It’s Laura contributing to Thoughtwave this week. I am the newest member of the Perpetual Development Team.

I stepped out of my truck.
Suite #112… this is it.
I made certain my shirt was tucked in. I checked my makeup and teeth in the side view mirror.
You’ve got this. You have the skills. You have the experience within a family business. Show them your personality.
I rang the bell.

According to Grand Valley State University, there are 5.5 million family businesses in America today, contributing 57% of the GDP and employing 63% of the workforce. Family businesses are responsible for 78% of new job creation.

If you’re reading Thoughtwave, chances are you own or work within a family business. If you’re involved in any part of the hiring process, you may believe your interviewees feel no different than those interviewing for publicly-owned organizations, but I’ve been through the process twice and can tell you it IS different.

I had been working for a family business for almost two years, but it was time for my boss to retire and business in the office was going to be slowing drastically. I decided to be proactive and search for another opportunity. When I found the job listing for Perpetual Development and noticed that they are not only family-owned but work with such businesses, I knew I needed to apply.

Your interviewees may be contemplating the best way to prepare for an interview with a family-owned business. As I prepared, I felt some relief in the fact that I had already worked for one. Think about it… what’s more valuable than education? Experience!

We’ll call my prior employer Smith Family Enterprises (SME). My experiences at SME were wonderful, but they came with a learning curve. At SME I was surprised how quickly I was exposed to the complexities of family business. Two family members who would soon be making the decisions didn’t always agree. One leader wanted to put in more hours; his wife wanted him home more. One employee wanted to feel like part of the family, but this was business.

Your candidates are going to be wondering how being an outsider who must be involved with the dynamics of a family will affect their position.

Going into my interview with Perpetual Development I was eager to learn more about the Patmos family, their values, and how the family relationships would play into my day-to-day.

Here are a few things your interviewee may be thinking about as they prepare for an interview with your family business:

How will I showcase that I am skilled enough to navigate the waters and manage relationships?
Your candidate may come prepared with examples of prior experiences managing delicate relationships. They will feel as though they need to show that although they are not a member of the family, they can work with the family. Be aware that they may be hesitant to give away specifics or anything too personal. By respecting the privacy of prior employers and coworkers, they’ll demonstrate the same respect they’ll give your family.

When I interviewed with Brent I gave examples by saying things like “A certain family member wanted me to use my time to BLANK, while another family member wanted me to use my time to BLANK. I managed this by BLANK.” I was able to validate my experience in family business without disrespecting my prior employer.

What is the culture?
Well-prepared interviewees will likely arrive knowing as much as possible about your company’s history and culture. They will have reviewed the company’s website and the LinkedIn profiles of its employees. Chances are they’ve Googled your business and read the business’ reviews to see how you handle customer relationships. The fact that your business is family-owned, will create extra pressure to fit into the culture.

While researching Brent and PDI I discovered his book, Beyond the Name. You can bet I read as much of it as possible prior to my interview. I am thankful I did as his book made it clear that his business WILL be part of his legacy. I knew he would be looking for someone who could emulate the culture he worked hard to create. I arrived feeling as though I already knew quite a bit about how he viewed business and how he might operate his own.

What skills do the family members not possess?
Your interviewee will likely be wondering why you elected to hire someone outside of the family for this particular position. If appropriate, disclose that information to them and allow them to highlight why choosing them makes sense.

My main interview for Perpetual Development was with Brent and Trudy. I was welcomed to the building by Marisah, a future family relative. They explained how their children contributed to the business. While they absolutely made me feel welcome, I knew that I was the “outsider” and would have to showcase skills that none of them currently possessed. During the interview, I discovered that Brent and Trudy were considering hosting leadership events but that no one on the team had a background in event planning. I was able to share my experiences as an event planner for a large international organization and the skills that it would bring to not only this area but the general structure and processes within the business.

How does the fact that the business is family-owned effect it?
Your interviewee may use the interview to gauge how the relationships within the family impact the day-to-day operations of the business.

I arrived to my interview with Brent and Trudy with A LOT of questions. Some of those included:

1.    How many family members are involved in the business?
2.    What positions do they hold?
3.    Are they all on site?
4.    How are decisions made?
5.    Who do I report to directly?
6.    Why did you decide to hire someone outside of the family for this position?

I wanted to be as aware as appropriate of the family dynamics, I wanted to be considerate of family dynamics AND I wanted to know how the family dynamics would affect me in the position.

How can I show the family who I truly am?
The job candidate will be looking for opportunities to showcase who they truly are and that they will be a good match for your family and your business.

During my interview, it was important to me to showcase to Brent and Trudy that I am trustworthy. I knew deep down that their entire family was aware that I would, at some level, become involved in the family of family business.

I would encourage you to be open with your interviewee about how the dynamics of your family play into your business. Provide them with opportunities to not only showcase their skills but their personality and how they might “fit in” at the family business. No one wants to feel like the outsider, especially at work, so share with them how they will be incorporated into the family business.


  1. Have you considered what it feels like for a non-family member to interview for our company?
  2. How do you communicate with candidates about how they will be integrated into the business?
  3. What do you share with interviewees about how being a privately held or family-owned business makes it unique?
P.S. I’d love to hear how you made a job candidate feel welcome at your family business. Leave me a message in the comments!

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