How SME’s can hire more efficiently

SME’s make up for 60% of all private sector jobs in the UK. Yet, an SME’s greatest challenge according to various surveys is not competition from larger companies, but recruitment. How do SME’s hire more efficiently? Where are the hacks to overcome recruitment problems for those companies? What mistakes are being made that could otherwise be avoided?

Hiring Realities

It is important to establish a reality check when it comes to hiring personnel in the UK today. Hiring people is hard. Really hard. That is if you want anyone good that is.

Gone are the days where companies can put an advert in the local paper and wait for several qualified people to apply. If you do that, you’ll have a long wait at best. Also, and don’t take this from me just because I represent a recruitment company, but if you’re hiring for any skilled role’s you’ll need to partner with a few good recruitment firms to have any chance of success. Those who stubbornly stand by the principles of not using a recruitment company are getting left behind. It’s a bit like having stuck with horse and carts when trains came along.

The simple fact is that there are chronic skills shortages in this country. The age of everyone having a trade has gone and despite our wonderful university output, not enough people are studying subjects across the board. This has resulted in most engineering and IT based technical fields grossly under supplied with talent. And with an ageing workforce filling many of the gaps if you don’t get your hiring strategy right, many companies won’t have the personnel to survive.

Do you want to survive?

It sounds dramatic doesn’t it? Survival is such a strong word. However, there are plenty of companies whose employees are nearly all at retirement age and yet still obstinately refuse to use agencies. Maybe your company isn’t there yet. In the same way that 10 years ago, their companies weren’t at that stage yet. Survival in this case is most likely going to those who act ahead.

Bad yet common recruitment strategies

Examining what doesn’t work is best to cover before exploring what does work. This is because you could inadvertently be holding your company back more by what you are doing rather than what you are not.

Who in the company handles your recruitment?

The decision is made in most SME’s by the MD themselves as to who handles recruitment. Most MD’s will delegate this task, and this isn’t necessarily a bad move. Who handles the recruitment can vary and it can still work. As far as job title goes I’ve got clients who have their Operations Directors handles recruitment. I also have HR Managers, HR Assistants, Engineering Managers, Production Managers, Operations Managers, Site Managers etc. They can all work because the job title doesn’t change the task itself; handling recruitment.

The biggest mistake here is delegating this task to the wrong type of person. For example, I know many companies who delegate this task to a HR Manager and some can be brilliant at handling recruitment and some, being completely honest, are just not. HR is a broad skillset area and the best HR Manager’s I have dealt with are either very good at handling recruitment themselves or know that there is someone else in the firm who does a better job at that particular responsibility. In the best companies, great people understand their strengths and weaknesses and utilise each member of the team to play to their strengths.

Who is best to handle recruitment?

The MD needs to assess pragmatically who is best at handling recruitment at the company. As a general guideline whoever it is needs to either know the roles on a technical level or have a process in place so that any recruiter can get the information they need from a hiring manager. This could be setting up an internal call for example.

Furthermore, this person also needs to be very organised and structured. Getting confused, mislaying information or inadvertent time wasting is not good for efficiency.

Next comes urgency. They have to be on the ball and capable of working at pace. You’re trying to get the best people when everyone else is also trying to get them. You cannot afford to hang around.

Penultimately comes a level head. If there is a problem, they need to be level headed enough to address the problem and seek a solution. In a challenging hiring environment, you will encounter various problems and they need to be solved with pragmatic, but realistic solutions.

Finally, they must want to be responsible for heading up recruitment. Whether they are recruiting themselves and/or using external recruitment companies if they couldn’t care less and just pay the MD lip service, you’ll get shoddy results. Too many companies have people who don’t even want this responsibility of heading up recruitment. It’s incredibly counter-intuitive.

Other bad recruitment strategies

Lack of Trust/Ignorance

I am amazed at how little trust there is for recruitment companies. Sure, there are some naff firms out there like any industry, but they just won’t last long. Most recruitment companies are generally good at what they do at worst. And most, like us, only charge if they source you someone you decide to hire.

