Talent strategy is a challenge for every enterprise, but for small businesses it’s a particularly daunting issue. Large companies can afford to lavish new hires with a seemingly endless range of benefits while they spend extensively on recruiting, advertising and talent marketing. At the same time, if a new hire in a large corporation doesn’t work out, the attrition that results is essentially expected. Contrast that with a small business, where the budget for recruiting is much smaller and the risks associated with any one hire are huge. In a ten-person company, one bad hire can have dramatic ramifications.
With these realities in mind, it’s important for small businesses to consider new and creative strategies for building a ‘good fit’ talent pool and having greater confidence in the likelihood of a given hire’s long-term success. Here are six key strategies you can implement today:
1. Use internships to drive interest.
One of the best ways to create interest and loyalty in early-stage hires is to build and strengthen your internship program. Internship programs are not as simple as just asking for a college student to file papers and refill coffee for free. There is work involved, and in most cases today (with rare exceptions), you need to pay your interns.
But a more structured internship program is worth the investment of time and money, because it creates a stronger pipeline into your business. Work to give your internship program some structure and content — like giving interns the opportunity to learn a new piece of software or spend a certain amount of time shadowing a higher-level employee. In return, you get to ‘test-drive’ their skills and attitude, while shaping their approach to the workplace in a manner that works well with your culture. Internships are a clear win-win.
2. Start early and let new hires grow with you.
Another creative strategy is to start earlier than you do now. For example, if most of your entry-level positions have historically required a bachelor’s degree, consider focusing on candidates with an associate’s instead. Going back a step may allow you to attract early-stage workers who are hungrier for opportunities, may be just as well-prepared for the job, and whose compensation expectations may be more realistic (and humble).
Remember that most community college technical degrees essentially match the same content as a bachelor’s degree in that field. Note that this is not always the case, but for example, a student who receives an associate’s degree in information technology may have taken just as many IT courses as her peer holding a bachelor’s degree (this is because most undergraduate four-year degrees require two years of general education and prerequisite courses prior to courses in the major). In addition, if you hire personnel with less education now and offer a modest but reasonable amount of future tuition support for them to continue their studies part-time, you may lock in their loyalty for an even longer time as well.
3. Partner for your pipeline.
While we’re at it, consider taking your recruiting a step further and partnering with one or more institutions or organizations. For example, you might join a program advisory board or industry advisory committee for the degree program at your local college, or perhaps leverage your alumni connections to become active in your own alma mater.
In addition, there are many workforce programs that can help companies access enthusiastic and well-prepared talent. One example is YearUp, which provides one year of high-intensity IT training to disadvantaged youth and prepares them for entry-level positions in the technology sector. Similar programs may be available through your area school district, community college system, workforce investment board or other agencies.
4. Sell small as something big.
Yes, you run a small business and yes, the large companies have more money use in recruiting and talent development. But you have something they don’t — the benefits of being a small business. Many emerging young professionals don’t yet understand how different large and small businesses can be to work in, but some will intuitively understand that they might prefer working in a smaller company where they can have a greater hand in the business, work more closely with the owner/CEO, and experience a more intimate working environment. Of course, certain temperaments work better in a small business than others, so keep in mind that you should communicate the advantages and unique nature of working in a small firm as part of your recruiting efforts.
5. Provide projects to push engagement.
Finally, consider using small projects as a way to help interns or early-stage employees dig into the business and become more involved in learning how the company works. Take a look at that list of ‘If only I had the time’ projects and pick one or two to start with. Examples might include trying out a new piece of software; writing up instructions to document key work processes; analyzing customer accounts; updating contact records in your customer relationship management (CRM) database. These are all perfect opportunities to help new talent dig into the business and ‘learn the ropes’ while also feeling that they’re adding value and contributing.
6. Use corporate attrition to your advantage.
Some large companies are like vacuum cleaners, sucking up a huge amount of the emerging talent in a given region or industry. Maybe it’s a large federal contractor or perhaps it’s the regional division of a multinational enterprise. Regardless, they tend to be popular ‘go-to’ employers for freshly-minted graduates. But there’s an underbelly to that vacuum cleaner, and it’s the number of young employees who get spit out on the other side.
In many cases, as much as 20-30% of the young talent entering a corporate organization will leave after a year or two, feeling frustrated that they were part of a lumbering bureaucracy and a culture overwhelmed with internal politics and corporate intrigue. This is your opportunity to snap up talent that is probably more than ready to embrace the benefits of working in a small business. A good way to enact this strategy is through LinkedIn, especially if you end up hiring one or two young adults from the corporate behemoth and can use LinkedIn to identify and connect with other similar young professionals.
Unfortunately, there is no ‘silver bullet’ when it comes to building a talent pool for a small, growing business. Any approach you take requires time, money and hard work. But with these six creative strategies in hand, you’ll be positioned to take advantage of some unique opportunities that can give your small firm the competitive advantage and strengthen your long-term talent pipeline as well.