IT Employment

How to interview with a small company vs. a large one

There are some differences in the interviewing process of small companies vs. large companies. Here are a few things to be prepared for.

Though "selling yourself" is still the goal whether you're applying at a small company or a large company, sometimes what you need to emphasize about yourself is different.

Many times in a small company, for example, you may interview with the top dog (the company's founder). This is a person who has a really personal stake in the success of the company, as it represents a substantial investment - in time and money - for him or her.

In a case like that, that person wants to see the same type of enthusiasm and passion from you. Be ware that you may also have to talk to several other people in the company from different departments. In smaller companies separate departments work closely so "fitting in" will be a major consideration here.

In smaller companies, you may not be offered any kind of training. It's important to exhibit in the interview that you are able to work without direct supervision, and that you're flexible and are willing to perform any task.

When it's your turn to ask questions, try to steer things toward company goals. You might be able to get an idea of the company's viability and potential for growth from the responses you get.

Lastly, be prepared to negotiate salary. Since this is not a company that's been around forever and has established pay rates for certain positions, you have some wiggle room.

Large companies

Now, with a large company, your first meeting will more than likely be with someone from HR. This person will be armed with standard, generic questions that are used to hit on the high points of your experience and to see if you drop all the keywords they're looking for (e.g., network administration, project management, Windows 7, etc.) You may even be asked to take a test to measure your technical skills.

I know many of our readers are frustrated by the HR part of the interview but if you're prepared and knowledgeable of what the position requires, then you should do OK.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

28 comments
NewsView
NewsView

What do you do when you have spent years in a profession and you have covered all types of ground and yet half of the people who look at your resume say you are overqualified even as the other half turn you down because you haven't supervised others and/or came from a smaller company with fewer employees to support or perhaps a different industry (in an IT capacity)? How do you get out of the "in between place"? What I see in many jobs, but in particular in IT, is that there is this huge disconnect between the senior level positions and the entry-level positions. The career ladder has broken rungs in it; it's not a shortage of American STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) grads. There is a shortage of employers who either promote from within and/or who are willing to bring their new hires up to speed. No matter how many niche software applications the employer is running, whether it is a law firm or a healthcare setting, they want their incoming applicant to know absolutely everything. Here we are in the worst economy since the Great Depression and hiring managers, the HR journals complain, can't find the right talent? That's a hard swallow. I think the structural employment problem is linked to the phenomena of stealing talent only from one's direct competitors --- with all the requisite skills in place and "minimum 3 years' experience in a ________ setting". Employers are unwilling to acknowledge that with thousands of applications and proprietary technology solutions an emphasis needs to be placed on an applicant's aptitude as opposed to the "shopping list" approach to hiring that is all the (lazy/unrealistic) rage. Let's get real about why there is a breakdown in our economy --- because, in a large part, we've created the problem.

