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« The paradox of expectations | Main | How many baskets? »

How to get a job with a small company

Most advice about job seeking is oriented around big companies. The notion of a standard resume, of mass mailings, of dealing with the HR department--even the idea of interviews--is all built around the Fortune 500.

Alas, the Fortune 500 has been responsible for a net loss in jobs over the last twenty years. All the growth (and your best chance to get hired) is from companies you’ve probably never heard of. And when the hirer is also the owner, the rules are very different.

1. Learn to sell. Everyone has sold something, some time, even if it’s just selling your mom on the need for a nap when you were three years old. A lot of people have decided that they don’t want to sell, can’t sell, won’t sell, but those same people need to understand that they’re probably not going to get a job doing anything but selling.

Small businesses always need people who can sell, because selling pays for itself. It’s not an expense, it’s a profit center.

2. Learn to write. Writing is a form of selling, one step removed. There’s more writing in business today than ever before, and if you can become a persuasive copywriter, you’re practically a salesperson, and even better, your work scales.

3. Learn to produce extraordinary video and multimedia. This is just like writing, but for people who don’t like to read. Even better, be sure to mix this skill with significant tech skills. Yes, you can learn to code. The fact that you don't feel like it is one reason it's a scarce skill.

Now that you’ve mastered these skills (all of which take time and guts but no money), understand the next thing about small businesses--they aren’t hiring to fill a slot. Unlike a big company with an org chart and pay levels, the very small business is an organism, not a grid. The owner is far more likely to bring in a freelancer or someone working on spec than she is to go run a classified help wanted ad.

And many small businesses are extremely bad at taking initiative that feels like risk. They’d rather fill orders than take a chance and go out prospecting for a person who represents a risk. And that’s your opportunity.

When you show up and offer to go prospecting on spec, offer to contribute a website or a sales letter or some sales calls--with no money on the table--many small business people will take you up on it, particularly if they are cash-strapped, profit-oriented and know you by reputation. (Please don't overlook that last one).

Hint: don't merely show up and expect a yes. It's something you earn over time...

The rest is easy. Once you demonstrate that you contribute far more than you cost, now it's merely a matter of figuring out a payment schedule.

This is probably far more uncertainty and personal branding than most job seekers are comfortable with. Which is precisely why it works.

PS Nancy is hiring.

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