small business, ceo magazine
Cynthia Kay

No matter what the size of the business, employees are critical to an organization’s success.  This is especially true when a business wants to grow or expand. Employees help develop new products and services. Employees manufacture the goods. They provide the service. Employees can help delight a customer or destroy a relationship. So when it is time to hire, a business owner needs to be thoughtful about the right person for their organization.

You might think that the most important things to consider are the qualifications and the skill level of the potential employee. Yes, that is essential. But, here’s a really important thing to know. The right person for a small business looks very different than the right person for a big business.

To understand the difference, let’s first look at what I believe draws someone to a larger organization.

Individuals that seek jobs at big companies are enticed by the idea of working for a company with a recognizable name or brand. They love the prestige of working for a company that has a notable address (like 5th Avenue or Wall Street) or a corporate headquarters that is impressive.  Job seekers that work at big companies love titles. The may negotiate for the title of Vice President or Senior Manager, often times that does not increase the pay but the title is impressive sounding. Individuals that gravitate toward larger firms generally need and want very clearly defined job descriptions. They like the structure that a larger firm offers and the opportunities to move up within the organization. Not to mention that they like the benefits provided by larger companies. Who wouldn’t?  There may be more generous vacation packages, sick pay and retirement plans.  And, they like the perks that smaller firms cannot afford or don’t consider important. These are individuals that should work for a large firm because they probably won’t do well in a smaller company where the landscape is very different.

So with all those plusses, why would someone want to work for a smaller company? What draws them to that environment and what makes them well suited for the challenges that small businesses face?

To begin, this individual often cares less about how well-known the company is on local, regional or national scale.  Don’t get me wrong they do want the company to have a good reputation. That goes without saying, but it does not have to be a household word. What they care about is the ability to do the kind of work that really interests, engages and challenges them.  At my company the employees love that they can work on a variety of projects for various customers instead of being slotted into doing one job over and over again or being assigned to one customer account. They love that we routinely look for fun and creative projects that will challenge our skills. 

The individual that works for a small company has to be a self-starter, someone that takes control of a task and wants to be involved. This is especially important because there are fewer layers of management.  In a small company there is rarely a supervisor overseeing what they do every day. The individual needs to go beyond just doing the posted job. They need, and usually want, to find new and different ways of doing things. They like the idea that they can bring something to the organization and have it implemented without going through endless gatekeepers.

Individuals that work well in smaller firms want to participate in decision making. They want a voice and expect that they will be consulted about issues or changes related to their job. They also need to be energetic. In a smaller firm it is all hands-on deck because there are fewer people to shoulder the work. An employee may walk into something new and different every day. They need to be comfortable with uncertainty, and actually get a rush out of the unexpected things that happen.

Employees at smaller firms have to be responsive. At my company, customer service is everyone’s job. That means everyone answers the phone- not just the office manager. To be sure that things don’t get pushed aside we have forgone the typical voice mail.  If a customer has a request or a question, a real person talks to them and it is everyone’s job to make sure it gets handled. That means employees need to be able to problem solve and not wait for someone “higher up” to figure it out.

While big companies have spent a lot of time trying to be “lean” and learning to do more with less, smaller firms are lean by design. Individuals that work for small companies need to be creative about the use of resources… that’s because there are limits to the number of support staff and outside consultants. I have found that many small firms are focused on being technologically up to date. This helps a smaller staff be more productive and efficient. It also means that employees need to be pretty techy.

Finally the right person for a small business should be entrepreneurial and as passionate as the owner about the work and the company’s customers.  So how do you find these amazing individuals who are just right for your small business? I admit it is not easy. You have to network. When you find great prospects make room for them… even if you don’t have an opening.  I have and it has paid off. If you do not find the right person, don’t hire. You waste time training them and put your company at risk. Even if it appears that the individual is a good fit, you can still make a hiring mistake. One thing is certain, the really great employees shine and you know it immediately. The terrible ones are also easy to spot. Those that fall in the middle test your ability as a manager. Pay close attention to these individuals.

About the Author

Cynthia Kay is the author of SMALL BUSINESS FOR BIG THINKERS. She is a passionate spokesperson for small businesses. She spends significant time speaking to, teaching, and coaching small-business owners while running her own award-winning media production and communications consulting company. Cynthia serves on the board of the National Small Business Association (NSBA).



Alana Drusset's picture
I agree that it takes a really unique person to work for a small business-- one who will be loyal and who will want to help shape the company with innovative ideas, and one who will have a desire to be in touch with their immediate community. This person doesn't need to work for a big fancy name, they just want to work for a great organization that will appreciate their efforts.
Will James's picture
This description of a "small business" sounds suspiciously like the description of a start-up, a la Silicon Valley. These kinds of businesses can be very discouraging for job seekers, because they aren't always sure what the company even wants, so they're not sure how to present their skills. As prone to change or uncertainty a small business may be, they should always make sure that job seekers know exactly what a position there would entail, so they can feel they're being given a fair chance.

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