This year I observed the usual trend of people handing in their notice January and February pushing recruitment into overdrive.  But for the first time since the GFC I’ve seen substantially fewer applications for roles, across the board.  Competition for great people is hotting up.

Fine for large businesses with bigger advertising budgets, more ‘in-your-face’ brands, sharper technology to minimise time and effort in the recruitment process or deep enough pockets so they can use agencies without having to do much at all.  But what if you’re a SME trying to compete for the same people?

I’ve had several quirky roles I’ve been assisting with and despite my ‘kick ass’ ads, applications are down, and believe me I’m known for advertising results!  In many cases we know the people are out there but unless they are ‘actively looking’ it is near impossible to get their attention.  Take the ‘Turf Maintenance’ vacancy I’ve had; helping to resurface golf courses and sports grounds.  It isn’t highly skilled, machine operation is the main criteria, and yes it would be good if they ‘got’ turf so that’s any greenkeeper.  It even pays higher than a greenkeeper’s salary (not hard) but to get in front of these people without shoulder tapping seems nigh impossible.  The fact that golf courses are my client’s potential customer makes it difficult to snaffle their staff plus they are a small business and don’t have the sort of budget ‘search’ takes.  In fact the employer has a very attractive proposition but how does a small business create a buzz and conversation around this when it seems very difficult to get in front of his audience?   

There aren’t any easy answers but perhaps more considerations that SMEs need to take into account.
  • Now more than ever it is important to have a really impactful ad.  The ad needs to be ‘candidate centric’ in that it spells out clearly what’s in it for the potential applicant, differentiates you clearly as an employer and answers the question why they would work for you, over anyone else.  At least this way you will attract the cream of the crop of those who are actively looking.
  • If it’s a part-time role go local.  What community notice boards can you use?  Use a short impactful ad with a QR code to direct them to the longer ad.  Heck it works for full-time too.
  • Referrals are more important than ever; we do this well in New Zealand but you can magnify your efforts through Facebook and LinkedIn… the right person may only be a couple of connections away, it’s not who you know, but who your connections know.  Involve your team, who do they possibly know?
  • Where can you tell a story about your company? It’s easy enough to have a dedicated careers page on your website and add team profiles to make it real.  However if your staff rave about you, get them to go to and spread the word. What your team says has authenticity, if they can put their hand on their heart and say the company is awesome then get them to put a short spiel and link to a specific ad on Facebook too.
  • Ads with video get a lot more views, it’s easy to attach to an ad, they’re not as dry and people often share them, if you do it really well there’s chance of it going viral.  Load it on your brand new super duper website careers page. 
  • What about an infographic? Yes I know you don’t have time but there are plenty of online outsourced design services with people that do.
  • Consider market mapping to help focus your efforts.  Where would your potential employee be?  Same or different industry?  Do you know of anyone respected worthy of approach?
  • If industry experience is necessary get involved in industry forums and extend your relationships.  Are there any industry sites where you can advertise outside of the traditional Seek, TradeMe and Indeed? 

March and April are traditionally slow times for recruitment as all the people who were keen to move (well the good ones) have already found jobs in January and February.  Frustratingly this year I believe it will be harder.