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Three things all SMEs need to look for when recruiting

By Barney Ely, Director of Hays Human Resources

With fewer people working on projects, less rigidly defined roles and colleagues all pulling-together when needed, there is often a unique sense of team-spirit that comes with working in a small-to-medium sized business (SME), resulting in a more unified workplace culture.

However, this culture could very easily be disrupted if you were to hire the wrong person. Therefore it’s important that you find talent who not only fits, but thrives within your team. In our experience, there are certain traits which are universally important to employers of all sizes, but tend to be particularly important when hiring for an SME:

1. A strong, genuine interest in your organisation

As mentioned, in an SME there are less people to help the business reach its goals, and thus there are undoubtedly going to be times where employees are expected to go outside the confines of their job description.

You therefore need to recruit professionals who are passionate enough about the business to proactively go above and beyond their role for the good of the company. So, when you’re next interviewing potential recruits, try asking them the below questions to determine their genuine interest in your company:

  • What X things appeal to you most about working here?
  • What do you think sets us apart from our competitors?
  • Given what you know about our company, why do you think you would be a good fit?
  • Describe the last time you were asked to assist in an area outside your job description. What was the result?

There are other key signs you can look out for during the interview process to help you determine how interested a candidate really is in your company. For example, a genuinely interested candidate will likely arrive for an interview armed with plenty of knowledge about where your company is headed and its journey so far. They’ll have prepared intelligent questions to ask you. They may even bring their own ideas to the table.

It’s not just what the candidate says that helps you determine their genuine interest and engagement with your company though; how they say it is equally insightful. Make a conscious effort to read their body language – if they gesticulate, smile as they talk and make eye-contact, then they are probably excited about what you do as a business. And if they appear nervous – remember that this may well be because they really want the job. In this situation, do everything you can to put them at ease, such as nodding and encouraging them as they answer your questions. After all, nerves are preferable to a candidate who is aloof, folds their arms and sits back in their chair!

2. A desire to continuously upskill

Lifelong learning (i.e. ongoing, personalised education in the workplace, as opposed to one-off training) is becoming a bigger part of how businesses upskill and evolve their employees alongside rapid digital transformations. And whilst larger corporates may have the budget to equip every employee with state-of-the art, personalised and up-to-the-minute training programmes, few SMEs have the same resources.

One of the ways you can still compete is to hire those candidates who have a proactive approach to their personal learning. There is a free podcast, article, webinar or YouTube tutorial for almost everything nowadays. You just need to be hiring people with a proactive self-learning mind set who will take advantage of such resources. To determine their attitude to self-learning, ask questions such as:

  • When and how was the last time you learnt a new skill?
  • Can you tell me about an interesting new trend relating to your area of expertise?
  • How do you make sure you keep your knowledge up-to-date?

3. Priorities that match those of your business

SMEs can often struggle to match the budgets of large corporates not just when it comes to training, but also in terms of material rewards, such as salary, bonuses and benefits.

Therefore, when hiring, lookout for those candidates who place importance on all the great things you, as an SME, are in a strong position to offer. This could range from your open and engaging company culture, through to a sense of purpose and passion for what you do, the chance to take on new areas of responsibility or clear progression paths. Here are some questions you could ask to gauge where a candidate’s priorities lie:

  • Why are you looking for a new role?
  • What matters to you most when looking for an employer?
  • What motivates you to perform?
  • What engages you with a business?

In asking the above questions, you are able to more easily identify the candidates who want to stay and progress within your business, and won’t be easily swayed should they get approached by an attractive counter offer from their current employer.

The questions that the candidate asks you during the interview can also give you an insight into what their true motivations are, particularly if they ask more about the opportunity itself than the material perks.

Whilst the implications of a wrong hiring decisions will be heavily felt in an SME, so are the implications of getting it right. The above advice should help you find that person who can slot right into your business, contribute strong ideas and initiatives, and help power your business forward.

About this author

Barney joined Hays in 1993 as a business graduate and is now Director for Hays Human Resources. Barney also has operational responsibility for Hays offices across the South of England, placing professionals in over 20 industry sectors covering everything from accountancy and finance to construction, IT education and healthcare.

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