Guardian.co.uk – How to recruit the best graduates for small businesses

As first seen on the Guardian Website

SMEs are becoming popular among graduates seeking entry-level jobs. But without an HR department, how can small business owners go about recruiting?

In an anxious wait for signs of economic recovery, all eyes are on SMEs. Seen as the champions of UK growth, their leaders are among the most optimistic about the future. But there are barriers holding them back; not access to funding, but finding the right staff.

According to a recent report which polled SME leaders, the biggest barriers to growth were attracting employees with the right set of skills; finding talent in the local area; retaining employees; attracting top managerial talent, and ensuring that they have sufficient funds to take advantages of opportunities that may arise.

Rob Blythe, director of graduate recruitment firm Instant Impact, which specialises in working with SMEs, says: “Of all the issues facing small businesses today, the four biggest are not about cashflow or bank lending, but about people. And many of these companies, especially in the technology sectors, are growing rapidly and need skilled staff.”

Encouragingly, graduates are taking a keener interest in working for smaller firms. The employer rankings poll conducted by graduate job review website theJobCrowd.com is still dominated by large corporate employers, but a growing number of mid market companies are making the top 100.

Co-founder Keren Mitchell says: “Historically graduates have always aspired to join the big employers, because they have the recruitment marketing budgets to attract them. Now we are seeing more of the smaller companies coming through our lists, because they are offering the cultural and lifestyle benefits that graduates like, in lieu of the big salaries offered by the larger corporate, and while they may not run graduate training programmes, they can offer talented graduates a fast track route to a role with responsibility.”

So if the talent is keen and employers are willing, how can fast growing companies that often lack in-house HR functions and big recruitment budgets, attract and retain the quality candidates that they need?

Online video production company Diagonal View, based in central London, makes video channels that run on platforms such as YouTube and Facebook. It has used a combination of referrals, job boards and recruitment firms to fulfil its very specialist skills requirements.

Founder Matt Heiman says: “We started off with a team of 12 at the start of the year; we currently have 30 people, and by the start of next year we want to take another 20, but with new online video channels coming in all the time we need people faster than we can find them.

“We’ve tried various recruitment methods, but finding the very specific digital skills we need is always a challenge. To say it is just a lack of finance that is holding back growth in this sector is untrue. I would say good people are more important than good money.”

The SME market is one that the broader recruitment industry has never really explored, although the emergence of a number of specialist SME graduate recruitment agencies like Instant Impact suggests this could change. Many small firms focus on job boards, with lower advertising costs and a broad range of job sectors from general to niche.

Pimlico Plumbers, London’s largest independent plumbing company, employing around 200 people, uses job boards for all its recruitment needs.

HR director Dominic Ceraldi says: “Right now we are looking to bring in another 30 people, including engineers, accountants and call centre operators. We don’t want to outsource the process; another firm couldn’t understand our business as well as we do, and that is the key to finding the right people.”

The downside of using job boards is that the process has to be managed by the company. Pimlico Plumbers is well resourced, with a dedicated HR team, but for most small firms, the responsibility often falls to the founder.

The key to avoiding application overload is to be strategic, says Michaela Timmins, people manager at online accountancy firm Crunch Accounting in Hove, East Sussex. The firm employs 65 people and gets its best results through job boards.

“Choose job boards with similar jobs to the one you want to advertise. Ask whoever runs the board for details about how many candidates they have on file, and how much traffic they get. And really sell your vacancy so that it will appeal to prospective candidates with more than just a salary. Think about what they would be looking for in a role,” Timmins says.

Even so, the process of recruiting graduates through an online jobsite could overstretch the time resources of a fast growing small firm.

Could universities themselves be a possible solution? The problem is that the remit of the careers service varies between institutions. Those at the Universities of Kent, Surrey and Loughborough for example, have forged close links with SMEs in their local areas to help graduates explore the opportunities they are offering.

However, some don’t respond to direct requests for their graduates from local firms, as Cian Duggan, CTO of Carbon Credentials, discovered.

The company, which has offices in London and Farnham in Surrey, handles internal audits for CRC (Carbon Reduction Credits) returns for a growing number of business clients, and has been expanding rapidly. The team started with four employees, and within the last year have grown to 20.

Duggan says: “We have used job boards, and while the quality of the applications has been extremely good, the volume is just overwhelming. As a niche business looking for very specialist graduate skills, that can be a problem to deal with. We are using a recruitment firm, but we’ve also made a direct approach to some of the universities around London, with mixed results, some are very on the ball, but others didn’t reply at all.

“This is a high growth business sector, and at the rate we are expanding, we need access to a steady stream of graduate and postgraduate talent.”

• This article was amended on 25 October 2012. The original referred to Impact Interns instead of Instant Impact. This item has been corrected.

 


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