Recruiting staff: how SMEs can compete with corporate businesses

Recruiting staff can be a tricky task, with SMEs having a particularly hard time hiring and holding on to workers. Stephen Quinn of Jobbio explains how smaller businesses can stand out to future employees.

Recruiting the best talent to your company is not an easy task.

It can be even more challenging when you lead a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) and don’t have the same resources larger organisations have at their disposal when hiring candidates.

Being a smaller fish in the pond, however, isn’t always a bad thing and there are a few ways SMEs can stand out when competing with corporate businesses for top talent.

There were 5.7 million SMEs in the UK in 2017, which according to a briefing paper on business statistics published by the House of Commons last December is over 99 per cent of all businesses.

What employees are looking for

When it comes to competing with larger corporates, small companies need to work on their image. Data collected by Jobbio shows that 82 per cent of candidates would not take a job at a company with a poor reputation and more than 50 per cent would take a lower wage at a company with a strong employer brand.

Employer branding really is the future of talent acquisition. People are jaded by traditional job boards and advertising and want to feel in control of their career trajectory. We’ve seen small businesses start to compete with larger corporates through creating authentic employer branding content showcasing their mission and culture.

Another thing they can offer employees that corporates can’t is the chance to make an impact and be involved in the direction and development of a business.

They can explore their strengths such as innovation, rapid growth, tight-knit teams and extensive learning opportunities when building their recruiting strategy. This is an extremely attractive prospect to today’s talent who have little interest in the standard 9-5. Small businesses can appeal to the candidates’ entrepreneurial tendencies by allowing them to prove their value from the offset.

To cut through the noise, these companies need to be brazen in their self-promotion. Invest time in their social media, attend networking and careers events and wherever possible join relevant industry discussions on and offline.

Employee advocacy is also an incredible tool in recruiting new hires. Companies should encourage their existing staff to talk about life within the business and promote its culture, values and mission on their own professional networks – candidates are twice as likely to trust a testimonial from a potential team member than a CEO or founder.

SMEs should also consider launching a ‘day in the life’ series where their employees discuss a typical day in their roles. Better yet, as part of the recruitment process, they can bring in candidates for a live version where they shadow a potential colleague and get a true sense of what the role entails and how the team works together.

Common recruiting mistakes

There are, however, a few common mistakes small companies make when recruiting talent, from hiring friends and family to putting too much onus on candidates with a glossy corporate background.

One of the most damaging pitfalls we’ve seen in early stage hiring is people prioritising availability over suitability. When a small business is scaling at speed there can be a lot of pressure to get people onboarded to ease the workload. It’s an understandable but nevertheless short-sighted approach.

The urgency to fill a role can lead to damaging compromises on the quality of a candidate and what often happens is companies end up with an employee who just isn’t a fit. The cost of hiring the wrong person can equate to three times their salary.

At such a crucial stage in a company’s development, they can’t afford to have someone on the team who isn’t fully invested in their mission or ready to hit the ground running. Every early hire has a massive impact on the business and SME leaders need to be certain it’s going to be a positive one.

Even though larger organisations have more established brands and more resources at their disposal, they have layered recruiting efforts and many touch points. For SMEs, it’s different as they’ll likely only have one or two members involved in the hiring process. In start-ups, these people may not even be HR professionals and this can lead to misunderstandings around what’s needed in a candidate or what roles need to take priority.

In addition, small businesses are often ill-equipped to conduct an interview to the depth that’s required, falling victim to a strong or charismatic interviewee. To combat this, conduct multiple interviews and reference checks, focusing on each distinct element of the job description.

Small enterprises should also utilise their networks and industry meetups to connect with potential talent. It can be hard to forecast for future roles while in the early stages of business but getting your name and company out there can help build your candidate pipeline and ultimately lead to a smoother onboarding process if these candidates are converted down the line.

Stephen Quinn is the founder of Jobbio

Further reading on recruitment

How to improve your recruitment success as a small business

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.

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