5 Tactics to Help Small Businesses Compete in the Talent Market

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In today’s competitive talent market, recruitment is a challenge for employers of all sizes. However, small organizations face a particularly difficult uphill battle when it comes to building out their ranks.

Small businesses typically have fewer people on staff who can manage the hiring process, as well as less name recognition and visibility among applicants. Because of this, HR administrators and business leaders in small organizations have to be really strategic with the time they spend on hiring efforts.

Our company, Bernard Health, has grown from a one-man shop to a 70-person organization, and we’ve learned a few lessons along the way. Here are five tips for small business recruitment, based on our team’s experience:

1. Highlight Career Growth Opportunities

Every candidates wants a job that will help them grow professionally, and highlighting how your company can do that will make your organization more attractive to applicants.

Small businesses can position themselves as having an advantage here over bigger corporations. In a bigger company, an individual’s next promotion is generally predicated on someone else leaving their position. Roles in the corporate org. chart are clearly defined, and unexpected opportunities are rare. This can be frustrating for ambitious employees who have no choice but to wait until a colleague jumps ship.

At a smaller company, however, new responsibilities open up regularly as the organization grows. Furthermore, employees at small companies directly affect the growth of the organization, allowing them to create their own paths for promotion. Communicate this fact to applicants, especially the competitive self-starters who will appreciate the chance to take their own careers in their hands.

2. Establish a Presence on Employee Review Sites

Visibility is an issue for smaller businesses, but growing your company’s presence on review sites like Glassdoor and Indeed can help raise its profile.

With the unemployment rate historically low, applicants have a lot of leverage and a lot of options in the hiring process. Research is incredibly important to them: They look up every employer before applying, trying to glean insight into what the organization is like. Employee review sites are key to this research. If your organization does not have a robust online presence — both on and off review sites — then it will get buried by those organizations that do.

3. Think Beyond Health Plans

A competitive benefits package has always been a crucial part of a strong recruitment strategy. One way to make your package more competitive is to focus on offerings outside of your health plan.

If your organization, like many others, is focused on recruiting recent college graduates, your health plan won’t be very attractive to this segment of the talent market. Most of them are still on their parents’ plans, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, so you’ll need something more to persuade them.

Even for candidates outside this demographic, a health plan is not enough of a differentiator. Most applicants take a pass/fail approach to benefits: Does your company offer a health plan or not? To really be competitive, you must offer something more unique. For example, 401(k) funding is not standard among small businesses. If you offer such a benefit, your organization is more likely to stand out.

4. Leverage Your Alumni Network

A challenge for many small businesses is seeing good people leave. When a team member reaches a ceiling within the organization, they may have to move on to a bigger company to pursue their career goals further.

This isn’t something business leaders are ever excited about, but it does have a silver lining: It makes your organization look pretty good to candidates. If you have a history of team members moving on to great opportunities at major companies, share this as part of your employer branding. This sends the message that your organization is a great place to start a career.

5. Embrace Radical Transparency for Hard-to-Fill Positions

Every organization has positions that are hard to fill or high turnover, and getting people in those seats can require a lot of time and energy from hiring managers. One way to approach these roles is through radical transparency.

Be honest with applicants. Tell them they won’t be in the role forever, and tell them why. Do team members generally move into a new position within a year? Do new hires burn out quickly and move on?

A good example of radical transparency comes from what many consider the greatest job ad of all time: Ernest Shackleton’s call for Antarctic explorers. As the story goes, Shackleton took out an ad in a newspaper that read, “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.”

While the ad is largely considered apocryphal, it is still instructive. Your high-turnover positions may not be potentially fatal, but if you want to fill them with people who have what it takes to succeed, you need to be honest about the challenges employees will face.

Small businesses often struggle to make hires, but implementing these strategic tips can help your organization compete against even the most well-established companies in the talent market.

Alex Tolbert is the founder and CEO of BerniePortal and Bernard Health.

By Alex Tolbert