How to hire top talent as a mid-sized business

Ronan Consulting Group has being doing a lot of recruiting work recently. Though we don't focus on selling recruiting services, when there are roles our clients need to fill in order for our initiatives to be successful we will source those roles in many cases.

We consistently need to answer the question: How does a smaller company compete with larger companies for top talent? Over time, I think we've found a few good answers.

There are a few more complicated ways to find good people I'll cover in a later post. Today we will look at how to fill senior-mid-manager and senior positions by hiring people from larger companies. 

Things to do now

1. (easy) Ignore every article you see about millenials. They are all wrong. Recruiting high-value millenials isn't that different than recruiting any high-talent person. The term "millenials in the workplace" is, 9 times out of 10, a thinly veiled complaint about how things aren't what they used to be. In reality, employee expectations have shifted across the board. This is going to feel strange for a lot of SMB CEOs. But it is what it is and, ultimately, if you want to be able to hire the best people you'll need to make some adjustments to be able to compete for them.

2. (easy) Have someone independently look at titles in you organization and re-align them to the norms of the industry. Titles carry more weight in larger organizations and will matter to new people you bring in. It will also communicate seniority more accurately and help avoid miscommunication about responsibility down the road

3. (hard) Start to realign current HR policies that deal with flexibility. It is likely new employees are going to negotiate more for flexibility than for pay. The problem is that giving one person more flexibility than others in is much more visible than paying them more and it is more likely to cause consternation with current staff. Save yourself the headache and begin implementing low-cost, low-impact flexibility standards to everyone ahead of time. Examples can include more forgiving work-from-home policies, reducing the years of service required for more vacation time, and liberalizing part-time work arrangements like 3 or 4 days per week.

Things to do during the search

1. (medium) Really think about the type of work the new person needs to do and make parallels to other industries and lines of work. A good search is going to need to be broad. Locking yourself into narrow industries or roles is unlikely to yield the most qualified pool of candidates. As an example, for a high-end hardware manufacturer, we looked to design-heavy industries like jewelry, fashion, and luxury automotive. We found a great candidate who would not have been on our radar if we had stayed in construction, architecture, or manufacturing - all of which appear to be more directly related.

2. (harder than it sounds) Use a rigorous, consistent interview process. We start every applicant with a short phone screen. This is the airport test and to make sure their experience is likely a good fit. The next step is a thorough in-person interview that gives us insight into how the person thinks, works, and interacts with peers. This should contain at least one "case study"-like discussion. I will cover my thoughts on this in a separate post. They are extensive.

3. (easy) Ideally find at least three good candidates to interview but don't make this too much of a constraint. If you find the perfect person, they crush the interview process, and you think you can make the role attractive enough for them to accept, don't play around. The right person can and does come around on the first try sometimes. Trust your instinct when it happens. If you're not sure, then have at least three candidates to compare against each other. But don't feel like you need to hire one of them. If your perception of the role evolves or none of the candidates seem like they fit, keep looking. Making the wrong hire is bad for everyone and is painful to recover from - it's better to just extend the recruiting process.

4. (medium) Be open about the company and encourage your people to be very transparent about what it's like to work there. If most people come in at 7:30 and leave at 8, tell them. If the role has turned over a lot, tell them. If they are going to need to shoestring some tools together where they probably have very sophisticated tools at their current job, tell them. There's no sense in getting a great person and having the role and company not match what you told them during the interview process. That always ends badly.


If you do these things you are guaranteed to find the right person and keep them forever.*


*This does not represent a guarantee. There is no substitute for good judgement.

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