With the highest unfilled job rates in Canada, more than double the vacancy rate of large organizations, small businesses are losing in the “war for talent.”
This shouldn’t be a surprise, as larger organizations have three significant advantages when it comes to recruiting. They enjoy economies of scale that drive their cost per hire down to less than half the money spent per hire by smaller organizations. They have resources; billions of dollars are being spent in the war for talent and the larger organizations can afford to out-gun everyone. And a large organization is more well-known “brand” to most job-hunters, seen as stable and filled with internal career progression opportunities.
So how can a small business compete? Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath, provides some inspiration. Gladwell holds that “David’s victory over Goliath is held to be an anomaly. It was not. Davids win all the time.”
Like David, underdogs often win when they decide to use an unconventional strategy, substitute effort for ability or use their relative disadvantage as a strength, because “the same qualities that appear to give [Goliaths] strength are often the sources of great weakness.”
When the game is played on Goliath’s terms, Goliath wins. That means that the most important thing in crafting a successful small business hiring strategy is to take a different approach and play to your particular strengths.
Play to your strengths…
1. Show some personality
On average, small businesses have more engaged employees than larger ones—a major advantage to exploit. By having employees blog and tweet about their work, or provide testimonials in job ads and on your firm’s careers page, small businesses can attract the right kind of candidates who want to work with other passionate people. If you take a look at a few job postings from large organizations, you’ll find most are impersonal, formulaic and terribly boring. Job ads from smaller organizations should be real; you should let your personality and uniqueness shine through. And this transparency can also extend to the interview process, where introductions to executives and other team members can sell prospective candidates on the benefits of an engaged workplace.
2. Demonstrate that your staff have a voice
The best employees are the ones who really want their work to make a difference—and the smaller the organization, the bigger difference each employee makes to the whole. In smaller organizations, leadership roles and strategy-related duties are accessible to a greater proportion of employees, who are often only limited by the value of their ideas (and not by layers of management). Emphasize this in a job ad that “starts with why,”explaining the purpose of the organization and the importance of the job within it. Hiring managers can dig into this further in interviews by showing the candidate how the role matters to the organization.
3. Be nimble
Larger organizations are slower, more bureaucratic and set in their ways when it comes to the hiring process—and in general none of these are appealing to top talent. As a smaller organization, you should use your advantages of speed and flexibility to tailor your hiring to the needs of their ideal candidates. You can tailor job duties, titles, salaries and incentives to target candidates, and can move the hiring process more quickly and with more personal responsiveness than large organizations. (It’s worth noting that a lack of responsiveness is candidates’ number one complaint about the job hunt.) Offering a unique working environment and perks that the larger organization can’t pull off, going the extra mile to woo candidates and expecting every employee to be always recruiting are other ways to be nimble and out-maneuver the big guys.
…And know who will thrive working for you
Before you start using these three strengths to your advantage, it helps to be very clear on who you’re looking for. The ideal candidates for small and large organizations are not necessarily the same. Specifically, there are three candidate attributes that are well-matched to the needs and strengths of the smaller organization.
1. Those who really care
For a small business, every hire is critical. In my experience, effort trumps ability when there is so much work to do. Evaluate a candidate’s genuine interest in the work and passion for exceeding expectations along with the typical hiring criteria. Key question: will this person love their work?
2. The trustworthy
Employees at smaller businesses have more responsibility than those at large organizations, and their employers tend to depend on them more. A single hire with integrity issues can sink the business. Key question: how has this person proven to be trustworthy?
3. The floor-sweepers
There is a lot to do at a small business; job descriptions can change as fast as circumstances do. There aren’t many truly narrow roles, so the right candidates are those that like variety and change. They will naturally be proactive, they will roll up their sleeves and they will do whatever is needed—even if it’s not in the job description. Key question: how has this person responded to change and opportunity in the past?
Get more bang for your hiring buck
Small businesses are spending twice as much per hire in talent acquisition costs mostly because they rely on expensive third-party recruiters more often than larger organizations do. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
There are many associations that represent thousands of small organizations, and they can lobby for discounts on job board postings and recruiting services and tools on behalf of their members. There are many recruiting tools, like applicant tracking systems, job post distribution tools and social referral systems, that can reduce the time and money spent on recruiting. And there is also a new alternative to recruiting agencies, called shortlisting (which my company, Hirefly, provides).
If you play the same hiring game as giants, you’ll continue to lose in the war for talent. But if you look for candidates who are a great fit for a smaller environment, appeal to your strengths to attract these people and get more bang for your hiring buck, you won’t be the underdogs for long.
Edwin Jansen is the managing director at Hirefly, a new service created to help Canadian small businesses get to a shortlist of the highest potential people they can interview for a position, while saving 60-90% of the cost of using a recruiting agency.
More columns by Edwin Jansen
What do you do to beat large companies in the war for talent? Share your thoughts by commenting below.