Believe it or not, small businesses accounted for two-thirds of all net new jobs in the US last year, according to data from the Small Business Administration. Working at a small business can provide numerous benefits, from the chance to take on a wider scope of projects to the opportunity to establish closer relationships with clients and vendors.
If that sounds exciting, there is something you should know before you try to land a job with a small business: The interview process may be very different from the process at a large corporation. Insight into these difference could help you set yourself apart from other applicants.
Here are four tips to keep in mind when interviewing for a position at a small business:
1. Demonstrate That You’re Used to Wearing Multiple Hats
Working at a small business means you have to be willing and able to take on whatever task or project comes your way. During your interview, be sure to mention how skilled you are at juggling multiple tasks.
You should also emphasize your excitement at the prospect of contributing to the company in multiple ways, says Rob Sullivan, a career coach and the author of Getting Your Foot in the Door When You Don’t Have a Leg to Stand On.
“You’re going to be wearing a lot of different hats,” Sullivan says. “You want to give people a reason to believe that not only are you open to that and comfortable with that, but that when there are things you’re going to be asked to do, you’re able to pick them up quickly.”
2. Explain Why Working at a Small Business Appeals to You
If your previous work experience has primarily been at larger companies, talk about why you think a small business would be a better fit. Perhaps the tight-knit culture appeals to you. Maybe you’re looking for a role with more responsibility. Whatever the case may be, it is wise to explain why you’re looking for a role at a small business now.
Sullivan advises you maintain a tone of gratitude when discussing your previous work at a larger corporation: “It’s okay to say, ‘I’m super grateful for the opportunity to work at that large company. Here’s what I loved about it, [and] here’s what I learned.’”
You can then explain what was missing from your prior experience. Maybe you wanted to have more input on areas that were siloed, or you saw opportunities and were told, “That’s not your job.”
If your previous experience has primarily been at other small businesses, be sure to explain what you have loved about working at smaller operations. Why do you want to stay at one? What do you think small businesses offer that large corporations don’t? Be sure to follow up with ideas about how you’ll promote small-business culture if you’re hired.
3. Speak About Your Past Experience Wisely
When interviewing at a small business, it is important to know how to position your past experience. If you’re moving from one small business to another, be sure to talk about your professional strengths and how they fit in well with the new company.
If you previously worked at a large corporation, make sure the small business hiring manager sees what is in it for them if they hire you. If you’re comfortable managing large budgets, for example, you’ll likely be able to manage the company’s smaller budget. Or, if you’re used to managing a team of 10, Sullivan says, you’ll likely be able to manage a team of two.
4. Know Your Interviewer Might Not Be a Talent Acquisition Expert
The person you interview with at a small business may very well be inexperienced at hiring. According to Sullivan, this is actually something you can use to your advantage: “They’re not necessarily going to ask you the strategic questions. They might ask you the top 10 questions that they just pulled off Google.”
Sullivan suggests you use this as an opportunity to demonstrate how you can play a leadership role at the company. During the conversation, try to emphasize the three, four, or five qualities you can bring to the organization.
“Have an agenda of your own that you want to get across no matter what, because you can’t count on them to ask you the questions that would lead you to share the information,” Sullivan says.
If you know how to effectively talk about your past experience, emphasize your excitement about the role, and position yourself appropriately, you’ll be able to nail your small business interview. Good luck!
Jamie Friedlander is a freelance writer and editor who covers personal finance and entrepreneurship, among other topics.
Jamie Friedlander is a freelance writer and editor who covers personal finance and entrepreneurship, among other topics. Her work has appeared in New York Magazine’s The Cut, The Chicago Tribune, Business Insider, and SUCCESS Magazine. She received her bachelor’s degree from NYU and her master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.