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How to Recruit for SME Jobs: The Hidden Gems and How to Sell Them

04/03/2013 16:40 GMT | Updated 04/05/2013 10:12 BST

Problems with recruitment: Part 2

SMEs are often the businesses struggling the most with recruitment as they don't have the mass brand appeal of the big players and also don't have the big budgets to throw at recruitment advertising campaigns.

Many are therefore using high pay to attract top graduates, but is it working? While SMEs are often paying top dollar, they can't compete with the big players on staff benefits packages and all the peripherals (they often don't have enough staff to secure the best deals so can't afford it). And during a recession, it is these peripherals (pension and health insurance etc) along with the security of "a big name" that many candidates are seeking out in the belief it will mean they will be better looked after by a big company.

This is where SMEs are really doing themselves a disservice. I know, myself, from running an SME that in terms of job security, the opposite is often true. While the bosses of big companies are distanced from the personal wrench of mass redundancies, small business owners often know every staff member personally. They mentored them as interns. They line managed them and trained them into being the managers they are today. They've been to their wedding and even know the names of their dogs. So small business owners will often stop paying themselves before they cut staff wages. They feel a personal loyalty to their staff in a way that multinationals (simply on a practical level) cannot, and can make HR decision based on their personal feelings as they do not need to consider loyalty to shareholders. I personally feel a huge sense of loyalty to my staff as we have become friends.

A day in the life of an SME employee: excitement, new challenges and management opportunities?

Because SME "ships" are smaller and can often change tack to respond to rough seas and a changing market much more quickly than large companies, SMEs jobs can be extremely exciting. In a smaller company, roles are often much broader and encompass a number of functions, offering great experience and a quicker progression route than a larger corporate.

Attracting talent and retaining it

Because of the exciting opportunities they can offer to candidates, SMEs have a real chance to shine through effective recruitment. If they can get to grips with selling themselves and communicating job security effectively, they should be able to attract and retain the best candidates.

(1) Understand what you want

Do some proper scoping. Speak to all the teams that will deal with the appointed candidate and ensure the job description and capabilities meet these needs.

(2) Sell on job security, great colleagues and exciting opportunities

Job satisfaction and job security are rated highly among employees, as is a great manager/employee relationship. These are the things that SMEs should be selling themselves on as they can often offer this much better than larger organisations.

(3) Job advert: what makes you different?

Lazy copywriting in job adverts means top candidates simply pass them by. Everyone wants someone who is "reliable and organised" so don't bother stating this. Use your first few lines to really grab a candidate's attention. At this stage, you're not the buyer, you're the seller - so work at it! What makes you different? Don't list what you're looking for. Instead, say: "We're different because..." and "If you join us, you will get..."

(4) 'Must have' versus 'Would be nice'

Be very clear about what you absolutely must have - it's often not what you think. SME roles are can be very broad and encompass a number of different responsibilities. Don't try and find the perfect match as you could waste valuable time (and lose valuable revenue) looking for a candidate that doesn't exist. Decide which are essential, and which you can train for. Remember, hire for attitude, train for skill.

E.g. if you are struggling to recruit a senior PHP developer with commercial experience (apparently these are like gold dust at the moment!), decide what is more important: a solid PHP coder or a business development manager who you can teach PHP code to? Be flexible. You could spend three months waiting for the right person, then have to wait another 3 months for that person to work their notice period. That's 6 months of lost contracts and revenue - how much has that cost you? Probably tens of thousands of £. Why not get the commercially savvy candidate in right now winning business, and train him up on PHP code along the way?

(5) Get your processes in place right from the start

Make sure you have the right processes and procedures in place to effectively recruit and retain staff BEFORE you start. This shouldn't be an afterthought - many great candidates are secured then lost if they don't feel looked after and see a progression route. Put a structure in place for your new employee to ensure they feel valued and promote their development in your company. It is a good idea to schedule an objective setting and feedback session within 6 weeks of a new employee's start date. Following this, the implementation of a robust and effective training and development plan will help with employee retention.

I hope these suggestions are helpful and I wish you all the best with your recruitment this year.

Have you had success in recruitment from using lateral thinking? I'd be really interested to know what has worked for others.