionate about success. I think small businesses like employees who believe in the business and want to see it grow. It’s important in an HR technology company like ours to be motivated by innovation and change, and those who are willing to look beyond a job title are the types of employees who succeed at a small business like ours.”

Bottom line? Small employers are looking for go-getters who will take on new challenges and be willing to go above and beyond a job description or job title.

“The environment at small businesses is fast-paced, ambiguous, and pressure-filled,” says Srinivasan. “Resources can be leaner, and scrappiness often wins the day.”

Matt Krumrie is a freelance writer and digital media professional. He regularly contributes to College Recruiter.

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Matt is a freelance writer and digital media professional. He regularly contributes to College Recruiter, which believes that every student and recent graduate deserves a great career. College Recruiter features thousands of articles, blogs, videos, and other content as well as 300,000 internship and entry-level postings for open jobs. Matt’s writing focuses on careers and jobs, business, and sports. He is also an expert resume writer who works with clients all over the U.S. Follow Matt on Twitter @MattKrumrie.