Traditionally, only the largest, most powerful multinational corporations recruited on college campuses, taking their pick of the best and the brightest talent by simply out-spending their smaller competitors. Each year, America’s corporations spend somewhere around $72 billion dollars on recruiting services, staff, and products in an effort to build a steady pipeline of quality human capital. Some big firms will spend as much as $50,000 dollars a head, purely on recruiting expenses, and often through the services of specialized recruiting firms that relentlessly target select industry sectors.
Most small businesses can’t afford to throw around that kind of money.
Luckily, the game has changed. Smaller, younger companies can recruit top prospects, even on a limited budget. That’s because today’s generation of up and coming workers aren’t just looking to land a big salary, or cushy corporate credentials. They’re looking for opportunities to stand out, to move up quickly, to balance work and life, and to rack up a cache of social capital on top of any financial gains. They’re looking for their unique vision of the American Dream in all it’s intangible glory. By playing to small business strengths, and avoiding potential recruiting pitfalls, any employer, even startups, can compete with the big companies in the expanding war for the best and brightest of this generation.
Setting the Scene
Let’s say that you’re a small or medium-sized company that wants to hire a few top prospects to help spark innovation, fuel growth, and eventually lead your business into a successful future. It’s not going to be easy. The groundwork for the recruitment process must commence weeks, or even months ahead of time. The needs of a small business, in the meantime, could change at the drop of a dime. Flexibility, and the capacity to pull off a roundabout turn at a moment’s notice in order to pursue the path that makes the most business sense, are distinct strengths of small, agile companies. However, in the recruiting space where a traditional approach to the process could take weeks to months, a lengthy talent acquisition process effectively mitigates any advantage in dexterity a start-up may have. On the other hand, leaving critical positions unfilled comes at a great cost as well. Typically, larger firms can not only absorb these costs as overhead expenses, but also posses the HR capabilities and financial resources to sustain long, expensive hiring processes and make outrageous compensation offers. They have the time, money, and manpower to travel to career fairs, post job advertisements, or even hire agencies to fill key positions for them. Perhaps the most potent weapon in the arsenal of big business, however, is simple name recognition.
Keep up with Big Business
So what’s a small business to do?
Don’t play their game. Hiring the right people could be life or death for small, lean companies, whereas corporations can get away with making a few bad hires every now and then. They can absorb the costs, you can’t. Therefore, don’t get caught up with competing head to head with corporations for the attention of promising prospects. You will not be able to outspend or out-network them outright.
Instead, tap unconventional networks and sources of talent. Direct networking can bridge much of the gap between your business and candidates. If a contact refers a prospect to you, chances are they’ve not only already done some preliminary vetting, but have also pitched your firm for you. Let your network do the legwork for you. Generally, personal recommendations are a great indicator of overall match. Connect with experts in the given field or background you are looking to recruit from or recruit for. Looking for a great salesman? Find that person who is connected to a lot of great salespeople. Every industry and market has these well-connected individuals. Find them. While corporations may be content to sit back and let prospects come to them, the best bet for a small business is to go out there, form relationships, and get their hands dirty. Of course, smaller firms need to be mindful of strategy as well. Resources, time, and manpower are scarce in a start-up environment. Therefore, don’t squander them on losing battles.
As always, speed (but not haste) is key. When you do find the right person for the job, make them an offer right then and there, before they get snapped up by competing interests.
The Compensation Conundrum
Of course, here’s when things get tricky. Chances are, multi-national conglomerates with deep pockets will be able to offer financial incentives far in excess of what the typical small business can afford. But, money isn’t everything. Here’s where being a small firm can give you a huge edge over bigger competitors.
First, small businesses typically lack rigid hierarchies and established corporate ladders. This is a good thing. The best talent isn’t keen on wasting their abilities grinding out a career one rung at a time. They want to be useful and in charge right from the get go. Start-ups can offer them that. Furthermore, small businesses also lack established bureaucracies and have more personal working relationships between top executives and employees. Opportunities for mentorship abound, and innovation is not hindered by established methodologies. As a result, smaller firms are able to offer jobs that have more breadth, and more importantly, a much greater level of interest. Small businesses can also be much more flexible in the way work is done (for example, working from home as opposed to in a cubicle) because employees of small firms understand that they have no where to hide. If they don’t pull their weight, the whole company suffers. This kind of all-for-one and one-for-all atmosphere can be highly attractive to prospective candidates who will certainly be hard pressed to find that kind of camaraderie in your typical cubicle farm.
The biggest draw to go corporate then, besides resume padding, appears to be entirely financial. Here’s where the underdogs have to get creative to win. With some smart maneuvering and careful planning, it is entirely possible to match a generous compensation package with one of your own creation.
To reiterate, money isn’t everything. When putting together a compensation package for a top prospect, emphasize unconventional forms of compensation. Many start-ups offer generous vacation policies and freedom of location to attract footloose young graduates, flexible hours for working parents, and, for ambitious executives, maybe even a stake in the firm.
Rather than building a generic package for generic employees, get to know your candidates, and then tailor your offer to them. Chances are, they will choose you over a bigger paycheck if you can fulfill what they value most. Is it work-life balance? Is it a commitment to a certain creed or code? Is a familial and friendly atmosphere? Is it opportunity to do good work? Is it vertical mobility?
Whatever it is that motivates your candidates, get prospects excited about the potential of your small (for now) business first, and then worry about the paycheck second. Once they’ve bought into the details of what you’re selling, the money becomes less of a hindrance and more of a detail that can be hashed out later.
Looking to hire top HR talent? Check out Centripetal Consulting Group, an expert in the field working to connect top HR talent with aspiring businesses of all sizes.