How to make your small company more attractive to job seekers

John Cradden offers advice to SMEs keen to sharpen their recruitment strategies to attract and retain key talent.

Small firms can find it hard to lure jobseekers away from the attractions of working for large multinationals, particularly in the tech and pharmaceutical sectors.

But the good news is that there is help and guidance available to SMEs to sharpen their recruitment strategies to attract and retain key talent in what is a hugely competitive market.

“An obvious starting point is clearly defining the role, including where it sits in your company’s organisational structure”

There is scope, in particular, to cultivate an employer brand that appeals more to what people want from a workplace in this post-pandemic age.

Furthermore, sustainability, human rights and work culture are among the many factors that weigh on recent graduates in their search for their first jobs.

Available supports for SMEs

Among the supports available is a new guide published by Enterprise Ireland in partnership with recruitment technology specialists Occupop, called ‘Attracting and retaining talent: How to identify, source and recruit staff for your business’.

“While the pandemic caused huge upheaval and change to how we work, employers must also ensure they meet new standards of diversity, equality and inclusion, such as having a gender-balanced workforce,” says Mariam Dadabhay, a people and management specialist at Enterprise Ireland.

“Likewise, they need to understand the varying needs of different demographics within the workforce.”

An obvious starting point is clearly defining the role, including where it sits in your company’s organisational structure, who the role reports to and who reports to role, and the interrelationships within the business. Only then can you can start writing an accurate job description.

Making the job description as accurate as possible will be the most effective part of the screening process, as this description should be precise enough to tell a job seeker whether a position is or isn’t for them. The last thing you want is to sort through stacks of CVs from unqualified candidates or people with the wrong kind of experience.

The next step is about showcasing your employer brand, or what the recruitment industry likes to call your EVP (employer value proposition). This is probably the most important way to differentiate your company from others, particularly if you are an SME competing with employers in the multinational or the public sector spaces.

What your EVP is should be a genuine reflection of the company personality and the promises you market to jobseekers.

For example, if you market your company as “daring, innovative and fun” but then the job candidate quickly finds out that its much like any other office or workplace they’ve seen, or their interviewer comes across as stern, unfriendly and a stickler for the rules, the expectations that brought them to your door in the first place will be severely weakened.

An EVP should convey clearly the compensation package, the career development and training opportunities, the employee benefits available and information about the company culture and the work environment.

Some practical ways to convey your EVP could include:

  • Showing what it’s like to work at your company, focusing on culture, reviews and ratings
  • Sharing positive stories about your employees on your website and social media, including video testimonials from employees
  • Highlighting your involvement in local communities and corporate social responsibility (CSR) achievements
  • Holding special events to show that you value and appreciate your employees
  • Keeping an up-to-date and engaging online and social media presence.

In conjunction with this, you should also actively reach out to potential candidates by:

  • Building your personal network on LinkedIn, and use it to ask for referrals and search for potential candidates by past or current positions
  • Staying in touch with former colleagues for potential future employment relationships
  • Asking current employees to activate their networks to reach out to potential passive candidates for jobs
  • Being visible at industry events and networking

The above avenues are great opportunities as well to lean on what some would see as the natural advantages of working in a small firm as opposed to a multinational.

Among could be that the culture in an SME would be very different, where change occurs quickly, everyone pitches in and no two days are the same. You could convey how working in your firm may involve carrying a far broader range of responsibilities and roles than they would in a big firm, where niche roles and focused job descriptions prevail. Their voices will be heard more audibly, their successes more visible and they can exert a greater impact on the direction your business takes. They could have more scope to exercise initiative and develop skills on the job, too.

But SMEs are still likely to be overshadowed by big companies on one crucial area: salaries and perks. With significantly more resources, both financial and otherwise, large corporations are more likely to win against SMEs when it comes to attracting some young graduates.

But there are some Government-backed initiatives that can give start-ups and SMEs an edge over big companies when recruiting.

One of them is the Key Employee Engagement Programme, or KEEP, which has been extended until 31 December 2025. KEEP is a tax share option scheme that allows employees to acquire shares at a future date and at a fixed price, under specific conditions, without paying tax.

John Cradden
John Cradden is an experienced business and personal finance journalist and financial wellbeing content designer.