How to attract the best talent

I have long said that the recruitment sector is a good indicator of where our economy is heading. It is one of the first to suffer in a recession, as businesses cut down on hiring – and one of the first to pick up in a recovery. It is now predicted to surpass its pre-recession peak in terms of turnover, which is a clear indicator of how the job market is picking up.

For those small and medium sized enterprises which are the heartbeat of the economy, this is now a crucial time. Last week, Business Matters spoke about how SMEs can best retain their talent, as employees may be tempted to move jobs now that there is less uncertainty. But just as important as talent retention is talent attraction. A successful business is built on the passion and quality of the people within it, and getting the right people on board is the best way to drive a company forward.

What I often do at Hamilton Bradshaw is look for people rather than a specific job. When I find somebody who I believe has the ability and personality I am looking for, I create a role specifically for them. I do this several times a year and have found this to be the best way of taking my business to the next level.

A lot of SMEs worry that they will not be able to compete with the large corporates when it comes to hiring, but one of the biggest things a small business has going for it is the culture – by nature they are generally more flexible and entrepreneurial. If you can communicate this properly then you will be just as appealing to work for.

Word of mouth plays a key role here. If your current staff enjoy the working environment – which is often less bureaucratic than you’d find elsewhere – then you will find that their industry peers will sit up and take notice. Consider offering rewards for employee referrals. Not only does it encourage your current staff to network, which is always good practice, but it means people who come into the business will have a clear picture of exactly what it’s like to work for you.

Remember the recruitment process is an opportunity for you to really sell the benefits you offer. Working in a small business allows employees to take on more responsibility and be a lot closer to the decision making process – by emphasising this you will appeal to the ambitious nature of many people. Be clear in your job advert – who will they be reporting to? If it’s directly to management, this means they have the opportunity to learn from the very top, which is often a great selling point.

Some of the most talented people are the ones who don’t want to be fixed into a rigid career path. For example someone may not be suited to running an entire department, but may wish to instead manage a small team. This isn’t always possible in those companies where there is a strict route but working for an SME means they can customise their development.

When you start to receive applications and you see someone you like, invite the candidate to interview to ensure you don’t miss out on any talent. Carefully plan who is going to run the interview, what you are going to ask, and how you will sell the opportunity. Consider showing them around the office as part of the process and introduce them to the key people.

Recruitment is a critical activity for any organisation. But by communicating the unique values you have as a small company and the opportunities you can offer, attracting the right person for your role should become easier.


James Caan

James Caan CBE is one of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs. He made his fortune through the global success of his Recruitment companies, Alexander Mann and Humana International, before founding private equity firm Hamilton Bradshaw in 2004. He is best known for joining the panel of the hit BBC show Dragons’ Den, and more recently, The Business Class on CNBC. A passionate supporter of small businesses, James chairs the Government’s Start Up Loans scheme, which provides funding and mentoring to budding entrepreneurs.

About James Caan

James Caan CBE is one of the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs. He made his fortune through the global success of his Recruitment companies, Alexander Mann and Humana International, before founding private equity firm Hamilton Bradshaw in 2004. He is best known for joining the panel of the hit BBC show Dragons’ Den, and more recently, The Business Class on CNBC. A passionate supporter of small businesses, James chairs the Government’s Start Up Loans scheme, which provides funding and mentoring to budding entrepreneurs.