IMHO, a small business employee is one who is capable and WILLING to wear multiple hats, has self-start initiative, needs little supervision and can juggle well. How do you find them - well, they may typically find you. I have always felt that a corporate type (needs security, focus, benefits, etc. - or wants the power/prestige associated with climbing a big ladder) will not consider your job unless it is a person you already know. I have always been pretty good at interviews and reading people, so the ones who are just looking for a job typically "out" themselves in the interview and the ones looking to work and add value will shine no matter what size the business. Good luck!
I think being a team player is the most important quality because all so often you have to play different roles and fill in for other team members if you are not flexible and do not accept that responsibility easily you will not survive long.
I guess after further thinking about it and reading these comments I would say if there were three words that describe a good employee for a small firm it would be trustworthy, team player and multi-talented.
I agree with most of these comments. The one I feel is less important is the team player trait. It is critical that you hire people who fit the personality of your culture and other employees so they can work well together. However, many team players aren't used to having to do everything themselves (no support team/staff).
I like to look at the types/size of companies they've chosen in the past. If they have a big company background it's difficult for them to adjust to the hands-on needs of a small company. I've had sales people who were used to a support team that would send out letters and other follow-up to the customers/prospects for them. One even mentioned that he'd probably need to hire a virtual assistant to do that if we didn't have the staff for it! Managers have similar issues. While it's great to get some of the knowledge they've acquired in a large company, some are incapable of doing without a secretary/assistant.
Really quiz them on why they want to work for a small company if it's new to them. When stock options are used, many want the excitement of getting rich when a company goes public. Some have even told me that their friends told them small companies were the way to go. What you want to hear is that they are tired of being confined by their job description, that they want an oppportunity to have real input and be heard, etc.
Sometimes, no matter how much the person thinks they want to work in a small company, the reality is too much for them and you'll both discover it was a mistake.
As always when hiring someone, figure out what you need the person to be able to do (both soft skills and technical abilities) ... and then find that specific person.
I have to disagree HR Pro about the team player. I work for a small company and being a team player is vital to the every day functions because we do all wear so many different hats here. We all have to help eachother when it's needed. I currently do the marketing and special projects but when I know that customer service is busy, I jump right onto the phones to help out. You don't want to hire someone who wont step outside their box. I have worked with people who'd state, "It's not in my job decription", "It's not my job to answer the phones", or "I wasn't hired to do that". A person like this isn't taking care of the company or it's customer's needs and they also bring morale down by causeing animosity in the office.
We're talking about different definitions of team players. Most of the time in business a team player is considered to actually be part of a team and doesn't function well or completely when left to his/her own devices. What you described is considered an entrepreneurial attitude and, yes, is absolutely necessary in small companies. Without employees who are willing to do anything and everything they can, many small companies would never survive. However, as companies grow that entrepreneurial attitude gets pushed out and replaced by people who are more regimented team players.