Small Business Should Win Most Recruiting Battles, Here’s Why They Don’t (Recruiting advantages at small businesses – a comprehensive guide) (Part 2 of 2)

I am consistently disappointed when SME managers complain they can’t recruit against elite firms like Google because it’s simply not true. Instead, I have found that small businesses and startups are small and flexible enough. They can offer recruits their “dream job,” where they will be doing “the best work of their life.” Surprisingly, many small business recruiters don’t realize that “68% of corporate employees would work in a smaller startup if they had the opportunity” (Source: Tyba.com).

Part one of this article covered the first two categories of small business selling points. 

  1. Focus on “the work” because it is the most compelling attraction feature.
  2. Your organizational culture and structure will be a compelling selling feature.

Part 2 covers the third category of advantages and some tips for improving your recruiting process.

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Category #3 – There will be many direct benefits for the individual new-hire 

Small businesses are unique in that they can offer benefits that individual applicants are likely to really care about.

  • You will finally fit – at a big corporation, and you will likely have to change in order to fit in. However, at a smaller firm, where fit is absolutely essential, you won’t be hired unless you fit. So maybe for the first time in your working career, you will be understood and accepted for who you are. 
  • Everyone will depend on you – at small firms, there will be little redundancy and no formal backups. And that will mean that your entire department, and perhaps the entire company, will literally depend on you and your work. This dependency will make it even clearer to the applicant that they will add direct value.
  • Finally, you will be appreciated – because of its small size, everyone throughout the small business will be well aware of your contributions. And because of that awareness, you can expect everything you do to be fully appreciated (both formally and informally).
  • You will have input into your work-life balance – most employees desire to have input into where and when their work is done. So that they can sculpt” their own optimal work schedule and or work/life balance. And because they are small, everyone on your team will likely know and understand your needs. We will allow the new-hire to provide significant input into what work they do, and where and when they do it. So perhaps, for the first time, you will finally have a high degree of control over your work/life balance. 
  • Your results and impacts will be rewarded – as a small organization, everyone will know everyone else’s pay and rewards. So you will quickly find that our rewards are focused on your actual contribution and company success. And not on seniority, years of experience, your credentials, or your internal friendships. And that transparency will make it easy for you to feel that you’re being treated fairly. 
  • Your job offer can be sculptured so that it is close to your dream job – if you become our final candidate. We will specifically ask you to highlight the different “dream job factors” that will influence your decision on whether to say yes. And then, we will work with you in order to ensure that this opportunity meets as many of those dream job factors as possible. You can find a complete description of these “best work of your life” compelling features here.

Recruiting Actions That Small Businesses And Startups Should Take

In addition to providing potential applicants with recruiting messaging that covers the compelling aspects of your job and company. There are seven actions that leadership at the small business should take in order to improve their recruiting process. They include:

  • Educate your recruiters and managers about your recruiting advantages – start improving your recruiting process with an education campaign.  Target your hiring managers and recruiters so they are fully aware that small firms can and do successfully compete side-by-side against well-known corporations. 
  • Focus on the work, not the money – you may think you can’t compete on money, but you may not have to. One study found that the opportunity to do more meaningful work was the #1 attraction factor. Followed by increased responsibilities and pay was only #3. So start off by realizing that most of us volunteer and work for free if the impact is great enough. So it’s a huge mistake to assume that money is the top reason why top performers accept a new job. Of course, these candidates expect reasonable pay. However, how much money they require depends on the excitement and purpose of the job. And how it will enhance their growth and development. So in your recruiting arguments, first emphasize the many work and cultural advantages that you offer. And then, when you are down to your shortlist of finalists, work with them to decide what minimum compensation that they require. As well as what you can afford based on the tremendous talent that your business is getting.
  • Realize that small firms can also have a panache image – some applicants may initially desire the panache image of working at a mega or elite firm like Google, Amazon, or Meta. But others will also envy your work situation when they learn that you work as a pioneer at a startup pushing the envelope and will be the first to produce a major breakthrough. So emphasize the fact that those who work for you are true pioneers to envy.
  • Your small business must become visible – because everyone knows their name, many candidates are automatically attracted to large corporations. However, small businesses can gain the same visibility by being “talked about” in the business and local press and online. Most in PR will tell you that you can be talked about in the media if you are developing an exciting product, you are growing rapidly, you have unique ways of treating employees, and when your executives have exciting stories to tell.
  • A story inventory will make the difference – literally the most effective way to sell a top candidate is through stories. So whenever possible, provide them with one or more stories covering how another employee experienced exciting work and opportunities at your company. The most effective way to do that is to develop a “story inventory.” Which is a library of stories and examples that recruiters and hiring managers can access. And because employee referrals are the #1 best recruiting source. Make that inventory available to your employees so that they can use powerful stories to convert top prospects into referrals. Details on how to develop a recruiting story inventory can be found here.
  • You will attract many more applicants by not requiring unnecessary credentials – nearly 60% of employers demand a college degree (even though it’s not a good predictor of success). So if you purposely post lower unnecessary job credentials, you can attract those that the large firms won’t even consider. This is especially true for entry-level jobs, where corporations, for some reason, still require experience in the job.
  • Recruit at the “right time” to successfully draw away frustrated employees from big corporations – part of your recruiting strategy should be proactively recruiting away talent from large firms. Most employees at large corporations can easily be found on LinkedIn. And you can best attract them if you approach them at “the right time.” This means recruiting when organizations are undergoing a scandal, a significant stock price drop, or a major product failure. Also, when there is a CEO departure or rumors of slowed growth, a merger, or layoffs. You can find out more about “right time” recruiting here.
  • Exclusively use the most effective sourcing tools – to succeed, it is essential that both your sourcing and recruiting functions are data-driven. So that you only use the approaches that actually result in the hiring of above-average performers like top performer referrals and boomerang rehires. You can find a list of those tools here. You can also find a list of the most powerful attraction factors here.
If you can only do one thing – assemble a group of top performers in your key jobs. And provide them with this list of compelling job and company features. Then, anonymously asked them to select and rank the top 10 attraction features that they find would be the most compelling to a new hire. From that final list, ask them which ones they found true at your company. Use those final features in your recruiting messaging.

Final thoughts

The key to recruiting success at both small and large firms is exactly the same. You must use marketing research surveys in order to find out precisely which “attraction factors” attract the different classes of your recruiting prospects. Technical prospects, top performers, and innovators prioritize different things in the job and the organization. However, if you don’t have time to survey your potential applicants, actual applicants, finalists, and new hires, I have provided a list of 25 compelling factors that I have found to get the attention of even those that are currently working at elite corporations. If you don’t believe me, run the list of factors by some of your current applicants in order to test and identify which ones they find to be the most compelling.

Author’s Note 

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About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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