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The SME recruitment challenge

We are fortunate to work with a lot of UK SMEs at Grays and greatly enjoy the experience. You can really get to know individuals in these types of companies and forge longstanding and strong business relationships with SME clients. It is often deeply rewarding to see placements flourish in the freedom and variety offered by working in an SME.

This is all positive, but there are pitfalls and challenges faced by SME clients in the ever changing market to attract the best talent.

We are moving into a rapidly changing recruitment market that has many different dynamics from several years ago. Candidates are rapidly changing their “wish list” and factors such as work life balance, commuting distance and benefits offered can be higher up the list of priorities than seen before. This in itself is not a criticism, but an observation.

So how does this affect SMEs? There are a lot of articles written about new companies offering unlimited holiday, “funky” offices and other substantial benefits. This is potentially attractive to some, but is a challenge for some of the more traditional SMEs, particularly in the more long standing sectors, such as manufacturing. They simply can’t change their cultures and traditions overnight and are suddenly facing a different type and new layer of competition in the hiring of new talent. This challenge is accentuated even more if they are based in a more remote location, where there is already a limit to the available “talent pool”. Even the larger corporates struggle to find staff willing to relocate to more remote locations. The lifestyle, house prices, even schooling may be attractive, but what happens if things don’t work out…?

SMEs often have the best cultures and values, but this is sometimes only “visible” to internal employees. Most SMEs don’t have the brand awareness and PR budget of the corporates and can’t always create the social media “buzz” needed to help attract staff. Traditional SMEs are not always focussed on these areas, and quite rightfully, concentrate on day to day operations and cost help ensure future profitability.

The image and reputation of a prospective new firm is important to candidates and this is an area that some SMEs will need to look at rapidly in the coming years. If your brand isn’t a household name, you have to think of other ways to attract staff both directly and indirectly.

Here are some simple ideas for CEO’S / MD’s and senior executives in SMEs to perhaps reflect on if they feel that they are not as advanced as others.

  • Highlight the values and culture of your firm more clearly on your website and advertising to ensure that passive or active candidates still leave the site with a positive impression for the future.

  • More and more candidates are using mobile technology to view information and source new roles. Is your website mobile “friendly”? When was the last time you looked at your website? Is it even up to date? People do notice these things.

  • Be proud to be an SME and tell the market why they should work for such an organisation and potentially have a long and successful career with them. Job hopping is often seen as beneficial, but stability still counts for a lot. Make people aware of your success stories and good news.

  • Some candidates can often worry incorrectly that an SME may not be as financially stable as a larger company. You know this is incorrect, but candidates need to be assured of this. Let them see the figures. Let them learn the history and tenure of your business. Once again, stable may not always be seen as exciting, but it is a strong “pull” for potential candidates.

  • Look at your current benefits and incentives - are they due a long needed overhaul?

  • Who looks after social media strategy in an SME? Your IT Director/HR Director/Marketing manager? Do they know a ‘tweet’ from a ‘post’? It can often be the individual with the most experience, but not the ‘appropriate’ one. This may need to be your first discussion point at the next board meeting…

  • What does the local market and sector you operate in really think of your brand? When was the last time you surveyed current employees / ex employees and the general public to see what they think? It could be time to find out... You will either be pleasantly surprised or disappointed. Either way, it is good to know before you can react appropriately.

  • If you are a regional SME, are you an active part of the local business community? The need to focus on the day to day can often mean that SME executives are not as networked as they could be. Attending local business forums and events can raise the profile of your company. This networking could lead to useful contacts for future business opportunities and sourcing of potential staff.

  • Recruitment of senior executives. As an SME you are unlikely to be recruiting very often, but when you need help, make sure you think carefully about which recruitment partner to choose. You need a firm that you feel will understand your culture and knows how to promote your brand to prospective candidates. You are unlikely to be the only SME looking for the best talent out there!

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