How to improve your recruitment success as a small business

In this piece, Jerome Forde, founder of FordeCloud, explores the strategies that can improve your small business recruitment success.

If you struggle to recruit the best talent or to fill certain positions within your business, then you are not alone. A new survey from Forde HR Cloud reveals that as many as two in every three business managers admit to struggling when it comes to recruiting staff.

While every business has its unique issues, the survey found similarities in the recruitment challenges faced by small businesses, in particular:

– Applicants’ lack of skills and experience (50 per cent)
– Lack of applicants (27 per cent)
– Challenging salary expectations (19 per cent).

These challenges are mirrored across other research, too. In the 2016 Small Business Economic Trends report, 52 per cent of small businesses report a lack of qualified applicants for their job vacancies. Some 68 per cent of businesses also reported to Jobvite that they needed to increase their average salary offer for candidates in the last year.

However, don’t go reaching for the cheque book too quickly. There are strategies to address these issues and improve your small business recruitment success. Let’s take each obstacle one by one:

Applicants lack skills and experience

This challenge is founded in the notion that employers require candidates to have specific experience; doing similar jobs in the past. However, it’s often the case that applicants do have experience, it just may not be entirely aligned and perfectly applicable to a current vacancy.

It is understandable that 50 per cent of small businesses feel that their new hires need to hit the ground running. They might feel they don’t have the resources (financial or otherwise) to train from the ground up.

Unfortunately, the perfect candidate rarely exists. In this rapidly-changing economy companies are constantly changing, roles are being made redundant, or transforming, and new jobs are being created that didn’t exist before. Against this backdrop, it’s important that business managers and CEOs can look beyond directly matching the skills and experience listed by candidates. Instead, find where there is crossover and transferable skills; to see the potential for candidates to bring something new to a role.

Within this, there is a huge recruitment opportunity; graduate job hunters. These new additions to the workforce are well educated, ambitious, and with some 60,000 of them unable to secure professional employment, they will work hard to gain experience if given the chance to do so.

As FordeCloud highlights, 25 per cent of SMEs coin training and development as a key factor of their recruitment strategy, ensuring that people internally have the opportunity to progress their careers as the company grows.

The surveys suggest that there is room for many more SMEs to adopt a similar strategy. If you feel your business is suffering because of a lack of applicant’s role-specific skills, consider adopting the classic approach: ‘hire for attitude, train for skill’.

Lack of applicants

For a small business, the underlying reason behind a lack of applicants is usually one of two things; either the ad itself isn’t being seen by enough people, or people are seeing the ad but simply not applying. Let’s look more closely at both possibilities.

When it comes to getting a job ad seen by the marketplace, there’s always the option to pay for it to appear in the most relevent industry publications or websites. This is only the tip of the iceberg of what you can do and it means your vacancy is likely listed alongside all of your competitors.

Attracting more applications then, could be a matter of finding more creative and bespoke ways to advertise your jobs. Social media is a big one, with 67 per cent of recent recruits saying found the role through Facebook. Meanwhile, Twitter has a number of recruitment specific hashtags like #JobFairy or simply #[INDUSTRY]jobs which could attract targeted attention to your job listings.

Within the social space, there is merit in looking to your personal networks to find talent for your business. Current employees are often best placed to make referrals and recommend a friend. In theory, these referrals highly reliable because they will have to work alongside the referrer everyday if they are hired. To encourage this, it could be worthwhile offering an attractive cash incentive to you teams. Just be sure to include a caveat such as ‘payment after the hire passes probation’ to ensure no one is gaming the incentive.

Incentivising prospect: cash vs values

If you are confident that your advert is being seen, but still applications are low, then it’s simply a matter of making yourself more attractive as an employer.

In the 2016 Recruitment and Employer Sentiment Survey, MRInetwork finds that almost half (49 per cent) of employers believe that ‘signing bonuses’ are the most attractive quality to prospective hires. However, prospective hires think differently. They believe that ‘culture fit’ is the most important factor. Young employees in particular are looking for work-life balance and values that match their own. Deloitte finds that a huge 77 per cent of Millennials chose to work somewhere because of the company’s ‘sense of purpose’.

Cultivating a strong sense of company purpose will have a dramatic impact on your recruitment process as well as wider business implications and benefits.

Small businesses also tend to have a close-knit, positive team culture, because they resemble families growing together in the beginning. Furthermore, forward-thinking SMEs offer greater flexibility in terms of working patterns, location-independence and working from home.

Therefore, if your ad is not resulting in much interest, consider including some of these elements:

– Be more personable in the language you use
– Explain who you are and why you do what you do – not just what you do
– Talk about the kind of person you want, not just a list of skills and experience
– Ultimately, what makes your company such a great environment to work.

Remember, it’s not just you learning about the candidate. The candidate is learning about you. So, pay attention to your wider online presence, showcase what it looks like behind the scenes, show who your team are, how they support each other, how they have fun while they work, as well as the serious business that you do.

Top talent want a job that will challenge them, but they want it in an environment that will support them when they make mistakes, too. The key is to ensure that any outbound communications promote your unique, attractive company culture. A great way to showcase your culture is through video content, which works particularly well on social platforms too.

Challenging salary expectations

Many small businesses feel that attracting top talent to their company is beyond their reach when they cannot compete with the big salaries offered by industry giants. According to Time Business, roughly 10 per cent of employers believe that a recruitment problem is actually that candidates were unwilling to accept positions at the wage level being offered. Similarly, FordeCloud’s data suggests that 33 per cent of SMEs feel they have to use salary to attract talent.

However, looking at it from the employee’s perspective tells a different story. A recent Intelligence Group survey found that 64 per cent of Millennials in the US would rather earn $40,000 a year doing a job they love than $100,000 a year in a job they disliked.

Therefore, even those who would like to earn a larger salary, can still be converted to working for you if you have successfully promoted your culture and values as mentioned above.

Millennials aside, if you have a focus on flexible working, this can welcome a raft of extremely experienced talent who have family commitments, ie returnships. Similarly, other benefits like training and development opportunities or funding towards further study is highly sought-after by modern candidates who feel the need to constantly up skill in an ever-changing working world.

Overall, the numbers suggest that recruitment is challenging for all, no matter the size of business. Though the challenges are slightly different, small businesses are well-placed to overcome them. Good positioning, good messaging and good promotion should lead to your business finding the best potential talent. Communicating the company ethos clearly and promoting the many benefits beyond the take-home pay packet will help set you up for recruitment success.

Jerome Forde is founder of FordeCloud.

Further reading on recruiting staff

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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