5 Ways to Attract Great Applicants Without Breaking the Bank

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Attracting top talent can be hard if you don’t have a big budget to fuel benefits, perks, and commissions. That doesn’t mean small companies, which typically have less budget than large corporations, can’t attract top talent.

If you really want to compete with big corporates while still operating as a small business, you have to commit to the advantages small companies have over big ones. That’s the only way you can make your business stand out from the corporate crowd.

Here are five selling points small businesses should emphasize when trying to attract great applicants:

1. Purpose

Whether it’s a job at a large corporate company or a startup, the key elements of many roles remain the same. Accountants, copywriters, digital marketers, and sales associates will handle the same kinds of tasks regardless of the size of the company they work for.

Increasingly, applicants are looking for a company with an ethos that aligns with their own. Be sure to tell your founder’s story. Why was your company founded, what does the founder want to achieve, and why is that important?

Make clear the connection between each role’s daily work and the overarching company mission. Ambitious people want to feel they have a direct impact on the success of the companies they work for, and that element of work satisfaction is often lost at large corporations.

2. Learning

Small teams don’t have the budget to hire specialized experts for every problem they encounter. That means most small business employees will end up tackling problems they know very little about and learning on the go.

To help your team with that, consider implementing a personal learning allowance. Even if money is tight, a small allowance to be spent on learning materials (such as courses, books, or seminars) is a great way of showing your team you’re invested in their development. Most people won’t feel a huge difference if their salary goes up by a couple of hundred dollars a year, but being told you have access to a $200 learning budget seems both generous and tangibly valuable.

3. Autonomy

Most people can’t stand being micromanaged; in fact, they thrive when given more ownership over their time and work. Employees at smaller companies are much more likely to be handed a set of goals and left to their own devices to work out how to get there. People are hungry for autonomy and the space to do good work. Making it clear that you value autonomy sends a clear, positive message to prospective applicants.

4. Culture

If you really throw yourself into the three areas listed above, you’ll build a great work environment, find it much easier to keep employees from leaving for higher-paying corporate jobs, and be able to stand out from the crowd to potential hires.

However, the sad reality is that candidates will take claims about culture with a hefty pinch of salt. They’ll be looking at dozens of businesses, all of which will wax lyrical about their incredible cultures — regardless of whether it’s actually true. Salaries, meanwhile, are concrete, comparable numbers that businesses can’t really misrepresent. Being as specific as possible about how your company nurtures a positive, collaborative culture at work is vital.

A useful framework for making what has in the past been a woolly subject more tangible is culture operations, or “CultureOps.” This is a process of deliberately crafting culture in an organization. CultureOps is made up of three things:

  1. People: Your focus on getting the right people in the room. Hiring self-starters with high levels of empathy and emotional intelligence is valuable not just to business performance but also to attracting new talent. Everyone wants to be part of a hardworking and high-performing team.
  2. Processes: The rhythms, rituals, and routines you create within the business. These allow people to stay aligned, communicate, collaborate, and gain motivation from the company’s projects.
  3. Policies: The actions you take as a business to support your teams and your people. A business’s dos and don’ts have a huge effect on how people perceive your culture. A progressive mental health policy and equitable parental leave policy are just two examples of highly attractive policies worth highlighting in your job specs.

5. Flexible Work

Empowering people to make decisions about how they work is so important. Remote work will probably be a big part of many of our professional lives in the future — and smart companies will let team members make decisions about it.

Many aspects of life can affect a person’s work preferences: what stage of life they’re in, whether they have children, what sort of job they have, etc. The best policies provide flexibility and allow team members to make decisions based on what makes sense for them.

And there are ways to make flexible work fit your company’s needs, too. For example, you could mandate that employees only need to be in the office three days a week, establish a core-hours policy, or devise an altogether different system that works for your company. Whatever it looks like, a flexible work policy will undoubtedly be highly attractive to most job seekers.

Nailing HR basics is vital for startups. Progressive policies, a clear culture and company narrative, and opportunities for learning and growth can doubtlessly attract great candidates away from even the most lucrative corporate salaries.

Ben Gateley is cofounder and CEO of CharlieHR. Find him on Twitter, hosting the CultureOps podcast, or at [email protected].

Ben Gateley is currently the cofounder and CEO of CharlieHR, previously the founder and COO of Born Social and The Eleven. Ben is a thought leader in the company culture space and is passionate about mental health, progressive policies, and supporting teams to enable their best work. Find him on Twitter at @gateley, hosting the CultureOps podcast, or at [email protected]