In the September 28, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newslettera reader asks:

I’m interested in working for a smaller local company. The real challenge seems to be finding that small company. How should I proceed?

Here’s the short version of my reply. (You’ve got to subscribe to the weekly newsletter to get the whole story!)

There are a lot more small companies out there than there are big ones. While many don’t spend to advertise jobs (because they prefer to hire via word of mouth), you will find them in the business pages of your local newspaper—in articles, not in job ads.

Small companies will refer you to one another simply because they rely on one another for business introductions. While one may not be your exact cup of tea, its president (or receptionist) may introduce you to another that is. This chain of connections is how they do business with one another, and it’s a great way for you to navigate through the small-company community. It’s also a very good way to vet each company, by asking others about its reputation.

Where do you find good employers to work for? Obvious question, eh? Well, don’t tell me you find them on job boards. I want to know where you go in physical space to actually meet people and learn about companies you might want to work for. It seems people just don’t do this any more. “Let’s do lunch” used to be a pretty good thing till self-interest destroyed it.

Me? I like nothing more than hanging out and talking to people about their work, especially if I get to visit their company.

How about you? Where do you find good companies to work for?


  1. In my area, Ct/RI, the Chamber of Commerence has meetings and classes just for small companys (less then 50).

  2. A productive technique we teach our clients is to use ReferenceUSA to identify all the companies in a particular industry in a particula area (see This database of 14 million US companies is generally available through your public library. Do a search with one of the search engines (I like to find companies that are hiring, and then use ReferenceUSA to find everyone else in that business. Many small companies don’t post their openings because of the crapalanche of unqualified applicants that results. A direct approach or referral are often the only avenues avaiable.

  3. I’ve used LinkedIn to find local companies. Just search for keywords in the industry that you are interested in, check within 50 miles of your target location. The result is a list of people, most of whom you will not know, but you can see what they are doing or have done in the past–and where. I’ve come up with quite a list of companies in my area that have people doing the kind of work that I’m interested in. I find the company’s website and location and make some notes about what they do, just as a first step.

  4. I’ve gained tremendously from heavy participation in a local section of a national professional society. It draws members from nine counties and a top 10 university in my major. Most of the “regulars” do business in an even broader region, and know loads of professionals, professors and companies in the profession. If you show up often enough or join the executive board or work on a society project, you get to know people, gain trust and start hearing (and sharing) “behind the scenes” news that is typically shared only in person and only between people who share history. There’s a wealth of valuable information out there that never gets written down.

  5. I’ve found that my area (Portland, OR) has a substantial number of networking opportunities of various sorts. From local chapters of national professional organizations, to local business promotion organizations, to just plain meetup groups. If you have the energy to get out and sniff around some, you can quickly meet quite a few people who are more often than not engaged with local small businesses.

    My most recent two jobs with small local companies (40-50 employees) have come as the result of various networking activities, though both indirectly. One came through a personal referral, and the other was through a recruiter who I believe found my resume through my participation in a local professional group.

  6. Be as selective of the firms you are looking at as much as they are about you. I worked for a small firm for over a decade. I am finding that small firms are very secretive their whole organization. This creates credability problems with both potential clients and candidates. Make sure they are willing to share information.

  7. 1. As nick noted, read articles. Your local newspaper may have some articles, but in some cities a much better source are the business journals. e.g. in Houston it’s the Houston Business Journal. A weekly. They also routinely feature an industry a week and publish a list of the top X e.g 25. yearly they publish a giant list of all. the business journal per se publishes similar in #’s of medium to larger cities nationwide. google business journal for their main site.
    2. As Jim W suggested. Try chambers of commerce. Plural if you’re in a large metropolitan area. They usually have a web site and they range from poor to great. with lists of members.
    2.a. More important, network into the Chambers. There will be someone whose job it is to sign up members. They make it their business to know the businesses and related contacts in the Chambers area of operations and know peers in the other Chambers. They can be very helpful
    3. Ditto other organizations e.g. the Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis.
    4. Dig into your state and/or county sites. You’re looking for their Economic development offices. It’s their business to recruit business into the state or county. Network to those people. They too can be helpful, particular in regard to newly arrived companies, seed money.
    5. Business incubators. collaborations of academia, state/county, business, venture capitialists who aim to help businesses start and grow. Some of these organizations are well organized.
    6 Colleges, particularly community colleges. like chambers of commerce the community colleges can aggressively culivate relationships in the business community. Someone has that job. You want to find that someone.
    all of these above aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. their websites have links to each other and provide great leads to investigate.
    many have monthly meetings open to all.
    many have events that need speakers. volunteer to be one.
    got to run

  8. Great suggestions, and an outstanding list from Don Harkness!

  9. Speaking of LinkedIn, I am interested to hear what you all have to say about job search on LinkedIn. Conventional wisdom says many things, first of which is writing “actively searching for a job” right up front in the profile. What are your thoughts about this approach of advertising your search on LinkedIn?

  10. @PL: I’m not a big believer in “advertising your search” anywhere. I believe in identifying and learning about companies where you can do something that will contribute to the bottom line. That puts the work on the job hunter.

    Which is, frankly, where it belongs. People have become brainwashed to believe the work is done by databases and by employers who are out “looking” to make hires.

    Consider the analogous approach, used by headhunters to fill jobs. The good ones don’t run ads. They go find the candidates they want by looking where they hang out. They carefully pick targets, aim, and recruit. They don’t take what comes along.

    Now consider the economics. It costs nothing to put your info up and wait. It costs an employer nothing to put up a job listing and wait. For good reason. “What comes along” ain’t worth much.

    It costs a company about $30,000 to fill a position the other, targeted way – through a headhunter. (I’m not promoting headhunters. Any job hunter and any employer can be their own headhunter – though the “cost” is the same. You just have to do it for yourself.) There’s a reason it costs so much. You have to go find who you want.

    When you consider the two methods, and why one costs so much more than the other, you start to see where the value is. And why putting your info up somewhere, and waiting, isn’t such a great idea.

    People don’t do this because they’re dopes. They do this because the employment system brainwashes them. The “database” approach is promoted heavily by big businesses that make tons of money… processing data. Not filling jobs. People want to believe it works, because they believe it’s what everyone (and every employer) is doing.

  11. Some time ago, I came across a top 10 list titled How To Not Get an IT Job. One of them was (paraphrasing here) ‘Sending in a resume and sitting back waiting for the phone to ring is a great way to avoid employment’.