How Small Businesses Can Attract Top Talent

By Lin Grensing-Pophal May 29, 2018
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​Even though small businesses are a key foundation of the United States' economic strength, they often struggle with the ability to recruit and retain the A-list talent they need to survive and thrive.

Small companies may not be able to afford the top salaries and big benefits of Fortune 100 firms, but they don't have to. There are other ways to stand out that very large employers can't easily replicate.

Here, HR leaders in small organizations share their experiences and best practices.

[SHRM members-only online discussion platform: SHRM Connect]

The Personal Touch

Big-time college coaches recruit A-list athletes, not through social media, LinkedIn, website recruiting or other big-business approaches, but through the personal touch. They go into recruits' living rooms and make the case for attending their universities, said Greg Szymanski, SHRM-SCP, director of human resources at Geonerco Management, a Seattle-based company that provides accounting, finance, human resources, legal and other management services to homebuilding operations.

"We out-hustle and outwork our competitors," he said. His company does that through career fair recruiting and information sessions, and having long-term employees share their passion for the company and describe what a great place it is to work. Geonerco also uses more traditional recruitment approaches—like social media and referrals. "Those things are the spokes in the wheel. The wheel is stronger the more spokes you can get in it."

Deborah Sweeney is CEO of MyCorporation.com, in Calabasas, Calif., a company of about 50 employees that provides online document-filing services for people wishing to form a corporation or limited liability company. Sweeney recruits right in her community, keeping her eyes open for people—efficient Starbucks baristas, great servers at local restaurants, or students on the two campuses where she serves as a board member—who have the "great personality and strong work ethic" to fit into her firm. Sweeney says, "[I watch] how they work and act when they are not being watched by their boss; if it feels like a possible fit, I'll approach them and talk about our business and throw out the possibility of working for us."

Fit and Flexibility

Greg Kuchcik, SHRM-SCP, is vice president of HR with Zeeto, a data discovery platform company based in San Diego with about 70 employees and a spot on Inc. 5000's list of fastest-growing companies in America. The firm has been able to attract candidates, said Kuchcik, by setting up "a fun, intimate, and personable culture that caters to individuals." The firm looks for employees whose values mesh with a small-company environment by asking a simple question: "If you could have been the 10th employee at Facebook, or the 10,000th, which would you choose?" Candidates' responses can indicate if they value the chance to "get in while we're small, have their voices heard and, if this company blows up, be a huge part of that."

Flexibility and the opportunity to offer "off-the-cuff perks such as ordering in ice cream for the day or having a stylist come in" also appeal to employees. They are, he said, relatively inexpensive offerings that support team-building.

Growth Opportunities

Small companies may actually have more advancement opportunities than larger firms, said Nate Masterson, HR manager for Maple Holistics, a natural beauty product firm based in Farmingdale, N.J. In larger companies, there are "so many people doing your job" and, consequently, more competition when opportunities become available. In smaller firms, he said, if you're good at what you do and show talent and skill, you'll be given new responsibilities [and] taught new skills and groomed, making you that much more valuable to the market."

The "family vibe" of a small company, Masterson said, is also important and "not something that [he takes] lightly."

Katie Barnes, director of people operations with Bankers Healthcare Group (BHG), with corporate headquarters in Davie, Fla., agreed. "When working for very large corporations with a lot of structure, you may not get the opportunity to make an impact on the business," she said.

At Bankers, with about 360 employees in three cities, employees have that opportunity and can share feedback and ideas directly with the company owners and executive team. It's an environment where collaboration and communication are encouraged through various means, she said. "Employees can have coffee, on BHG, with anyone they would like to get to know better or [who works in] any area of business they are interested in learning more about. We also provide networking platforms every month within one location while our ownership and leadership team are onsite for their monthly strategic meeting. This gives all associates the opportunity to get to know the leaders throughout the organization."

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.


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