How can SMEs hire and retain talented staff in an increasingly competitive market?

How can SMEs hire and retain talented staff in an increasingly competitive market?

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s latest Labour Market Outlook survey predicts that small businesses are five times more likely to be recruiting than larger companies over the next year. Alongside this, the October UK Labour Market report from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows the unemployment rate for June to August 2014 was 6.0%, which is the lowest since late 2008.

These facts alone will ensure the coming months see a more competitive job market. So how do SME’s successfully hire and keep talent in this challenging marketplace? Here’s some valuable advice on how to attract and retain the best people for your business.

Employer branding is not just for large companies

Individuals need to know what it’s really like to work for your business, so think about the positives and promote these on a dedicated Work for Us section on your website. Include quotes from staff and if possible upload video of staff feedback and let them tell the story. This type of social media / website content is increasingly popular as it offers a more personal way for applicants to engage with your business prior to interview.

Don’t try to compete with larger organisations. Remember SME’s offer a smaller team with a more ‘personal’ working environment allowing for talent to shine and develop. Offering these opportunities for flexibility and diversity of work projects has been identified as a key driver, especially for Generation Y candidates.

Have a consistent recruitment process

In the early days of any business, recruiting typically sits under the remit of the owner/MD and this responsibility only falls to others as a business grows. What is rare is that a formal recruitment policy and process is developed to ensure consistency once multiple hiring stakeholders are involved. This could save money and resource if your business then hires the right people first time, every time, as long as everyone recruiting in line with the company’s values knows how to conduct an interview effectively. Having a consistent process will also give your applicants a much more positive recruitment experience too.

Go beyond the job description

While the Finance and Accountancy sectors obviously require certain skills and qualifications as a given, hiring in this market is also about looking beyond those ‘must haves’. As well as a detailed job description listing the experience and level of qualification needed to do the job, your business should consider the type of person who has the right attitude, competencies and values to help your business grow. Applicants will also have a much more in-depth understanding of what is required of them, should they be offered the job.

Recruit with an eye to the future

When SME’s need to recruit, time is usually of the essence to fill any vacancy. However think beyond the immediate requirement and consider the skills you will need to help your business develop in the medium to long term. Take into account the potential of individuals you interview - do they have the capacity to grow and develop their career with your company? Make sure your interview questions cover this. This forward planning will also present a positive image of your organisation as an employer.

Competing on salary and benefits - are SMEs missing out?

We often hear that SME’s are unable to compete against larger businesses in terms of salaries and benefits. It’s worth doing some research into what your competitors, and those larger organisations, are offering, so you understand the types of benefits employees’ value. You should then focus on offering employees’ a flexible package, an increasingly popular choice nowadays.

Whether it is flexible working (from home, flexi-time, longer days/shorter weeks), a day’s holiday on birthdays or work anniversaries, discounted gym membership, continuous training programmes or discount schemes with retailers, all of these are accessible and affordable for SMEs.


While the recruitment and retention challenges faced by SMEs are different to those of larger businesses, by implementing consistency in your recruiting process and some focus on employer branding, combined with a flexible benefits package, you can and will hire the best talent for your company.