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5 Things Small Business Employers Are Looking For

Smaller, independent companies can offer rewarding experiences for graduates, as they look to give new starters great responsibility and build their skills to become an integral part of their business moving forward. As a result, applying to work in such companies brings its own challenges that you should prepare for in your application and interview stage.

1. Quality Research

Researching before applying for a role comes in two important stages: the target niche, and the company itself. Any business that targets a niche is looking to establish itself as an industry expert, so it’s vital to know what that audience wants. Ask what kind of news they keep on top of, how they use their products, and how they measure quality. These customers will be the people you’re looking to target if you get the job, so showing a thorough understanding of their needs is essential from an early stage. By specialising in an individual product type or service, niche market companies naturally have a more detailed customer offering than larger ones. When researching any niche market company, look through their entire offering and see what really makes them an authority. Be sure to also look into who their major competitors are. The wider your pre-application research, the easier you’ll be able to apply your knowledge to the company’s needs.

2. Online Acumen

The importance of a company’s online presence is growing, as social media continues to expand and offer new ways to communicate. Each new avenue brings a new way for a business to show, first-hand, a more personal level of customer service. Research your potential employer and their competitors, and think critically about the structure of their websites. How easy are they to navigate? How are their products presented? Imagine you are a customer from their target niche and navigate through the site to find what works well and what could be improved.

3. Adaptability

Applying to a small company means you can become a part of a close-knit team. They may not have compartmentalised all of their work into different roles, instead expecting those within the company to have knowledge of all areas so that they can contribute in any capacity. Being a graduate in a niche market company means you can earn a wide variety of experience and grow over a number of years to become part of the next generation of management. This all starts in the interview process, where you can demonstrate that you are motivated and willing to learn all areas of business. It’s a simple point, but make sure you have at least a couple of questions lined up for the employer. These can be relatively simple, asking to expand upon an area of the job, or the business as a whole. This shows you’ve actively thought about the wider aspects of the job.

4. Networking Skills

You may not have built up a list of long-lasting relationships, but the ability to network and build trust with others is a great skill to have. Small businesses may be looking to grow, so any experience in finding and working with new people is valuable. At university, this could include working through a society or your student’s union, or being an active contributor to a student newspaper or website.

5. Solution-Oriented Thinking

Perhaps the most important skill, is the ability to take all of the previous points and express them in a way that is focused on problem-solving. Knowing a company’s target audience is essential, but knowing how best to reach them will really put you above other candidates. Think critically about websites that you both like and dislike, and be able to explain their merits. What should they improve? What do they do that should be replicated elsewhere? By suggesting improvements rather than simply picking holes, you’ll be in a much better position to hit the ground running and possibly work with others to implement improvements. By preparing yourself with this company research, employers will have a clearer image of how you can fit in with their existing workforce and help expand not just their own capabilities, but your range of skills as well.


David Cole is CEO of Pen Heaven, specialising in writing gifts since 2008. Based in London, Pen Heaven grew from offering a small variety of brands as a distributor to an online retailer offering an expansive range and a personalised engraving service.

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