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THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA JOB MARKET: LOOKING FOR LIGHT : The Little Guys : Small Companies Are a Rich Source of Jobs, but First You Have to Know How to Find Them

September 20, 1993|Donna K. H. Walters | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If you want a job, think small. As in small business.

As big businesses continue to slim down, small companies still want to grow. In fact, small-business advocates say that most of the new jobs emerging in this tough economy are in small business.

Yet finding a job with a small company can be like looking for that proverbial needle . . . well, you know where. There are gazillions of small businesses out there, anonymously tucked away in industrial parks, business districts and big office buildings.

When such businesses have an opening, they typically can't afford a long search because each employee is critical. They need the job filled immediately, so you have to be ready to jump when an opening comes.

But how do you find them? Small-business owners, their trade groups and college placement officials say it is a tough assignment but that with diligence it can be done.

First, job-seekers need to understand how small businesses go about hiring, which is not exactly the same way big firms do it. Next comes basic job-hunting tactics and flexibility. This may mean being willing to take a not-so-good job to gain experience that can lead to a better one, experts say.

"Put your ego in a back pocket," says John Cruikshank, who is chief executive of the small business Basix Funding & Development Corp. and an adviser and mentor to other small-business people.

Small businesses commonly say they find many of their employees through a most informal process: word of mouth. Somebody already working in the company recommends someone else. Or a relative or friend may pass along word of a job-seeker, or the owner may turn to an acquaintance in the same field.

Small-business people generally hope they can hire without placing a help-wanted ad because advertising and screening applicants lengthens the process. Many do advertise, however, sometimes in both local and metropolitan news papers.

Small firms increasingly are turning to temporary-help agencies, which they use as a sort of personnel department to screen candidates.

A small-business owner may know the printing business, for example, "inside and out, but that doesn't mean he or she knows how to hire," says Cruikshank. If they like the temporary helper sent by the agency, the temp could land a permanent job.

Then there are "cold" calls, or resumes not solicited by the company, tips from telephone hot lines and bulletin boards. The state Employment Development Department maintains lists of available jobs, and several offices have "Experience Unlimited" services for professionals and managers looking for work.

It is up to the job-seeker to follow the various paths to a job--and not settle for just one route. Some suggestions from small-business experts and those who hire:

* Network. No, it is not just a buzzword left over from the yuppie era. Becoming part of that word-of-mouth system is the single most important thing a job-seeker can do. Begin by telling everyone you know that you are looking. Ask your friends and acquaintances to tell their friends. Find out whether there is a trade group or association representing the industry or field you are interested in and join it. Attend meetings, get to know people in the field and learn about companies.

* Become informed. It is harder to find out about small businesses than large ones. The smaller companies aren't likely to be in Forbes or Fortune, but there are publications, such as Entrepreneur, that feature up-and-coming companies. Check libraries and trade associations for directories of companies. Watch newspapers for stories about companies or vibrant niches.

* Do the basic legwork. If you prefer to work in a particular area, get the telephone directory (out-of-town directories are sometimes available at libraries), look under the field you want to enter and write down every company's name, address and phone number. Check at the library for directories listing corporations licensed to do business in that area.

Drive around in the area where you might want to work and keep your eyes open for small industrial or office parks that could house your dream company. And--believe it or not--look for help-wanted signs in store windows; many tiny firms swear by them.

Call companies to get important information, such as who is in charge of hiring. Then prepare and send in your resume and follow it up with another call. The emphasis on resumes seems to rise along with the pay level--but don't assume that resumes are required only for professional companies.

Mary Beth MacKenzie likes to see an applicant's resume even for one of the lower-paying jobs at Rock's Tree & Hillside Service, a Burbank company she runs with her husband, Rock. "At least then I know they can write and mail a letter--so I know they are able to get to a job site," MacKenzie said.

* Use college placement offices. If you are a college graduate or about to be one, check with your alma mater's placement office.

* Be persistent. Don't take a "no openings" response as the final word. Politely send a resume anyway, and call back after a proper interval.

* Be flexible. Consider working part time, as a temporary or an intern. Small companies tend to promote from within more often and more quickly than many large employers do. Consider taking a job that is a step below the one you want. Broaden your search; if you want to work as an accountant, for instance, do not limit yourself to accounting firms, because all companies require some financial expertise.

"A career is not a sprint race," said Victor R. Lindquist, placement director at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., "It's a marathon, and it doesn't matter where you start. It's where you finish that counts."

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