How small businesses can attract top talent: Build a strong employer brand

Part one in a five-part series on small business recruitment.

How small businesses can attract top talent: Build a strong employer brand

As the economy improves, more employees who held onto their jobs through the tough recession years are gaining confidence to leave jobs they don’t love and look for new opportunities. With more people again seeking to spread their wings, businesses of all sizes are also increasingly looking to recruit the best talent, both among these job seekers and the many workers who aren’t even looking.

For many small businesses, hiring is already a bit of an unknown. As the competition for talent grows, how does a small business attempt to tackle the challenge of recruiting?

Small businesses provide two out of every three American jobs, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, and fortunately, there are many employees who want to work at one. In fact, 46 percent of people who responded to a recent Monster survey indicated they would actually prefer to work at a business with between six and 100 employees. And yet, it’s the small business that might face the biggest disadvantage when hiring in a competitive environment. After all, a small, proprietor-managed company typically doesn’t have HR people to turn to when it needs to find qualified candidates and ensure the one it hires will be a good fit.

Monster infographic

We’ve assembled small-business experts to help growing companies find and recruit the top talent they need to compete. We’ll be looking at five ways small businesses can compete with large ones for top talent:

  1. Build a strong employer brand
  2. Offer competitive compensation
  3. Design creative benefits perks and packages
  4. Write appealing job descriptions
  5. Broaden your pool of highly qualified candidates

When it comes to hiring for small businesses, establishing your brand through a strong company culture is key. Whether you’re writing a job ad, describing your company to others or even simply setting up your website, communicating that culture will help potential candidates decide whether they’re a good fit for your organization.

For example, when describing your company or writing job ads, avoid generic language, such as “lots of opportunity, great place to work,” says Susan Strayer LaMotte, founder of exaqueo, a branding and talent consulting firm for startups and high-growth companies. “You have to focus on what’s yours — what makes your company great that’s different from everyone else.”

But first, as owner or CEO of the business, it’s important to foster the sort of culture you want, says Paul Downs, founder of Paul Downs Cabinetmakers in Bridgeport, Pennsylvania, and a small-business blogger for The New York Times.

“You can create a culture by the standards you set for your own behavior and those you enforce with others. If you’re a yeller and screamer and tolerate yelling and screaming, that’s what it’ll look like,” Downs says of small-business culture. “If you use ‘fast-paced, hard-hitting, take-no-prisoner’ code words in the ad, then I would expect the yelling and screaming” type of applicant.

As you put together a recruiting strategy, talking about why your organization does what it does is just as important as the job description. People want to feel like they’re doing meaningful work, so you need to be sure to communicate what that will look like at your company.

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That clarity is key, Downs says. “My company culture is all about no [B.S.]. I want to be honest and straightforward with clients and employees.”

That comes through in the company’s job ads, he says. “If I wrote it any differently, it wouldn’t make sense. Everything we do has to conform to that template. In a small business like mine, I don’t have time to wade through 500 résumés. I want to attract those who are likely to be good fit — I’d rather get five that might work.”

What you see on aimClear’s blog is what you get at the company, says founder Marty Weintraub of his 23-employee online marketing firm, which has a main office in Duluth, Minnesota, and a second in St. Paul. “We blog and communicate the personality of our agency. We make sure to communicate the tone of the company in the blog post's timbre.”

On its blog, aimClear describes itself as a “tip-top place to work” and outlines a dozen philosophies, including No. 1: “Achieve consensus for new hires amongst all employees, even if it means not hiring candidates the CEO believes to be qualified. Choose employees you love to be around.”

This approach helps with retention, too, Weintraub says. “We don't have any trouble retaining talent. Simply devote your company to employees’ careers and place their interests above all. Offer lifestyle, intellectual and financial stimulation. Make the office a lovely place to be.”

Weintraub says team members hold wedding rehearsal dinners, baby showers and even Thanksgiving celebrations at the aimClear office. “The environment is totally nurturing and seriously professional."