4 high impact recruitment strategies for small and mid-sized businesses

One of the biggest challenges for SMEs is how to attract the best talent and compete with their larger competitors


Written by Felix Mitchell, co-CEO and co-Founder

It doesn't matter what industry, what country, or what size of business you are – one of the key differentiators between you and your competitors is your team. What would Apple have been without Tim Cook or Jony Ive, BlackRock without Larry Fink, or Pfizer without Angela Hwang?

One of the most pressing challenges facing small and mid-sized businesses is how we can attract the very best talent on the market compared to our better know, better resourced competition.

Here are 4 key considerations that business leaders should consider:

Play the long game

An effective talent strategy is a long-term strategy. Most companies never move beyond a vacancy-led hiring approach. This drastically limits access to the very best talent on the market as they only engage with people who are actively looking for work. If they are lucky enough to get in touch with the right person at the right time, it's unlikely that they'll know much about your business and the amazing work that you do.

The most effective hirers invest resources both into activity required to hire for open roles and into activity that will increase the standard of accessible candidates in the future.

However, in-house recruitment teams are generally so busy dealing with the most recent urgent vacancy that very little focus tends to go into the work necessary to make a game changing hire in 2 years' time.

In this, as with so many things, having a plan is critical. We find it helpful to think of the organizational change required across 3 key areas:

  • Bought - paid activity to find candidates including databases, job boards, agency usage, and headhunting (these tend to be the shorter-term focuses that we traditionally associate with recruitment teams / agencies)
  • Brand – activity that builds longer-term brand value amongst prospective employees – the stronger the brand and the employee value proposition, the more likely it is for a business to attract industry-leading talent
  • Business – structural change that businesses need to make to successfully hire quality talent

So few companies are focused on building an industry-leading employer brand and making the changes required to put talent first that we see real impact when putting these tactics into place.

NB - This may mean that you need to rethink your in-house recruiters or HR team's metrics. Make sure that your team carves out time to execute your strategy. Otherwise, it will never leave the whiteboard!

Build an agile employee value proposition

Can you clearly articulate why potential employees should come and work with you rather than your competitors?

Most companies invest far less time into answering that question than into answering what they have to offer potential new clients but the two are equally important.

To build a powerful EVP from scratch, fist understand what makes your most talented and most loyal staff stay with you. If you think they don't have an answer you're wrong, believe me, they'll have thought it through every time they ignore an InMail or a cold call from a recruiter.

I personally think that many of the most impactful employer brands at small to mid-sized businesses focus on differentiation against larger companies in the industry. Want to see it in practice? Check out our client Octopus Energy who have woven their customer-first approach into their employer brand to create something motivational, personal, and reflective of their broader approach to the company.

Culture and values

Focus on areas where you know you can outcompete the largest employers in your space. They can find it hard to present a cohesive and attractive company culture or compelling company values. Making your culture and values central to the employee and candidate experience can be a highly motivating factor in candidates' ultimate decision making.

Have a look at our client Anthesis Group (a sustainability consultancy and one of the fastest growing companies in the UK) to see how powerful this can be when woven into an employer brand.

Flexible working

We expect flexible working to become one of the key differentiators that SMBs can use to compete for the industry's top talent. Flexible hours, a focus on work/life balance, remote working, and job sharing arrangements have quickly become table stakes for in-demand talent and larger companies can struggle to adapt as quickly.

Check out Flexa who have a great knowledge centre on this.

Identify roles where top performers will have the largest effect – pay top of market

Unless you are one of very few companies with Silicon Valley-level funding then trying to win the war for talent by paying more than everyone else is a fast track to the annals of history.

That said, there will be a handful of key roles within your business where the difference between hiring the best person in the industry and the hundredth best is huge. These roles will vary company to company but usually include:

  • Business leadership (CXOs, country leads, MDs etc),
  • Research and development leadership, and
  • Sales and marketing leadership

Look for roles that have the biggest impact on your customers and your employees. These are the roles where you want to pay top bracket for.
Check out Reid Hoffman and Erin Meyer's book No Rules Rules for a great read and a key example of how this has worked so well at Netflix. (Disclaimer – Netflix is Silicon Valley backed so I've taken a less extreme lesson).

Finally – always make sure you need to hire

Hiring is one way of bringing talent into a business but there are others.

At Instant Impact we put a huge amount of thought and effort into hiring and developing the team that we need to become the go to Talent Solutions provider for small and mid-sized companies globally.

As well as world class talent professionals, recruitment marketeers, data analysts, and technologists we know that we need world class digital marketeers, designers, lawyers, accountants, IT professionals, and so on. We also know that we can't be all things to all people.
That's why we select amazing partners who put the same diligence into building their teams as we do into ours. We build lean (and world class) internal functions and rely on our suppliers to hire the very best specialists so that we can benefit from their skill.