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Sunday 21 September 2014

SMEs must use strengths to attract talent

Mouna Kenzaoui

Published 31/07/2014 | 00:00

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SMEs must work to attract the best talent

Recent forecasts from IBEC, the ESRI and the Institute of Directors in Ireland have all pointed towards growth and 
 an increase in recruitment in 2014.

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Our own experience very much reflects this. Hiring is ramping up and we're seeing an increase in the 'War for Talent'. In fact, even in the height of the recession a skills gap in many sectors, especially technology, prevailed.

While some sectors have it easier than others, the reality is a very large portion of Irish SMEs are within technology and other specialist sectors.

Smaller companies are often losing out to the larger multinationals and the more well-known and 'sexier' brands, which not only have the most experienced in-house recruiters and partnerships with the top agencies, but also offer packages that most start-ups or recent start-ups simply can't stretch to.

Some larger multinationals are actually recruiting the best tech talent from as early as their second year in university and offering extremely generous packages. That's very difficult for the SME sector to compete with.

I advise SMEs to look closely at their 'employer brand' and their recruitment communications.

SMEs have a lot to offer. Some candidates, often the most talented, are actually more suited to an SME environment. Indeed, many candidates will be seeking to leave a larger player. How can an SME take advantage of this?

One huge part of the answer is communicating your strengths, universal selling points and what you can offer that a larger player cannot. Create a strong and relevant 'employer brand', which communicates your strengths and attracts talent:

• Aim to attract candidates who are motivated by higher risk opportunities. Many employees find it difficult to be motivated within a large, highly structured multinational culture. Often they feel stifled and bored and would welcome the opportunity to break the boundaries.

• Highlight opportunities to progress and progress faster. Take advantage of this and ensure you communicate it throughout the recruitment process so you are attracting the right employees.

• Less bureaucracy - this appeals strongly to many talented candidates. Top talent can become very frustrated by the bureaucracy in a larger organisation.

• Mentoring: in an SME a candidate is rarely just a cog in the wheel. Due to the flatter organisation structure, in most cases, even the CEO knows exactly what every employee does and knows them by name. Talented employees in an SME very rarely go unnoticed and are viewed as significant contributors to growth and success.

It's also really important to look at compensation and rewards. It can be difficult to compete with multinationals and large organisations but review your compensation package. Not all employees are purely financially motivated so you can highlight other elements of the overall package. Offering a degree of flexibility costs nothing extra but can be very attractive. Generous performance-related bonuses motivate high-performing candidates.

If you are still in start-up mode, hiring employees who are purely financially motivated is not wise. A start-up needs people who believe in the long term vision of the business, the potential to be better than the competition and really believe in the job they are doing.

In terms of your recruitment strategy itself, my advice is to forget about the 'old school' recruitment techniques. Increasingly, we're finding that the best talent is generally passive. They often don't even need to actively look for their next opportunity - it comes to them. So the trick is to get in there first.

Adopt a smart approach to recruitment. Best practice usually involves a fairly technical approach, for example, using what the industry calls 'x-ray searches' and Boolean search strings. X-ray searching involves targeting a particular site such as Linkedin within Google or another search engine using specific search operators. It is quite complex as it involves understanding the anatomy of a url, so this is not for a novice.

In most SMEs without an in house recruiter it can be difficult to compete with the larger player and few line managers have the time to learn this.

Overall, ensure you are promoting your organisation's advantages in every step of the recruitment and hiring process.

Mouna Kenzaoui is founder and CEO of Martinsen Mayer, a Dublin-based recruitment agency working nationally and internationally. www.martinsenmayer.com

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