Startups and small businesses are different worlds from big enterprises, so the qualities you need to get a job in a new venture are different.
Corporate environments are looking for depth of technical skills and experience, while small businesses need everyone to be customer-centric, with a broad range of perspectives and experiences, in addition to the specific skill requested.
In my experience, if you want to be that ideal candidate for an attractive position in a new venture or a small business, I recommend that you orient your résumé and your interview discussion to all of the following attributes, in addition to your skills and prior experience:
1. Focus on "people-smarts" rather than "technical-smarts."
The key to success in new businesses is good communication with other people, both peers inside and customers outside. Applicants who are people-smart demonstrate strong social skills, are good at reading body language, and are sensitive to emotions. They keep their ego under control.
Sir Richard Branson, for instance, had no technical credentials, but he was able to found many technical companies, including Virgin Atlantic airlines, Virgin Galactic spaceflight corporation, and over 200 other companies. His forte is working effectively with people.
2. Highlight your focus on results, versus time worked.
Every startup and small-business owner knows that the key to success is getting things done, not just working hard. Everyone has to take some risks, make a decision, or solve the customer problem. In a new business, show that you can deal with uncertainty and still produce results.
3. Communicate your willingness to think outside the box.
In a new business, all the boxes have not yet been defined, so the founder counts on you to recognize the need for a new process, or when an existing process is not working for the business or your customers. The best candidates will be able to show how they go beyond when needed.
People with this quality are always positive and confident, and have a low need for approval. They don't need orders from above to start an initiative, and they are not always your best friend. You need them to solve your toughest new business challenges.
4. Convince me that you have a "never give up" mindset.
The small-business world is fraught with many tough challenges, and persistent employees are required to keep the workload from falling back on you. Here is another opportunity for you to supplement your interview with stories that illustrate determination and the ability to resolve difficult problems.
For example, you might relate a story about a time in school when you really wanted to be the top dog on your debate team or in your favorite sport, only to suffer an early humiliating defeat. You never gave up, and after hard work finally won that trophy you had dreamed about.
5. Show you have built positive relationships with people in every job.
Business leaders know that employees who build good relationships with team members and customers are more productive, increase customer loyalty, and foster the team culture that every business needs to stay ahead of competition. Relationships are more critical than skills.
6. Demonstrate your ability to listen and ask good questions.
In a new business, everyone has the responsibility to understand the whole business, customer expectations, and competitive alternatives. Business leaders put a premium on people with a natural curiosity for how the business works, and attention to market trends.
7. Show your record of commitment and accountability.
People who are willing to take responsibility for a required task, no matter what their job title, are extremely valuable. Use anecdotes from previous roles and your private life to illustrate this sense of commitment, and your willingness to go beyond the job description to deliver.
8. Dress and interact appropriately for the business role.
This simple action will convey your respect for the company and the interviewer, as well as build their trust for you and your ability to fit in. In a small company, it is critical that you fit in well with the other team members, as well as the culture of the customer segment targeted by your business.
Your résumé may get you the interview, but how you match these attributes is key to landing the job in a small business or startup environment. Don't let the fact that you are short on technical skills or years of experience discourage you from putting your best foot forward to compete for that ideal job opportunity.
It may be the one that makes your long-term career worth all the effort.