Feb. 23, 2011 – People searching for a new job or to change careers this year should “think small” – as in targeting smaller businesses, according to OI Partners, a global talent management firm.

Several recent surveys have painted a brighter employment picture for small businesses in 2011. However, job-seekers should know which qualities and attributes to stress in interviews with smaller employers, according to OI Partners.

“It is important to establish during interviews that you can make an impact on smaller employers and deliver results right away, particularly increases in revenue and profits. Chemistry with the boss and co-workers is going to be more critical since the workforce will be smaller and closer. Personal qualities such as a sense of humor and easy-going style will be beneficial to get across in interviews. In addition, candidates with experience at large companies must be convincing in the interview that they can adapt to a smaller environment,” said Tim Schoonover, chairman of OI Partners.

Among the recent surveys forecasting a better hiring outlook for small businesses in 2011 have been the following:

  • 21% of small businesses that have 500 employees or fewer plan to hire full-time workers this year, up from 15% in 2009, according to a survey by CareerBuilder. Also, 26% of small businesses anticipate hiring contract or temporary workers, and 31% expect to transition some of them into full-time employees, according to the CareerBuilder survey.
  • 23% of small-business owners with at least one worker other than themselves expect to hire employees in the first quarter this year, up from 18% in the 4th quarter last year, according to the Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index.
  • 54% of CEOs with small- to medium-sized businesses plan to add employees in the next 12 months, up from 46% last September. This is the first time in the past three years that a majority of the CEOs indicated they are going increase their staff, according to the quarterly Vistage CEO Confidence Index.

OI Partners offers this advice when seeking a job with smaller employers:

  • Emphasize the immediate value you can bring. Achieving results quickly and making an swift impact on sales and profits are especially vital to small businesses. “Focus on what you can deliver right away and during your first three to six months on the job. Prepare a variety of examples from your career that fit their situation to demonstrate how you can solve current problems,” said Schoonover.
  • Personally connect with the interviewer. Chemistry with your boss and co-workers is essential for a small business, where working relationships are closer. “Show that you are easy to get along with and the type of person people want to be around. Display qualities that can be a plus in the decision-making process, including humor in good taste, warmth, and understanding,” said Schoonover.
  • Step up your face-to-face contact. Smaller companies will be less likely to advertise openings or post them on Internet job boards. These are the kinds of opportunities that normally surface at in-person meetings of networking, trade, and professional groups, and when volunteering with charitable, civic, and religious organizations.
  • Acquire key referrals. Referrals play an especially central role in small businesses. “A good referral from a valued employee or someone close to the owner or manager will go a long way. Scour your networking contacts and use social media websites such as LinkedIn and Facebook to obtain a referral or two,” said Schoonover.
  • Be receptive to contract or temporary work. If a potential employer says they don’t have a position at present, find out what they do need to get done – and negotiate to do that for them. Many employers are adding contract or project workers before deciding to hire full-time staff. You may be able to transition this into a full-time job if you achieve superior results.
  • Prepare to overcome objections that you are over-qualified and/or will leave for a better job later. Smaller businesses may be more sensitive that you have held higher positions with larger companies and earned greater compensation than they are able to pay. “Address interviewers’ concerns you may leave for a better job by countering that your experience will solve problems and create solutions that will help increase revenue and salaries,” said Schoonover.
  • If you have worked for a large employer before, demonstrate that you have the drive, flexibility, and initiative to work for a smaller company. Confirm that your past experience will enable you to bring all your skills forward with a focus on results.
  • Show interest and excitement in the opportunity. “Smaller companies want people who are enthusiastic about working with them, and can motivate and inspire co-workers and direct reports. Communicate this in a variety of ways and express your enthusiasm for hitting the ground running,” added Schoonover.
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