Go Where the Business Is: Steps to Help Prepare for a Small Business Interview

Tom Walter Care for people, Values

Small businesses are economic engines for communities, 
and offer great opportunities for job seekers. So why 
aren’t business leaders better prepared for the small 
business workforce? 
Why are so many academics obsessed with training their students to enter the major corporation-workforce when America’s business model has shifted from large corporations to small corporations? The answer is simple: they shouldn’t be. There are approximately 2,000 major corporations with over $1 billion in sales, and conversely, there are approximately 5.5 million businesses with less than $5 million in sales. 99.5% of all American companies have less than 500 employees.
Academia should be preparing students for a career in small businesses since there is a greater chance for rapid personal growth in a small company.
I recently attended a meeting of senior leaders that were discussing how emerging college graduates should be prepared for the interview process. The focus of the discussion was how the graduate should approach the company and how the company should view the graduate—including how a graduate should behave, dress, make eye contact, and sell his or herself—and other relevant information that was, and still is, pertinent for most interviews with large companies.
From a small business owner’s point of view, I tend to look at the soul (Do they smile? Do they make eye contact?) of the person I’m interviewing, try to determine who he or she is, and, more importantly, if will he or she match our work culture. I want to make sure that new staff understand that they will be held accountable to our culture.
With my style of interview process in mind, I feel that the following should be in the knowledge repertoire of all graduates with a degree in some form of commerce:

Personal Core Values
  • Who are you?
  • What do you stand for?
  • What is important to you?
  • What will allow you to become engaged in your employer’s company to such an extent that you will use your discretionary thinking to make the organization better?

Intended Organizational Core Values

  • What are the company’s organizational values?
  • Is the company proud of those values?
  • Does the company understand those values?
  • Does the company practice those values?
  • Are those values listed on the company’s web site?
  • When you first enter the company, can the person that greets you state the core values?


Emotional Intelligence Emotional Intelligence
Emotional intelligence tends to grow as one ages. However, that process can be accelerated, which is similar to accelerating maturity.
Understanding emotions is crucial in adapting to a job. Emotional state is something every employer should identify in his or her interviewee. As an interviewee, it is important to demonstrate your emotional intelligence before, during, and after your interview.
There are four branches of the ability based model of emotional intelligence:
1. Perceiving emotions – understand body language and facial expressions
2. Reasoning with emotions – use your emotions to promote thinking and cognitive ability because we feel before we think
3. Understanding emotions – first understand your emotions and then the emotions of others, because in actuality, others’ emotions may not be what they first appear to be
4. Managing emotions – regulating and responding to your emotions and the emotions of others is critical for adapting into a workplace

Intended Organizational Vision

  • Does the vision of the company you’re interviewing with match your professional growth vision?
  • Does the company you’re interviewing with have an identified success goal that will spur you toward self-actualization?
Intended Organizational Mission
  • Do you believe in responsible leaders or successful managers? Responsible leaders are driven by the privilege of leadership to help their staff achieve actualization.
  • Successful managers enjoy enforcing systems and processes with little regard to others’ personal growth. What seems to be the norm in the intended company?
  • Know if the company you’re interviewing with practices recognition and reward
  • Know if the company you’re interviewing with has peer-to-peer communication tools in place
  • Know if the company you’re interviewing with practices open-book management
  • Know if the company you’re interviewing with had staff members who understand how they are personally critical to the company’s success

Many students and recent graduates want to work for sexy companies and sexy businesses. While these big, sexy companies look cool on a business card and sound cool, they most often invest more in capital, product, and brand rather than human capital. They believe perks will satisfy needs, which they don’t.
My friends in HR, Talent Management, and even members of organizations with highly engaged workforces tell me that they practice a “screen-for-skill and hire-for-attitude” philosophy. So should college graduates. As a graduate trying to gain employment, screen companies for their ability to provide you an income, but join a company that shares your attitude and core values. Skills can be taught to an individual, but an individual’s attitude can rarely be changed. Conversely, you can learn skill sets so that you are in organizational alignment with a company, but the organization will not change their culture to match yours.
To paraphrase Peter Drucker, every company has a culture that is perfectly suited to its outcome. Make sure the organization has a culture that will be perfectly suited to your intended outcome.
Tom Walter is a “serial entrepreneur” who has launched nearly 30 companies. He is the CEO of Tasty Catering, named one of Winning Workplaces best small companies in 2010. This post is republished with permission from Serial Entrepreneur
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