job interview sme
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Job interview at an SME? Here’s what you need to know

21 Mar 2018

There are many benefits to working for an SME, but what’s different about interviewing for one? Hays’ Robby Vanuxem is here to fill you in.

Since getting the phone call inviting you to attend a job interview at a small or medium-sized business (SME), you may have learnt more about the many benefits of working for one.

For instance, there are often better levels of staff engagement, a more cohesive and united atmosphere than that of a large corporate, and an increased exposure to senior decision-makers within the business.

Yes, these are great employer attributes, but the question that remains is this: what will the hiring manager at an SME be looking for specifically in a candidate, and how can you prove your ‘SME suitability’ during the interview?

1. You can take on a wider job remit

By their very nature, SMEs will have a smaller workforce and fewer people involved with projects. Therefore, employees within an SME will often have more ‘hands-on’ roles with wider-reaching areas of responsibility.

For instance, an account executive within a large corporate may have a lead generation team to source potential clients, as well as an after-sales support team. By contrast, in an SME, an account executive may be expected to get involved in every aspect of the sales process from the beginning to the end.

With this in mind, many professionals, especially those early on in their career, find that working within an SME role is a great opportunity to develop a broader skillset and take on more responsibility.

Your hiring manager will therefore want to know that you are keen to take on a wider-reaching role, that you are a team player who is not afraid to step out of their comfort zone and that you will never utter the words, ‘But that’s not my job!’

As such, prepare to be asked the below questions:

  • What would you say your key responsibilities are in your current job?
  • Could you give me an example of a recent project you successfully completed from start to finish?
  • Could you give me an example of a time you exceeded expectations?

2. You need to be adaptable and self-taught

Many SMEs are often in their infancy and part of a growing industry that develops at a fast pace, such as technology. Therefore, not only will SME roles be wider-reaching, but also prone to change. Consequently, you must be willing to adapt and upskill in order to meet the changing demands of the job.

If you can prove that you are resourceful in upskilling yourself as and when needed – for instance, by attending free webinars, reading online how-to guides or seeking out somebody within the organisation who can train you – you will put yourself in good standing with the interviewer.

To test your adaptability and approach to self-teaching, your interviewer may ask you the following:

  • What have you done recently to challenge yourself?
  • Which new skills have you learned in the past year?
  • How do you make sure you keep your skills relevant?

3. You are an ‘ideas’ person

While an SME may be very much in its infancy, it will have a clear vision of where it wants to get to over the next few years. Being in a smaller company, employees will be more engaged with this vision and will have a good understanding of how this vision intertwines with their roles.

They will be expected to contribute their own innovative ideas based around what the competition is doing, plus industry trends and insights. They will also happily suggest their ideas to the senior people within the business on a regular basis.

Therefore, the hiring manager of an SME will be looking for another resourceful and enthusiastic ‘ideas’ person to join the team, thus may ask you one of the below questions during the interview:

  • Could you give me an example of an idea you had that was successfully implemented?
  • Have you got any ideas for how we could improve X element of the business?
  • How do you stay on top of the latest trends in the industry that you work in?

4. You have a customer-centric approach

Yes, every company will want to engage their customers, but an SME will still be building their customer base and reputation, so the urgency of everybody having a customer-centric approach is much higher.

Consequently, the hiring manager of an SME will be looking for candidates who engage with the needs of the customer, even if they don’t have a customer-facing role. As such, they may ask:

  • How would you define our target audience?
  • How do you think your role relates to/ties in with our customer strategy?
  • What do you think we can offer our customers that our competitors can’t?

For many interview candidates, it never even occurs to adapt their interview style according to the company size. However, SMEs are unique in what they ask of their potential candidates, and also what they can offer in terms of career progression.

A job within an SME will typically be wider-reaching and challenging, but can also offer you the freedom within your role to truly grow as a professional and drive yourself forward.

Therefore, tailoring your technique involves more than just preparing for an interview. It is about investing in your professional development now and in the future.

By Robby Vanuxem

Robby Vanuxem is the managing director of Hays Belgium.

A version of this article originally appeared on Hays’ Viewpoint blog.

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