How SMEs can attract the right candidates

3 minute read
When you are running a small or medium sized business the focus is so often on costs, revenue and – in many cases – survival that you can forget to look at the employer value proposition. Why would people want to come to work for you? Global entrepreneur, private investor and corporate advisor Paul Seabridge, author of Buy, Build, Sell, offers tips for SMEs on attracting the right candidates

SME recruitment 'holy trinity'

A good starting point, and something often missed in SMEs (small and medium enterprises), is to ask yourself why people would want to come and work for you. What is the business’s USP? Does it have a compelling story?

A little while ago I heard the story of a small business in the technology industry. It was so inspirational that we captured what had made the entrepreneur set up the business and what he was passionate about in a presentation, which was later used as part of the recruitment interview process.  

Secondly, it is important to define the role: job description, person specification or role profile. What do you want this person to do? 

Next, you want to attract people to apply, to give you a pool of suitable talent from which you can recruit. Small businesses tend to recruit people they already know, but it is important to look beyond these people, as they might not have the skills and experience needed for the role. Once you have recruited a pool of potential candidates you need to select the most suitable, the best of these. But how do you know who that is?  

The holy trinity 

The most widely used recruitment and selection tool is referred to as the ‘holy trinity’, which comprises:  

  • CV 
  • Interview  
  • References 

At the recruitment and selection stage we can (but often don’t) consider conducting some sort of assessment or testing. Assessment centres can be useful for certain cohorts of employees, such as graduate entrants or those identified as having potential for a management development programme. This is your opportunity to seek evidence of past behaviour that can be used to predict future performance. The structured or behavioural event interview, where candidates are asked to discuss specific situations, the tasks and actions they undertook and what the results were, are more likely to be good predictors of future performance.  

References are not always followed up, but they ought to be. I find that people tend to be more open on the phone and will give you more than just the basic confirmation that the person was employed in a particular role for a certain period of time. For the potential employer the key question to ask is: ‘Would you re-employ this person?’  

Most employers recruit candidates who have done the same job for a direct competitor, to mitigate risk in hiring. But some organisations think differently and instead of focusing on skills, they hire based on attitude, knowing they can upskill the ‘right’ people.  When I was recruiting for a global electronics company I found their approach was refreshing: they believed that anyone could do any job.  

Once engaged, it may be possible to have the applicant undertake a work trial. I would recommend a probationary period of three to six months, after which measurable objectives for employees should be agreed, with regular one-to-one check-ins to monitor progress. This also helps hugely with retention, another important consideration as, once you have the right and the best people, it’s critical that you keep hold of them.

But how do you attract the right candidates in the first place? Currently there seems to be a particular surge in competition between businesses for top level talent. However, there are several things that SME and growing businesses can do to make sure they are attractive to potential candidates from the beginning, including:

  • Find your USP. Why should someone work for you over your competitors?
  • Review your hiring process. Think like Amazon. It takes two clicks to buy something and it should be that easy for people to apply for employment. Remember to treat them as you would want to be treated. Be Uber responsive, even if you don’t hire the applicant make sure you communicate with them
  • Spend time recruiting. Make it a habit every week: network, use Linkedin, engage your internal recruitment team, interview people even if you don’t have a vacancy
  • Build a subs bench. People’s lives change and they will leave, even top performers. I’ve just seen someone relocate to a new country because their husband had a better employment opportunity. We already know who’s replacing them, but generally hiring takes three months, so get ahead of the game
  • Remember it’s a two-way street. You of course want to make sure they are right for you but equally you need to convince them why you can offer them their dream employment opportunity
  • If you manage managers spend time showing them how to recruit. 

Paul Seabridge, pictured below, is a global entrepreneur, author, private investor and corporate advisor. He has been an active investor in SMEs for almost two decades and is CEO and Founder of mergers, acquisitions, private equity firm Opulentia CapitalHis new book Buy, Build, Sell, shares his expertise in buying or starting a business and developing it to its full potential

Paul Seabridge, author of Buy, Build, Sell

Published 15 March 2023
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