hermeszdata
hermeszdata

From a generic viewpoint the information presented is good foundational material, nothing more. Unfortunately, the skills necessary to successfully navigate the interview maze only comes with the experience of many unsuccessful interviews. Additional suggestions have been offered inn prior posts within this discussion which are definite points to consider. 1) Before going to an interview, make sure you know more about the company, its history and business model, then they know about you. One may rest assured that, whether you know it or not, many companies (large or small) will take your knowledge of their company into consideration when making a final hiring decision. This even holds true regarding submission of a resume'/cover letter. One never knows where they will be or what they will be doing when a call comes as a response to a resume' submission and one of the questions asked may be "What might you tell me of your understanding of XYZ Corp?" One needs to be prepared to with prior knowledge regardless of where they are or what they are doing. 2) First and foremost, "be true to thine own self!" Do not try to represent yourself as more than you are! There is a fine line between humility, confidence and arrogance. Be willing to discuss your weaknesses as much as your strengths. Acknowledging one's weaknesses while demonstrating the willingness/desire to expand one's knowledge and abilities goes far to further one's employability (regardless of age)! as an example: Question: "What has your experience been with ACB application?" Answer: "Honestly, I have used that particular application, but due to the nature of my previous work, I have not been afforded the opportunity to be involved in the administration of that application. In that regard, one of my greatest strengths is my ability to learn new technologies as the need arises , for example ..." and give a, verifiable, valid real life example ... "As a result of ... (give an honest illustration of personal technological growth) ... I studied and gained ABC certification and I am currently working on ... to further my knowledge and value in the industry." Every company or prospective employer has an ideal in mind, but truth be known, IDEAL is a fantasy. I often laugh at the "Requirements" listed for various jobs I see come available. "MS in IT, 5 yrs experience in ... , 25 different industry vendor certifications ... " offering peanuts ($8 to $15 per hour). 3) Listen closely and answer carefully! I take a somewhat different approach with interviews. At almost 56, "I have seen the boss' job and I don't want it." I thrive on the "one-on-one" customer contact and providing a solid resolution to the problems they are having and dealing with the diverse situations we encounter in the field. I let the interviewer understand this very quickly to dissuade any concern that I might be after their job. With that said, when I go to an interview, I am not the interviewed, I am the interviewer! I presume that the company has thoroughly vetted my resume and checked my references prior to their call to set up an interview and the job is mine IF I want it. Now, it is time to see of the company meets MY standards, or if they are just another sweat shop looking for another warm body that they will use and dispose of in short order once whatever crunch they are in is over! The difficult part of this is presenting one's self in a manner such that this is not evident to the one I am interviewing (of course to them I am the one being interviewed)! By and large, over the past 30+ years, I have found that IF I wanted a job which I as called for an interview the job was mine! If during an interview I realize that this is not the place for me, I politely excuse myself from consideration so as not to waste my or their time and on a number of occasions have received a call later offering me a much better position for which I had not applied. 4) Even if I am between "Full-Time" positions, I am never un-employed! "I have been taking periodic IT consulting positions while I look for exactly the right position with the greatest long-term potential!" This translates into "I'm not desperate," and "I want an employment relationship that amounts to more than Lick 'em, Stick 'em, and Send 'em on their way!" The bottom line is, a successful interview requires preparation and experience to pass muster. If one has a friend in an IT management position, ask them to take you through "mock" interviews where they act as some of the best interviewers and also as the worst nightmare cases of one who is interviewing you as a prospective employee (obviously not a manager in a company you are currently employed with.) Listed in order of importance, I personally consider these the top three areas of consideration when being interviewed: 1) Knowledge of the company I am interviewing with. (Not just the company's propaganda listed on their web site, but Dunn & Brad info, annual financial reports, etc.) 2) People Skills - how one interacts with different personalities and situations. 3) Technical knowledge/ability. Just a few additional things to consider!

Niall Baird
Niall Baird

The biggest thing that I have learnt is that if you get to an interview, the company (large or small) already thinks you are a technological 'fit' for the job, and all they have to do is to see whether you will fit in or not. Once I realised that, and started thinking along that line, I managed to ace every interview that I attended and secured the job. If you're a young person who has never sat in on a hiring interview, start asking your boss if you can be included in the interview process when your current company is hiring. What you learn will pay you back tenfold.

Trep Ford
Trep Ford

I have mixed feelings about this article and most like it. For those new to interviewing, they can help. But I've been in the industry for nearly 30 years, and every "interview and resume" article I read over-generalizes dangerously. Why? Because the author's experience is just that ... the author's experience. "Here's what I experienced at this particular sort of company" is an honest representation of what we know. Or "here's what I heard from a colleague who interviewed with this sort of firm." Direct or indirect, our experience is just that, OUR experience ... the view of one person. I could easily supply instances which counter every point made in this article, where small companies did something which supposedly characterizes large, and vice versa. Even one company's practices can differ radically from one position to another, one department to another or from one business cycle to another. The lesson? While generalizations do serve some preparatory purpose, the truth is that all industries, companies within those industries, departments within those companies and individuals within those departments ... are different. They have different goals, different parameters and different styles. Learn as much as you can from others (recruiters, candidates, employees, contractors, blogs) with direct experience of those you'll be seeing. Know as much as you can about the particular industry, company, department and people you'll be seeing. And realize that some of what you'll experience will surprise you. Being ready to handle surprises is perhaps the greatest interview skill of all.

Interactive Communication
Interactive Communication

The funny thing is, interview is an audition. They really don't want to hear the real answer, of course unless you are perfect, the audition wants the right answer for thier company and hold a strong straight faces. They want to find employees who can check in from 9-5 and be 100% professional. Also adding personality to the interview is imperative. Understand tho if u become overbearing, it will work against you. If you are the opposite and repress, the best practice is to find a complete stranger on the street, begin conversation over any last minute topic you can think of. This will help you devolpoe a stronger personality. Finally do hesitate to be the 11 person on all interview process.

