Small businesses are not at a disadvantage in competing for top talent against large corporations. That’s often the perception, but not the reality.
Although it’s great to have a big budget in your recruiting pocket, you can’t buy what people are looking for. You have to develop and nurture it. What people want most today is an employer who puts people first and a workplace community based on relationships. Even with limited resources and market visibility, a human-centered culture can make you a contender in winning top talent.
Data show that at this moment we have 9.9 million job openings in the U.S. and just 5.8 million unemployed people to fill them – across industries and businesses of every size. This means unprecedented challenges and an urgent need for companies to demonstrate to job seekers why they are the best choice.
Who’s hiring who?
Employers of every kind are struggling to recruit. Along with others, the small business labor demand continues to be strong. However, small businesses are experiencing greater challenges than larger companies as indicated by their increasingly higher rates of job postings, longer filling times, and lower filling rates.
With recent tech giant layoffs in the hundreds of thousands, tech startups and small businesses have had the opportunity to land top talent in technology as well as in ancillary positions in business and professional services such as engineers, attorneys, and accountants. Small businesses are competing for talent with sectors that are also in high recruitment mode like healthcare, leisure and hospitality, and business and professional services companies outside the tech giants.
As with most everything related to people, there’s no one-size-fits-all. Some people see more opportunity and benefit in larger workplaces; for others, small feels more comfortable. Most of us spend part of our careers in each of these environments and, in that sense, everyone could be a viable candidate. You want the ones with the skills to do the job and the attitude and values to succeed in your culture. Never forget that; hiring mistakes are costly in more than dollars.
Many would argue that limited resources for wages, benefits and recruitment marketing are the reasons small businesses have a more difficult time recruiting. These obstacles can be overcome with a range of powerful factors unique to small businesses.
Focus on what makes small irresistible
Small businesses have a long list of bragging rights when it comes to creating great employee experiences. It doesn’t include the gym discounts, fancy coffee bars, and expensive retreats that large companies can afford to provide and then promote in their recruiting efforts. Those don’t matter nearly as much to employees as they do to employers.
What does matter to employees, in addition to the increasing importance of pay and benefits, are things like: greater work-life balance; personal well-being; the ability to use their strengths on the job; diversity and inclusivity; and the freedom to work when, where, and how they choose. These are areas where small businesses can make themselves the irresistible choice.
By definition, small businesses have the opportunity to more easily develop relationships and trust with employees. These are the foundations for positive workplace cultures. People are more likely to know one another personally, including leaders. They are often closer to the company’s mission and more directly involved with the local community.
Small companies also tend to be more flexible in honoring personal preferences and needs related to work options. And because leaders and followers work together, it’s easier to empathize and show that you care for the whole person. Closeness breeds kindness. It also breeds fun!
Working in a small business offers invaluable opportunities for professional growth. People take on diverse roles that enable them to gain new skills, knowledge, and experience. This brings new challenges, an environment where it’s safe to voice opinions and make decisions, and the possibility to contribute to high-level strategies.
Not only does “small” help employees move into senior roles earlier, there is greater room for innovation, and individual and team performance are more likely to get noticed.
Live it and sell it
The irresistible small company culture you offer must reflect the reality employees experience working for you. Your employer brand precedes and follows you in the jobs market, making it crucial that you are authentic, strategic, and consistent in everything you say and do inside or outside your company. Your brand – positive, negative, or nonexistent in the case of some small businesses – is a determining factor in whether you succeed in attracting and retaining top talent.
Selling begins with self-assessment. Understand what jobseekers and current employees want from you and evaluate how well you measure up to expectations. Find the courage to ask difficult questions and act on the feedback. Define your core values and practice them. Challenge yourself to stay irresistible as you grow and make it a process that never ends.
People won’t understand all the advantages of working for a small business, and specifically your company, unless you tell them. Promote your brand and culture throughout the recruiting process, from first impressions through website visits and social media messaging, to interviews, and a warm, well-thought-out welcome the first day of work. And don’t stop there. Make sure you maintain a workplace where people want to stay. Recruitment and retention require similar effort.
You may not have the resources to compete against a grand paycheck. But work has never been just about paychecks. As a small business, if you offer fair compensation along with all the benefits of a people-first community, you will have the stronger competitive edge.
Kathleen Quinn Votaw is the CEO of TalenTrust, a strategic recruiting and human capital consulting firm. Quinn Votawis the author of two books, DARE to CARE IN THE WORKPLACE: A Guide to the New Way We Work, and Solve The People Puzzle: How High-Growth Companies Attract & Retain Top Talent. Regarded as a key disruptor in her industry, she has helped thousands of companies across multiple industries develop purpose-based, inclusive communities that inspire employees to come to work. Her company has been recognized in the Inc. 5000. Quinn Votaw also speaks nationally on recruitment, culture and leading with empathy in the workplace. Follow Quinn Votaw on Twitter: @kqvotaw.