March 15 2019 10:00 AM

Competing for talent with larger firms does not automatically put you at a disadvantage.

Is bigger always better? Not necessarily when it comes to recruiting talent. Today’s job seeker is looking for more in a new position than just how big a company is. Just as David killed the giant with a strategic blow to the head, small companies can beat their larger competition by knowing their strengths — and the competition’s weaknesses.

A quick scan of job postings will confirm that the competition for talented professionals is fierce. As the saying goes, “The war for talent is over … and the talent won.” With next to full employment, most candidates, including entry-level workers, have more career options than ever before. That means companies have to up their game to fill their open positions.

This represents a unique challenge for the green industry as over half of it is comprised of small businesses. Competing for talent against companies with bigger name recognition and fatter recruiting budgets can feel like a David versus Goliath scenario. But it doesn’t need to be that way.

Savvy small business leaders can create compelling offerings to candidates, but they need to be proactive and carefully plan their approach. Here are five tips that can help you bag that highly coveted talent.

1. Maximize your network. Small businesses are often well connected locally. Don’t underestimate your network — and if you don’t have one start developing one.

You can get the word out about openings through your membership in green industry and other business associations. Teaming up with other small businesses can be a great way to leverage your efforts, particularly with companies that are hiring in different areas than you traditionally hire in. This allows you to expand your reach.

Always be on the lookout for great talent even if you don’t have a need for it right then and there. Establish relationships and build a pipeline of talented individuals before you need them. This requires a longer view and some care and feeding, but it pays off in big dividends. Encourage your executive team to do the same. Recruiting is a team sport and everyone needs to play a position to win in this game.

A recent green industry client took this advice to heart. While we were searching for a national sales manager, we found several candidates that were not quite a fit for that position but would be ideal as regional sales managers. By treating them respectfully and providing a great hiring experience they were left with a good impression of the company. The hiring leader kept in touch with these two candidates, connecting with them on social media and occasionally checking in. Three months later, when they were ready to hire a regional sales manager, there were already two great candidates in the pipeline ready and waiting. This is a great example of hiring for the future in a competitive market.

Another network to cultivate is early-career talent. Consider local schools and universities as a feeder source. A well-planned internship program can provide you with a great pool of candidates who are already familiar with your company. It will give you a leg up when these candidates graduate and enter the job market.

2. Turn employees into talent ambassadors. Statistics show that employee referrals are your best recruiting resource, shortening the time to-hire interval and providing the highest quality potential hires.

Turn your employees into talent ambassadors by equipping them with the right tools for sharing your available openings. Here are a few specific steps to get your employees thinking like talent ambassadors:

  • Start small and pick a handful of people who are passionate about your company and its mission.
  • Quantifying your employee value proposition.
  • Empower your talent ambassadors to post about your company on social media. A mix of job posting information and authentic content about your company will provide a nice balance.
  • Once you get some traction with your core team, build on that success. Have your talent ambassadors enlist the support of others in the company in getting the word out.

If you don’t already offer incentives for employee referrals, consider this an opportunity. Studies show that even small forms of recognition, including those that are nonmonetary, get employees excited about referring candidates. After all, who doesn’t want to work with their friends?

3. Create a unique social media footprint. A study by recruiting technology firm iCIMS stated that over 50 percent of job seekers are using social media to learn about potential employers. For a small company, social media is a great tool to highlight your unique culture and stand out from the crowd. Sharing your company’s values and mission can attract candidates that might be drawn to those things.

For example, the green industry is well positioned to compete with other industries that may not be as environmentally friendly. Sustainability and environmental awareness are values that resonate with candidates and attract a larger talent pool.

On the other hand, small businesses can overlook negative social media reviews and posts due to a lack of resources or an understanding of their impact. Make sure you are proactively managing your social media message. If left unattended, the most negative voices will drive the narrative.

4. Highlight career and professional growth opportunities. Nobody enjoys a boring job. This has never been truer than with the millennial workforce. A key competitive advantage of a small business over a larger one is the opportunity to wear multiple hats. Small companies inherently embrace employees playing different roles and stretching themselves in different areas; this is compelling to many job seekers.

Make sure you are specific about what this looks like in various roles and provide examples. This will capture a candidate’s imagination and attention more than the typical vague statement most companies put out there such as, “We encourage employee growth.” Show them what that means.

In addition to having broader roles for their employees, small companies have less bureaucracy and typically make decisions quicker. It’s exciting to a candidate to understand the impact he or she can make on a business by having the flexibility to make decisions and have visibility across an organization.

5. Retain the employees you already have. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Companies that do a great job of developing and retaining their employees don’t have to spend a lot of time and effort on recruiting. Retaining and developing employees that are already contributing to your business is one of the best strategies for competing with the big companies.

Lastly, move quickly in the hiring process. This is another competitive advantage that small companies have over larger ones. Big organizations often make a candidate face six or even more interviewers before a decision is made. An organization that is willing to act fast on a good candidate has a big advantage.

If these tips feel daunting, start small and pick one area to concentrate on. But don’t let the week go by without committing to be proactive in your recruiting strategy. With some focus and creative thinking, your company can become a “giant killer” when it comes to competing for great talent against bigger — but not necessarily better — companies.

Kate Kjeell is president of TalentWell, a recruiting firm that specializes in helping small and mid-sized businesses find and hire the right people to enable them to thrive. The firm’s approach can be described in three words: find, fit, flourish. She can be reached at