HighTechAngel
HighTechAngel

Is this article continued somewhere else? I began to feel interested in the subject when the article was just over. Poor analysis.

ellendilmw
ellendilmw

When you interview with a small company - as the article says - you will often be speaking to the owner/director and hence someone who is completely comfortable in their position and will never feel threatened by you. During such an interview, let your best out; experience, skill and - most importantly - enthusiasm for the role. As some how once was a director of a small consultancy, I wanted people to impresss me; to shine and pop out. When you are selling yourself to a small company, you cannot be shy or humble; they have a limited number of staff and want everyone to be the best. When you are interviewing with a large company, a different style is called for. Although HR may be present (for probity if nothing else), you will likely be interviewed by your potential manager/team-leader along with one of your potential colleagues/peers. This is where diplomacy has to come in, and it can make a tightrope for you to walk. To secure a role under these conditions, you have to be able to promote yourself as a highly skilled and motivated individual whilst at the same time not projecting yourself as a future threat to your interviewers' positions. It's a sad fact that many organisations hire less than ideal candidates because the people doing the hiring are looking first to protect their own position and bailiwick and will not engage someone that they feel may threaten them. This can be a challenge, and this is the time where a certain amount of diffidence and humility is called for. Some things to look for: If the people interviewing you are fairly young (say sub-40) then they are probably still building their own careers and will feel less threatened by you as they are on their own progression. With these interviewers you can project confidence and independence in addition to your skills and experience. Try and engage them in some non-work related conversation (if an interview is going well and you "click" with them this will likely occur naturally) and pick up and areas of social commonality (if they jog and you jog, mention this for example). It's likely that they are as interested in hiring someone they will like to work with (and become friends with) as are in finding someone with the best technical skills and experience. There's nothing wrong with this; as building a solid team has its own benefits for the organisation. If your interviewer is somewhat older (approaching or past 50 or so) then some serious humility is called for, and it is critical that you at no point appear threatening to them. Regardless of the industry, the majority of people of that age group tend to have settled into their position and will protect it at all costs. During this sort of interview, promote yourself as a "team player" and someone that wants to grow their career by learning from people with greater experience. You want to make them feel like they can guide or mentor you; they aren't looking for a "hot shot", they are looking for someone that will enhance their position and make them look better (I had a manager at one organisation specifically say to me "You do not do anything unless it makes me look good!" I left within 2 months). That may seem extreme, but I'm sure many others can validate that truism. It's a somewhat sad fact that many larger organisations - those that treate seniority as a prime requisite for advancement in particular - have some of the weakest IT teams I have ever encountered as they often hire people for the wrong reasons (this is also why they outsource a significant amount of their complex work to specialist systems integrators). They choose people that will "keep their heads down" or "maintain the status quo" rather than those that will try and bring new ideas into their environment. I would like to think that I am being pessimistic about larger companies - and the traits I have outlined in my second scenario are certainly by no means universal - but my experience has been that they are more often the rule rather than the exception.

sparent
sparent

You are selected for being able to work within the system of a large company. For a small company, you are hired for being able to work without a system.

GreenPirogue
GreenPirogue

I have interviewed at many large companies, and HR generally does none of the interviews. I mean, they do look at the resume to catch the key words, etc., but it has been my impression that HR is there to drive the hiring process. And at all of the large companies I have been hired at, the HR person always makes the offer. It is as if HR is there to make sure that no one else will make legal errors in the hiring process. I never ask about benefits, but it seems that larger companies (especially the HR people) want to talk about benefits. Perhaps that is a selling point for them. HR does not interview, per se, but they are very important in the process. Remember, in a large company, the hiring manager makes the decision - and HR is not responsible for that decision. They have a say in who is qualified, but not who gets hired. HR is there to make sure the hiring manager doesn't screw up with employment laws and company policies.

wim.harthoorn
wim.harthoorn

When you are interviewed by a large company the people interviewing you will be able to block out a large chunk of time and dedicate it to interviews. That's rarely possible in small companies, those interviewing you will be fitting you in around their main job. You should accept that it's no reflection on you if you are lower in priority than a key customer ringing in or a crisis in an important bid.

ashot.tonoyan
ashot.tonoyan

Most importantly one should not pretend to be someone who he is not!

Sarnath
Sarnath

Nice insights....Useful!

gechurch
gechurch

Of course there will be variations and exceptions, but generalisations like this are useful. The alternative - an article stating that all companies are different so you just have to take it as it comes - would be worthless. And I hardly see how the generalisations are dangerous. I've never interviewed for a large company, but my gut feeling is that her generlisations are pretty much spot on. I have interviewed for several small companies, and her generalisations here match my experience. Her experiences also seem to match the experience of every commenter so far.

