Recruiting for Small Businesses: How to Compete with the Big Dogs

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Sometimes it’s hard for small businesses to compete against larger ones for top talent. Bigger businesses have bigger marketing budgets, better brand awareness, and seemingly all the advantages in hiring the best employees.



Yet bigger isn’t always better. It is possible to actually use your small business status as leverage to attract top talent, particularly in today’s job market, where 52% of U.S workers are actively looking for a new job.

If you take the right steps to use your small business’ size as an advantage rather than a disadvantage, you can make your business an attractive employer. Here’s how to set yourself up for success.

Cool Things Come in Small Packages

Now more than ever, small is cool. The hip image of the scrappy small business that is going to challenge the status quo with only a few employees and unlimited possibility means your small business doesn’t need to apologize for its size — it can embrace it.

Being a small business means that you can be more flexible and agile than the competition. Think outside the paycheck — it matters less than you may think anyway. Research suggests as few as 3% of employees are primarily motivated by pay or financial rewards.

Lean into the image of a lean, flexible, creative workplace that cares about its employees as people. Prioritize work-life balance. Encourage your employees to take their vacation — more than half of U.S. workers do not use all their vacation time, and six in 10 employees report their boss doesn’t support them in taking time off. Merely by supporting your employees to take their vacation, you’ll stand out from other employers.

Offer workplace policies and benefits that are rarely provided by large companies. As a small business, you’re in a great position to show employees that the organization cares about their personal growth. In large companies, with a staff member for every task, employees (especially those who are highly motivated) may feel pigeon-holed into performing repetitive job duties, day after day. A small team means employees often wear multiple hats, or cross departments to help each other out; use this to your advantage. Talented, driven workers, will see this as more opportunities to expand their skills, get experience in various aspects of the business, and keep things fresh and challenging.

Incorporate on-the-job training through weekly job rotations or a dedicated mentorship program, in which experienced employees can coach junior employees — this doubles as a great way to foster a loyal company culture, an area where small businesses often have a leg up on large corporations. During off-season months, when business is a bit slower, you may offer extra training for employees (or subsidize outside training). Keeping their skills sharp and encouraging them to hone new skills not only supports their career growth, but also benefits your organization with ever-improving staff.

Such practices cost little but can improve morale and be hugely attractive to employees. Make sure to outline these perks and benefits on your job postings.

Even better, you can ask your employees what benefits and perks they want, and have them actively engaged in creating a workplace that will make them feel productive and valued. Larger companies, with hundreds or thousands of employees, struggle to listen to their employees and respond to their needs; your small business can do this much better.

Give Them the Opportunity to Shine

Why would a talented large corporation employee give up the security and benefits of a large corporation for a small business? The answer is simple and intangible: a feeling of fulfillment. Above all else, people want to feel both valuable and valued in their careers. While a corporate office job may offer an enticing salary, it can also lead employees to feel a bit lost in the shuffle, as tiny cogs in a massive wheel. At a smaller company, skilled and passionate employees can help move or shape the wheel itself — an appealing concept that your business can capitalize on.

As a small business, each employee’s contributions matter and are visible to management, your clients, and customers. Each team member is also more likely to be called upon for stretch projects, or rotation assignments, in which employees can “stretch” their skills outside of their usual duties. These assignments offer opportunities for workers to show management they’re willing and deserving of a promotion, a raise, or increased responsibility. Ambitious employees seek out companies where their efforts will have an impact, and they’ll have ample chances to grow and advance professionally. They’ll also appreciate working in an environment where there is less red tape and bureaucracy to wade through before implementing new ideas.

In short, your small business offers employees the opportunity to shine. Use this to your advantage. In your hiring process, emphasize the nimble nature of the business and talk about how employees are empowered to put their ideas into motion.

Network to Find Talent

Build Your Hiring Brand

Small businesses don’t always have huge marketing and HR budgets to reach prospective employees; but when it comes to recruiting, it’s not all about the budget. Channeling your efforts into strategic networking and building up your company’s hiring brand can draw a stronger pool of candidates than money could buy. Your “hiring brand” is your company’s existing brand, complete with your vision, values, and guiding principles for your operations. Just as you’d market a product, market your company’s hiring brand when recruiting — the product in this case is your workplace environment. With a strong hiring brand, you can build a team of dedicated workers who not only have the skills to do the job at hand, but also consistently strive to improve the company overall. Marketing your hiring brand involves defining your company’s voice, personality, and goals. What type of experience do you want employees to have as part of your team? Showcase this in job ads, on your company website, and at networking events, to draw in talent and personalities that best fit your business.

When it comes to promoting your hiring brand and building a strong reputation, networking locally is key for a small business. Attend conferences and business events. Reach out to local colleges, trade schools, and high schools to connect with students and draw interest and awareness to your field of work. Consider offering a scholarship to help students earn a degree and start a career with your company, or an apprenticeship program that gives students much-needed guidance and gives your business a growing talent pool of bright minds to reach into. Sponsor events and support causes that will make your business more visible among prospective employees. Even sponsoring a Little League team or a fundraising event for a local charity can help create awareness about your business.

Not only will networking help you discover talent — it will also help you build important business relationships and expand your talent pipeline.

Rely on Social

Social media and social relationships are both important tools in your arsenal to find employees. With social media, you don’t have to wait for employees to come to you — you can reach them through platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Indeed.

Plus, your current employees are your business’ best advocates and salespeople. They have firsthand experience of working in a small, nimble environment where their contributions matter, and they are provided great perks and benefits.

They’ll be able to show others how great it is working for a small business — after all, good things come in small packages.

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Chris Lennon
Chris Lennon is Vice President of Product Management at BirdDogHR. He is responsible for ensuring the BirdDogHR Talent Management System meets the needs and exceeds the expectations of our customers. He does this by working directly with customers and partners, identifying key market opportunities, developing product strategies and bringing exciting new products, features and partnerships to market. Chris is an active participant in the talent management community bringing over 18 years of experience to BirdDogHR. He has presented at numerous industry events and has been quoted as an industry expert in leading publications like Talent Management magazine, CLO magazine, New Talent Times, TLNT and HR Bartender.

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