Therefore, when they are trying to consult with you to explore other solution’s they are trying to help fill the role. I’m still amazed at how many potential new clients we have conversations with who’ve been unsuccessful in filling a job for months and yet still won’t listen to our tried and tested solutions. It’s cutting your nose off to spite your face.

Hit the ground runners only

“What is it you’re looking for”?

“I need someone who can hit the ground running”.

“Ok. What salary are you looking to pay”?

“Decent money”. But it’s not decent money for today. Although it was for 2002.

“How long have you been looking”?

“About 6 months”.

“What must they have as a bare minimum”?

“They must have a degree”.

This conversation…

…isn’t uncommon. But it’s crazy. It’d be the same logic as going into the housing market for a mansion with the budget for a 2 bed semi. I understand the idea of looking to only get the very best people, but sometimes it’s simply not realistic. Put your copy of Good to Great down and be a little more rational before getting ahead of yourself.

Hitting the ground running is great, but unless you are paying top dollar and get lucky you’ll be waiting a while and the chances are if you do find someone they won’t stay long. If you’re paying market rate get someone with transferable skills and fill in the gaps. Hire for the person whose committed and more of a long termer. Look for what they’ll have on day 101 rather than day 1.

Having someone with 10 years experience in doing the job well is better than a graduate with 2 years experience. A degree in reality in most subjects gives them 18 months to 3 years relevant skills that they would otherwise learn in that time. After that point go for the experience first and if in doubt give them a skills test at interview. You’ll soon know whether their experience is good or shabby.

Good recruitment strategies you should follow

A small number of good recruiters

Adding to the earlier “Have the right person oversee your company’s recruitment process” I also mentioned about working with a few good recruitment companies. Don’t have a huge number of agencies you partner with as it just pushes the fastest finger first approach. A good recruiter will need a little time to assess the market for both internal database people and new potential candidates. If you have 10 agencies all working on it, you’ll find not only the same CV’s sent, but the best people won’t be filtered from the worst and you’ll simply be bombarded with CV’s. Ask to meet the companies to test commitment, assess them and communicate your wants and needs. Then select which agencies to work with, with the mindset of partnering with those recruitment firms over a hiring campaign and with a vision to partner longer term.

Telephone interview first

This can also go for skype, but telephone interviews work better for a first stage. For Skype consider that candidates will want to be at home, they’ll want to get dressed up and look nice etc. For a telephone interview they could do it in their pyjamas or be on their lunch break. All you’re looking to do is work out whether you think it’s worth seeing them for a face to face. Plus, a telephone interview could be 15 minutes and at short notice. If you’re only going to do face to face interviews, they’ll need an hour plus travel time and that could take a week or so until you can interview them. It’s much better to telephone interview anyone who looks half decent off CV and get 10 or so under your belt before before arranging any face to face interviews.

Be Flexible for candidates

The more flexibility you can have for candidates to meet you for interview the more chance of hiring one of them. If you have one date for interview only and it’s that or bust, it’s fine if you have a wash of great candidates. However, if you’re struggling to find people, you’re making a rod for your own back. Someone else will make themselves available to interview them and that’ll make it look like that company wants the candidate more. Everyone loves to be wanted. So, you have to put yourself out to hire. Bad luck. If you want good people, make it happen. After all, how often are you planning on hiring if you are an SME?

Prioritise recruitment when recruiting

If a hiring manager is hiring in your company, then they need to have it among their priorities. And not just in lip service either. It needs to be by actions. Candidates will not hang around for long. It’s all about urgency. It needs to be communicated that whoever is handling recruitment moves quickly on people and that any other hiring managers involved in the process must follow suit. If it takes a week to come back on CV’s you have a problem. Have a 48 hour turnaround maximum on a response to CV’s.

Sum Up

It’s not complicated for an SME to be efficient. It is more about pragmatism, structure and urgency. The pragmatism concerns being realistic and solutions based when it comes to problems. Taking ownership or delegating ownership to someone capable and committed is important. The structure comes from getting a process which works and can work quickly. Again, it’s not complicated and doesn’t need to be. It just needs to work. Finally, urgency has to happen. Procrastinating and delaying is suicidal if you want to secure good people. You’re unlikely to be a dream destination for the talent unless you are a global brand. If you want any chance of getting there you need to get these things right first.

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