Englebert
Englebert

8-8 is more like it, plus the ability to walk on water

Dknopp
Dknopp

What is up with the "old codger protecting his terf"? The info is pretty good, but there is too much generalizing with the age thing here. I have met MANY younger guys who are doing "king of the hill" and will look at you as a possible threat. And I have met MANY older guys doing the same thing. Usually the older guys that are in the interview are the managers ( and older guys in IT is more like above 35 not 50 )and they will be looking for someone that can fit into the team and how much are you going to cost. The younger guys are normally the tech "hot shots" and they will be feeling you out for how technical you are and will you have what it takes to either help out with a current problem or help with future growth. I was interviewed for my current job by an older manager ( 56 I believe )and by the "hot shot" on a conference call, at no time did I feel the manager was protecting his terf. But the hot shot WAS protecting his terf, because he had created a whole suite of applications to do a job that my prior company was a competitor for and he did not want anyone (me) to rock that boat. We need to drop the old verses young crap

smithsh1138
smithsh1138

I began in a municipal role not too long ago, and everything was on the verge of death or was in decline, or had reached the end of life and capacity - servers, workstations, applications, etc. It was rewarding to be able to rebuild this network to be a valuable tool instead of a liiability. I was interviewed by a panel of 3 peers - a very interesting process. Then I was interviewed by the head of the agency, for 2+ hours, and was asked very detailed questions about my experience. I also got very candid information about how the organization functioned. The last question was - what did I think I could bring to the agency that was different than all the other candidates? I answered, "Enthusiasm!" Apparently, that was key...and I still have plenty of that!

Flyers70
Flyers70

I think srparent's response sums up the "Large Company vs. Small Company" ethos the best....at least as it pertains to my own experience. Things one can take for granted in a large company....you cannot take for granted in a small company because it is likely not there.

t.brown
t.brown

thanks Good Point!!:-))

scotth
scotth

No one should misrepresent who they are in an interview. That can easily come back to haunt you. However, I've worked for companies that were misrepresented several times. Told certain training, promotions, etc., were possible, only to find out later no such opportunities ever existed.

ellendilmw
ellendilmw

I don't engage in flame wars, but it seems you are invoking a trend that seems to oclude the point of many excellent articles and comments on this site. Whilst I did refer to age differentiation in my post, this was within the context of "typical human behaviour" and certainly not limited to the IT industry. It is human nature for someone who is younger to be more ambitious and eager to build their career; this goes hand-in-hand with having less responsibilities and life experience. It is also human nature to protect yourself and be more conservative as you grow older. With age comes experience and - usually - responsibility; not just the sense of responsibility (which is age-independent) but responsibilities (such as a family, mortgage, etc.) that make them risk-adverse. These are of course generalisations (as was much of my post though it was based on a combination of personal experience and observation) and certainly don't hold true in all circumstances (nothing ever does). The point of my posting was to support and enhance the article's original author as I felt this was a topic that would be of interest to a number of readers on this site; it was not to incite (or rather further propogate) the perception that there is an "age vs. youth" battle within the industry. I hope you can look at it within that context.

fhrivers
fhrivers

It's the younger bucks that seem to be the most defensive.

Old Timer 8080
Old Timer 8080

FYI: when you want to impress HR or the hiring manager in a big company or the owner of the little company , it pays to pay attention to details... There is no such word as TERF in the English language. Now if someone was protecting his TURF..... This kind of failure of attention to details is why many people of the younger ( nintendo ) generation don't get hired... I've been on both sides of the hiring & firing desk.... Sloppy in the cover letter may mean sloppy work habits....

sporter
sporter

I'm sure you meant "Now if someone were protecting his TURF...." (Google subjunctive mood)

rahbm
rahbm

Poor grammar and spelling make the writer look ignorant, regardless of whether or not that is the case. BTW, it should have been "Now if someone WERE protecting ..."

smithsh1138
smithsh1138

...that's where the crappy resumes went, when I was a recruiter. Candidates who couldn't communicate effectively were not considered. Not an opinion, but a real live observation, at the source.

smithsh1138
smithsh1138

Poor grammar, bad spelling, sloppy communications... one of my pet peeves!

Dknopp
Dknopp

This isn't a cover letter, it's just a misspelled word. Get over it. Or should that be "git ovr et"? Not sure.