With these strategies, small and medium enterprises can attract the same top talent as their larger counterparts.

By Zee Johnson

Companies globally have been feeling the crunch of talent woes and have pulled out all the stops to make themselves more appealing to today’s candidate. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) know this challenge all too well, often facing minimal budgets and resources. In order to differentiate themselves from their larger competitors, SMEs need to think and act strategically. Felix Mitchell, founder and co-CEO of Instant Impact, says there are three key areas to focus on in order to gain a competitive edge in today’s market.

#1. Employer Brand

When competing against household names (think Google, Amazon), having an unrecognizable employer brand is a complete setback. Mitchell recommends that SMEs positions themselves against what they truly excel in. “One strategy is to become known for doing one thing really, really well,” he says. “And that’s often an extension of the brand itself.”

For example, Octopus Energy won a number of awards for having the best customer service in the energy sector after making service a focus point of their mission. The organization leveraged that reputation to drive candidates who are looking for an energy-based customer service role to place Octopus at the top of their list.

Mitchell says SMEs that lack a strong employer brand can face even higher stakes when recruiting outside of one’s industry. “Let’s say you are recruiting for head office staff. Your challenge there is that the candidates that you’re looking to attract may never have heard of your organization before.”

In this instance, Mitchell recommends employing a proactive recruitment strategy, which entails more than just posting about a job opening. This calls for leaders to be fiercely intentional about acquisition. “It’s not enough to just post a job online and wait to see what comes back. Headhunting is a really big part of that,” he says. “Reaching out over LinkedIn or other databases and also adopting some of the more modern techniques like programmatic advertising or running a social media campaign, for example, towards specific demographics and specific job titles can be really powerful.”

#2. Candidate Experience

Recent research from LinkedIn finds that organizations that invest in a strong candidate experience improve the quality of their new hires by 70%. Some SMEs may be wondering: Where to begin? In order to transform the candidate experience into a positive one, Mitchell urges TA leaders to consider their existing experience from the job seeker’s perspective and answer these questions.

  • What does it feel like to apply for this role?
  • How much of a human touch is present?
  • Is company culture expressed during the interview process?

A great candidate experience could be the difference between a candidate turning down a better paying role with a large company for one with a SME that goes the extra mile. In fact, a recent survey found that 81% of job seekers say that their experience influenced their decision to accept a job offer.

We see it on a weekly basis. Candidates turn down better paying jobs for a role with our clients where our talent partners have provided that extra call before and after each interview, getting feedback, making sure that they feel loved through the process, making sure that they know what’s coming up, ensuring that they’re fully prepped and really being that ally to them through the assessment process,Mitchell says.  

In the end, this high-touch approach provides candidates with the lasting feeling that they connect with the organization and want to work there.

#3. Equity and Inclusion

Having a diverse range of employees who bring different skills and perspectives to the table is one of the biggest advantages SMEs can gain. For this, Mitchell says hiring potential over pedigree will always be a winning strategy. “Companies should be looking to hire the candidate that will do the best job for the role that you are hiring for, regardless of background, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or even education.”

Stepping outside of the box and shifting the recruitment mindset to not solely rely on resumes, but instead speaking with candidates and listening to their professional experiences and abilities is key to eliminating bias and widening the talent pool.

“We have removed the resume from the assessment process completely. So, at the beginning of the application, the candidate will not submit their resume,” Mitchell explains. Instead, recruiters ask several questions around how the candidate would approach certain situations that are relevant to the role. This method is a great way to assess the candidate’s thought process and how fit they are for the role.

“There have been studies that these sorts of questions are up to five times more predictive of how a candidate is going do in the role than looking at the resume alone,” Mitchell confirms. “It’s not only more inclusive, but also more predictive.”

For example, for a client facing role, Mitchell suggests asking a job seeker to write 250 words about how they’d remedy a specific problem with an account. This practice will encourage candidates to pull from their own experiences and express their knowledge, creativity, and imagination. This will also help show how they’d actually deal with possible situations that come with the roles they’d be filling.

He also recommends that candidates are asked the same role-related questions at each stage of the process, are scored along the way, and have two interviewers to further reduce bias.

#4. Identify Where You’re Happy to Pay Top Dollar

“There are roles in every organization where the difference between making an exceptional and good hire is disproportionately higher to the delta in cost. We all know that the right hire at the right time can transform a business,” Mitchell says. For those roles, he recommends that SMEs don’t shy away from competing with the big names and paying top of market.

To do this, resource limited businesses must be tactical, intentional, and innovative in their approach.

Tags: Diversity & Inclusion, Employee/Candidate Experience, Talent Acquisition

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