Newsflash: size doesn’t matter. Small businesses have a huge impact on the economy, accounting for as many as 80% of all jobs in the US. But since we have fewer employees individually, our success can often hinge on their talent, dedication, and all around awesomeness.
Maybe in multinational corporations with a staff of 100,000, it won’t hurt if a few people fall asleep on the job. And maybe a few bad hires won’t bring the company to its knees. But as the owner of a small-but-mighty boutique copywriting agency, I can tell you one thing: every one of my employees needs to (and does) pull their weight.
One person who agrees with me on this subject is Ed Nathanson, a man with 20 years’ experience in talent acquisition and the founder of Red Pill Talent. I caught up with Ed recently to pick his brain, and together we’ve compiled five top tips to help small businesses recruit better.
1. Define the role—including its title and future prospects
If a candidate is truly great, you’ll want them to stick around for years to come. And one of the best ways to find that person is to clearly define the role before you start recruiting for it. This includes giving it a fully realized title (something the candidate will be proud to display on their business cards and LinkedIn profile), and figuring out the career growth and promotion path it leads to.
Most small businesses haven’t figured this out, but they should. It goes a long way when you’re competing with huge enterprises for top talent.
Plotting a clear career path might take drawing up an org chart and working backwards, but it’s worth the effort.
More importantly, Ed says, small and medium-sized businesses need to consider the impact the role will have, both for the company and for the candidate. After all, if they’re coming from a multinational corporation, they need a juicy reason to downsize.
When you know what you’re offering, you can target your campaign for candidates that meet the background and experience the role demands—and be ready with an enticing offer when you pique their interest.
2. Develop a recruiting plan that eliminates bias, while maintaining your unique allure
When you’ve got a small team, especially if it’s working at or close to capacity already, the thought of developing a deeply complex recruiting process can be daunting. It might be hard to hear, but suck it up. You need a plan, and that includes figuring out your non-negotiables, creating screening tests, and figuring out what traits you want and how to interview for them. Hard work, yes, but incredibly worthwhile.
Having a clear structure before you start seeing candidates keeps your recruiting process consistent and fair. When you’re small (and busy), it can be tempting to hire the first candidate that strikes you as likeable, competent, and a good culture fit.
But dedicating the time and effort to really listen to candidates and figure out who matches those crucial traits you’re looking for pays off—you’ll get the best person for the job and limit unconscious bias in one fell swoop.
But Ed cautions small and medium-sized businesses not to seem too routine in their hiring processes. If your multi-step, test-driven interviews are near identical to the big corporations your candidates are used to, they’ll have no motivation to leave that setting.
That doesn’t mean go back to hiring on a gut feeling. Instead, focus on selling your company culture throughout the process, from the job description right through to the onsite meetings.
Emphasize your size and what it means for your team—efficiency, great working relationships, lack of tangled matrixes, or all of the above.
3. Consider potential over experience and qualifications alone
It’s easy to be blindsided by a stellar resume. 10 years at this high-profile corporation, qualifications from that prestigious school… Wow. But remember, that plucky up-and-comer with a resume light on name recognition might be exactly what your company needs. Don’t count them out just yet.
Discovering candidates who are moving upward rather than laterally can deepen your talent pool significantly, Ed advises. Search for applicants who are passionate and hungry—that’s the kind of fire that will fuel your business for years to come.
4. Decide who on your team does what throughout the recruiting process, and stick to that structure
When you don’t have a dedicated in-house recruiter, it’s tempting to fling recruitment-related tasks at whoever has bandwidth without thinking about the process as a whole. This invites bias and only succeeds in jumbling the process in the long run, potentially leading to bad hires, and time and money wasted.
Rather than scrambling, sit down and talk to your team about which roles they’ll be filling. Create a standardized process where everyone pulls their weight. Ed suggests making sure they know that recruiting is a priority and should be incorporated into their daily work. He also notes that partnering with agency vendors can be beneficial before you’re able to onboard a recruiter of your own.
If the CEO is the main hiring manager, consider ensuring that they see as many candidates as possible. This helps candidates get a feel for how hands-on the company’s leader is, and how dedicated they are to its success.
A standardized process also helps stamp down on bias. At my company, one method we employ is splitting our interview panel into groups, with each group spending an allocated amount of time with every candidate. The groups remain consistent between candidates for a given job, and after interview rounds, each interviewer fills out a scorecard focused on five traits. No single opinion can disproportionately impact our decision: the numerical average rules the day. It’s a process we’re proud of, and one that’s led to several high-quality hires.
5. Show candidate’s what’s special about your company
You’re not a large company. So don’t try to compete with large companies in terms of benefits and compensation packages, because that’s a game you’re likely not going to win.
Stop and take stock of what’s special about your business. Remember, something has attracted the candidate to you over a large company—and the candidate almost certainly knows your benefits and comp won’t compete, so don’t sweat it. Think about what you can offer them instead.
Instead of focusing on what you don’t offer, Ed advocates talking about what you do. Maybe it’s early equity. Or perhaps it’s the opportunity to work closely with an inspiring CEO and learn directly from them. Whatever it is, emphasize it throughout your negotiations.
You’ll also want to do your homework on what the candidate actually wants. If you find this out early into your conversations, it can guide your negotiations and help close the deal. Whatever is important to the candidate, emphasize how your company meets that need—use their own motivations as a magnet.
Finally, remember that pay is always going to be important, regardless of the size of the business. Candidates don’t want to feel below the market any more than you would. So negotiate. And if their total comp comes with massive equity or other perks, be sure to explain this to them and make clear how it differs from larger companies’ offerings. Not everyone is aware of this, and assuming they know might cost you a hire.
Following these five tactics won’t guarantee success. But it will put your small business in a better position whenever a position opens up. Don’t be afraid to aim high—you deserve those exceptional candidates just as much as a giant corporation.