All of our SME clients find it difficult to compete with larger businesses for talent.  Whether it’s attracting graduates out of university or retaining mid-level managers, it’s a challenge for smaller organisations to offer breadth of opportunities compared to large-scale multi-nationals, at least ‘on paper’ anyway.

So what can smaller companies do to attract and retain talent?


Having spent 20 years of my career in HR and recruiting, including working for SMEs, I thought I share some of my insights:


  1. 1. Play to your strengths – probably the most important tip on the list. Think about what you are really good at from a people perspective and make sure that it comes across loud and clear to your prospective and current employees. If home-working is part of your offering, then ensure that you talk about it in the careers section of your website, through the recruitment process and to existing employees. Sometimes you have to remind current employees of the non-financial benefits of working for you too.


  1. 2. Promote your culture – culture/fit/values play an increasingly important role in career decisions – to join and/or to stay…?  Again, showcase your culture through video story-telling and testimonials. Being able to demonstrate that your culture runs deep into your organisation is important, and something that larger firms struggle with.


  1. 3. Don’t compete on salary – think about your employer value proposition (EVP): an EVP is all the different reasons an employee should join your company; the experiences and the package. Talent will often choose better career development offered by a smaller company over a higher salary offered by a larger organisation. Capture these elements and build them into consistent messaging that you can use in your internal and external communications.
  1. 4. Dare to be different – the beauty of being a smaller organisation is that you can more easily introduce new HR initiatives; think creatively about how you engage candidates. For example try new technologies to save time or collaborating with other companies in your industry to solve industry specific talent shortages. For example, enrolling talent on open programmes with other organisations to help save money – see the Ignite Development Programme as a great example.


  1. 5. Involve the right people – direct involvement of senior staff in the hiring process creates a compelling and more personal recruitment experience. Equally, using senior leaders internally for mentorship and networking is incredibly powerful.


  1. 6. Don’t get complacent – you may have a small HR team and HR initiatives can feel like hard work, but you need to continually evolve your efforts to attract and retain talent. Without a team of quality employees, most businesses cannot deliver the products and services to sustain customers. A good strategy is to make recruitment and retention part of everyone’s job description – literally write it into every employees objectives.


  1. 7. Use digital – business has gone digital, and so has HR. I know changes are hard to keep up with, but with the right mind-set it can offer small businesses a way to do things more effectively: for example, by providing access to new talent pools (via social media), quicker ways to assess candidates in recruitment (eg online assessment, video interviewing, predictive screening) and access to learning resources for existing talent (I-tunes University, Google Squared, MOOCS).


For more insights on recruitment and development from Katherine Travell, CEO, Futureboard Consulting, follow her on Linkedin at: or 0203 179 4501.