Advanced Recruiting Tips for Smaller Firms

Smaller organizations face a vast array of unique recruiting challenges. While some may assume that recruiting in a smaller organization is easier than in a large organization, those who have worked in both would attest that it’s not easier, just different.

While some of the challenges are the same, just different in scale, others are uniquely inherent to the size of the organization and the scope of its product/service market.


For example, smaller organizations rarely have strong employer brands outside their region and are unlikely to employ a team of dedicated, well-trained recruiters. Because recruiting is just one of many things that an HR professional does in a small organization (or a large one employing the generalist model), recruiting approaches are often conservative and incapable of holding their own against well-executed, high-touch recruiting programs operated by larger organizations.

While larger organizations certainly have some selling points, there are a number of compelling reasons someone might opt to join a smaller organization. For instance, smaller organizations often give employees more control over a wider scope of activities. They also afford talent an opportunity to get to know every employee and a chance to be a “big fish” in a little pond.

And advances in technology have brought most tools once only afforded by large organizations within reach of smaller companies, narrowing the gap in benefits even further.

With adoption and execution of advanced recruiting tools, there are few reasons why smaller organizations can’t compete with larger organizations and walk away with their fair share of talent victories. It’s time to learn about effective approaches that can eliminate most, if not all, of the recruiting problems encountered by smaller organizations.

Common Problems: Recruiting Into Small Organizations

  • Assuming that small organizations have no advantage in recruiting.Many recruiters and hiring managers at smaller organizations assume that they can’t be competitive with large organizations, and therefore forgo even trying to compete for top talent. With that mindset, they lose track of the fact that small organizations have more of a “family feel,” less bureaucracy, and offer a larger chance for one individual to really make a difference. While they routinely talk the talk, recruiters in smaller organizations often fail to package their organization’s value proposition for competition in the big leagues.
  • A conservative mentality. Although smaller organizations generally have few formal restrictions on what you can do in recruiting, the recruiting mentality at small organizations tends to focus on “risk avoidance.” To differentiate yourself from larger organizations, send a message that your small organization really is different and that you have opportunities that would allow top talent to change the game. It is critical small companies update their recruiting approaches to “match” the rapidly changing recruiting marketplace.
  • Failing to emphasize job security. Individuals often view small organizations as having more job security than larger organizations; however, recruiters in smaller organizations often fail to take advantage of that perception. Employees within large organizations periodically face fears of their job being outsourced, eliminated due to advances in technology, or offshored to China or India. While it’s not 100% true that small organizations don’t leverage outsourcing, technology, and offshoring, job cuts attributed to those actions are harder to find in smaller organizations. Small organizations need to emphasize their stability, especially when larger organizations are undergoing mass layoffs or outsourcing efforts.

10 Advanced Tips

Use the following simple but effective list of 10 tips for recruiting top candidates into small organizations:

  1. Referrals are the most effective tool. Employee referrals are always the best source of quality hires, but the process can be less effective in smaller organizations because the network of employees used to generate referrals isn’t large enough. To counter this limitation, smaller organizations should broaden their referral base to include customers, partners, and vendors. Because the customers of smaller organizations tend to be more loyal and knowledgeable about the organization, it is critical that you add your customers to your list of possible referral sources. Because your customers and vendors are also likely to know your culture, their referrals are also more likely to be a better “fit.”
  2. Target your customers. Even large organizations target their customers as potential recruits, but the practice is even more effective at smaller organizations because customers are more likely to know and like the product, as well as the current employees. In food service and retail, hiring customers is a profoundly successful approach.
  3. Make a list of your selling features. Small organizations are often more agile than large bureaucracies. If you’re going to “win” the inevitable comparison between you and the larger organizations, map out the likely points of contention and package your environment to be superior. Some of those areas might include decision-making authority, fewer meetings, less bureaucracy, increased promotion rates, and fewer politics. Survey your employees, especially new hires, to better identify and quantify your selling points.
  4. Use a hiring team. There are many cases where the use of a hiring team is a good idea, and in small organizations it works because most individual managers don’t do much hiring. As a result, they’re less likely to be particularly good at it. When you use a hiring team, the individuals on it are more likely to be up-to-date in the best practices and what it takes to land candidates.
  5. Use peer interviews. Having coworkers or peers involved in the interview process works particularly well at small organizations because these individuals are likely to be both knowledgeable and passionate about the entire organization.
  6. Use local professional events. Professional events are always an excellent place to recruit. Local breakfast, lunch, or dinner meetings might be the best way to meet potential hires. In this informal setting, individuals from “big organizations” might get to know you and over time, might begin to see the value of working with a small organization.
  7. Target downsizing. Current and former employees from large organizations should especially be targeted when there are ongoing rumors of impending layoffs. During actual layoffs, small organizations should “over hire” in order to take advantage of any short-term “glut” in well-trained talent.
  8. Target entry-level hires. One of the best ways to overcome any tendencies to favor large organizations is to hire individuals early in their career, before they develop biases against small organizations. Obviously, if you hire people right out of high school with little experience, you can build both their capability and loyalty over time. This practice is especially effective in developing regions within Asia, where competition to experienced talent is extremely fierce. Because you have invested in them and trained them, these individuals are less likely to see any advantages of shifting over to work at the unfeeling bureaucracy of the large organization.
  9. Trolling for talent at the mall. Because many small organizations are heavily weighted with positions that require great customer service skills, it’s essential that the recruiting effort focus on finding individuals who excel in customer service. Because customer service people are visible to the public, both you and your employees are likely to interact with great customer service talent daily. Ask your employees (and even their families) to identify known individuals with “above and beyond” customer service skills.
  10. Target recent retirees or frustrated workers from big organizations. Individuals who retire from larger organizations sometimes do so because of the stress and pressure associated with managing politics and multiple layers of bureaucracy. In addition, target frustrated employees at large organizations. To identify individuals who might be ready to move to a “smaller pond,” keep your ear to the ground. Monitor promotional announcements in order to identify who did not get a recent promotion, and attend local professional meetings to identify who might be willing to make the move.

Final Thoughts

The advent of the Internet and arrival of a truly global economy have chipped away at many of the benefits that once made larger organizations more attractive to top talent than smaller organizations.

As a result, smaller organizations that opt to step onto the green and compete stand a much better chance at walking away with the next “Tiger Woods.”

Winning the battle isn’t about access to some high-priced piece of recruiting technology, or some practice only big organizations can leverage, but rather about understanding how large organizations go after talent and building a strategy that positions your organization as competitive.

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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