Five top tips when recruiting for SMEs

More than a quarter of small companies are planning to increase their headcount by more than 5% throughout the rest of 2013, according to the biannual business confidence report from global workplace provider Regus.

This is good news for recruiters as SMEs tend not to have enough HR resources, so often look for your expertise. Remember, however, that cost-wise they can see it as a bigger risk than their beefier rivals and will be perhaps even more demanding as clients.

In addition, hiring for small- or medium-sized businesses (SMEs) requires a different approach to bigger companies. That’s mostly because they operate differently and therefore look for candidates with slightly different skills sets and ambitions.

Here are five tips to lure talent into an SME…


1.      Only represent candidates who mirror the culture

Get to know the client business intimately including the people and its culture. The best way of understanding their needs is to spend time with the key people, visit their business during working hours, see what they do, take time to understand what defines them and why, and what the common factors are among the team.

As Hannah Horler, managing director of Cartwheel Recruitment, explains: “There is typically a stronger and more visible DNA within an SME. It defines who they are, what they are all about and is [evident in the values of] its key people.  It is therefore important to understand this DNA when recruiting for them – more so than when recruiting for a larger corporate company where different characters can be absorbed or are desired. Placing a “wrong fit” candidate who does not mirror an SME’s DNA can be unsettling or disruptive to the culture of that organisation.”


2.      Look for good all-rounders

Unlike large companies, SMEs are often owner-managed. As a result, they will usually have real passion for their business and will take a personal interest in the recruitment process. It is crucial for them that you find a candidate who they themselves can work well with.

Management’s hands-on approach underlines the very personal nature of SMEs. They don’t have a big workforce or the luxury of outsourcing, so the ideal candidate tends to be somebody who is a good all-rounder who has the talent and willingness to work in different departments or step in to help a colleague when required.


3.      Manage your candidate’s expectations

Make sure your candidate understands what working for a small company entails and ask them about their ambitions and expectations. If they clearly hanker after the bright lights of an industry giant there is no point in progressing with their application.

“The most important point is to ensure that you know your candidate’s and client’s requirements inside out, so you need to ask the right questions. You also have to take into account that some candidates prefer to work in a smaller company and some prefer to be in a large corporation with all the benefits they bring,” says Caterek managing director Emma Kelleher.


4.      Tap into graduate talent and older workers

Target job boards that appeal to older jobseekers. More mature workers are well suited to SMEs as they are less likely to be a drain on the training budget; need less supervision; are more likely to stay in the job; and will probably be a good fit with the SME owner – who typically will be mature, too.

However, it’s also worth targeting graduates, who are hungry to prove themselves and versatile. It seems this age-group is waking up to the fast-track career opportunities in smaller firms. An employer rankings poll conducted by graduate job review website has found that while graduates still largely aspire to work for large corporate employers, a growing number of mid-market companies are making the top 100.

Take note that universities such as Kent, Surrey and Loughborough have started to forge links with SMEs in their local areas to help graduates explore the opportunities they are offering.


5.      Sell the benefits of working for a small company

To attract the best candidates, you need to emphasise the benefits of working for an SME at the interview stage. Jobseekers often perceive that big companies offer better training programmes or higher salaries – which in many cases is true.

You’ll therefore need to work a bit harder at interview to sell the many compensations of working for SMEs. For instance, although SMEs don’t always offer big salaries, they can offer candidates more challenging work; the chance to gain more responsibility; direct access to managers and decision-makers; and faster career progression for those with talent and ambition.

It’s worth encouraging your client to develop a good website to raise their profile, but in any case it’s important to tell candidates about any awards the company has achieved as well as explaining the cultural and lifestyle benefits of working for an SME compared with bigger firms.

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