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Ever wonder why the idiots seem to always get ahead in the game? Ok, maybe not idiots, but it’s definitely not always the hardest workers, the most rational managers, or the friendliest employees. So I’m letting you in on a secret – there’s a reason why they end up there.  Follow these tips to ease your climb to the job you want.

Getting Ahead in a Small Business (500 employees or less)

Small businesses are the backbone of this country and provide a one-of-a-kind experience for employees. The fun thing about small businesses, is that every single one runs differently – so use these tips as guidelines, and be sure to match the culture you are in, above all else.

Wear many, many hats. One of the best (or worst) parts about working at a small company is that you have to be willing to pitch in and realize that your job description does not even begin to cover what you will actually be doing. The less people there are within a company, the more there is for you to take on. Each time you expand your skills into something “outside of your role,” you become more valuable in the open market. So be sure to wear many hats and never utter the words “that’s not my job.”


Be the subject matter expert. In small businesses, talent is harder to replace because people take on so much, it’s difficult to find a new employee with the exact same skill-set. So you can create a bit more job stability by becoming THE expert within your group. Know everything; learn as much as you can; be the GO TO person and become irreplaceable.

If you hold on to key knowledge points, you hold the power – now don’t get sneaky about it, but do keep a few tricks and nuggets of knowledge, up your sleeve. When you hold the information, you have more bargaining power, should you ever need it.


Don’t rock the boat. This is not the type of environment (in most cases), where you can continuously be the antagonist. If it’s a privately owned business, remember that the owner’s think of the company and their ideas as their baby – when you speak negatively of it, they are personally offended. In certain small businesses, being likable is critically important. In ALL small businesses, being a trusted, level-headed confident of the top players, is key.


Get your hands dirty. You will need to dig down and work in the weeds, all the time. No job is too big or too small – so check your ego and entitlement issues at the door. No one really cares how dirty the job is, as long as it gets done – so be the one to do it.

Even when you reach the top of the ladder, know that your job will always consist of the tactical side of the business – now is your training ground to get as dirty as you can to show worth, credibility and ability in future positions.


Be friendly, but beware. In a small business environment, people are typically angling for themselves at all costs. So be friendly with everyone, but trust no one.

What you say will get back to the wrong people – so be sure you are not the one saying things without thinking that through. On the sneaky side, this can also work in your benefit by being strategic about what you share with certain people to try and influence the outcome.


Work at the level of your peers, or slightly above. For each company, the level of work output will vary based on the company’s culture. So you don’t necessarily have to be a superstar.

But you do have to match the level of work output of your peers, with a tiny little bump above to stand out above them. Being a full out superstar when the others are mediocre, will work against you (promise), so just do a tab bit better than the rest.


Human Resources plays an interesting role in a small business. It truly depends upon what type of HR person sits in the role as far as influence goes. Be sure to be friendly with them, and if you see the top leaders engaging HR often, then you want HR to be your ally too. Typically they have influence, but your main drivers in a small company are always the owners. Don’t forget that.