Top 6 tips from NRF President Frank Farrelly – How do SME’s compete for talent with Blue- Chip Companies.

The simple answer is that they should not compete directly, as larger employers have advantages based on scale or employer brand. Most forward thinking companies have been investing in their ‘Employer brands’ for year. You will not be able to replicate quickly, cheaply or most importantly authentically.


Nobody likes ‘fake’, we may buy ‘fake’ from time to time but we don’t treasure it or respect it. When we find out something is a fake after the fact then we feel betrayed, annoyed or embarrassed.


In an employment context where candidates have taken a job based on mistruths, withheld information or an unauthentic employer brand there will be high attrition. Furthermore, candidates will not be engaged fully while working causing further problems.


SMEs do have the advantages of being more nimble, responsive and they can make more timely decisions.


There are no magic bullets but there are steps you can follow.


Step 1 – ‘Be Authentic’, ‘Be Realistic’ and be prepared to invest time and money in developing and maintaining your ‘Employer Brand’.

Think of the Cost, Quality & Timeline triangle. Prioritise two of these and compromise on the third.  As I mentioned above, time to hire is where I would compromise.  I know sometimes you cannot be this strategic but recognise you should compromise elsewhere.


Step 2 – Write an original job specification. The job must have both the facts about the job and the story of the job.  It should include a piece on the employer.  It should include a ‘Call to action’ which differentiates it from other roles.  Talk to current employees about what they like, about what impact they make and how they make a difference to customers, colleagues or society every day.

Write it in the language that your target audience understands. Too many job specs are undecipherable and overloaded with adjectives!

It is important to benchmark your salary & benefits against the markets. Depending on the job, new tools or flexible work location will trump ‘fuss ball’ tables and sugary snacks.


Step 3 – Exhaust your own personal and professional networks. Everyone should know what a great opportunity you have.  Set up an employee referral program.  Leverage off Employees networks to get unique candidates.


Step 4 – Use other channels including advertising and recruitment companies who are NRF members. Recruitment Agencies have many advantages especially around their reach.  A specialist recruiter will provide you with timely access to more available talent than any other channel.

Agencies will also provide free advice on the job specification, labour market, benchmarked salaries/benefits, interview advice etc.


Step 5 – Win through your interview process.

  • Explain in advance to candidates what is required and who is involved. Don’t have too many interview stages or big gaps between interviews, if there are over 4 stages then have 2/3 on the same day. Once candidates commit to a process their focus is on the outcome.
  • Earn the right to ask.
  • Manage expectations. Put aside time in advance to interview, stick to it.
  • Have all stakeholders and a final decision maker identified in advance. Make decisions, as not deciding turns into the worst type of ‘No’ a candidate can get.
  • Provide timely feedback. This is the biggest complaints candidates have and bad experiences tend to be shared more than positive ones.


In recent years’ processes, have become too long. This has backfired on many companies.  Smaller companies who have the advantage of being nimbler can make impact here.


Step 6 – Mind your brand. The best way to start is to treat all applicants well and ask their permission to call them again if a more relevant position arises.  Treat them right and your network becomes more powerful.



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.