What SMEs should look for when recruiting

by: September 9, 2014

In business there’s an extraordinarily wide variance in recruitment philosophy. At one end of the spectrum there are those who look for the people with the quickest availability and the lowest cost, generally with some attempt to determine whether candidates have the ability and attitude to do the job to an acceptable level.  At the other end, there are those who are willing to invest significant time, resource and skills with the goal of finding exceptionally talented people who will do outstanding jobs, grow with the business and help drive the business forward.

The latter type of recruit may well cost more and of course the recruitment process may be more expensive short-term, but that additional investment will rapidly become insignificant compared to the return and value-add that the great employee will deliver.
Business owners and directors who fully recognise the critical importance of recruitment will first make sure that they, and everyone else involved in the recruitment process, are properly trained in appropriate areas of recruitment and selection.  That said, the first step will be to clearly define the role and the specification of the person that they are seeking, both in terms of essential and desirable criteria.
Degrees or not, quality and length of experience, GCSEs/A Levels, NVQs and so on are generally fairly easy to define although prone to subjectivity and worth challenging. With experience, these types of criteria can be fine tuned over time – a process of continual improvement so essential to medium and long term business success.
In most roles however, what’s more important than whether for example someone got a 1st or a 2:2 or indeed a degree at all, is the skills, experience and attitude they bring with them. It’s in determining those that the skilled recruiter makes the big difference.
In a very successful SME that I ran some years ago, we used behavioural criteria to help us determine what soft skills/personality traits we wanted in the people we recruited.  We had a core set of criteria which had the acronym PRE-EMPT; professionalism, responsiveness, energy, enthusiasm, motivation, positivity, and tenacity.   Dependent on the role, we’d identify other criteria that were important such as team-work, judgement, and initiating action.
On top of that one can define skill sets that are important to the role such as written communication, financial management and relationship building.  The recruitment process can then be designed around identifying these skills and behaviours; whether that’s in the questions that are asked in interviews or the work related exercises that candidates are asked to carry out.
There are no small cogs in an SME: the impact everyone can make is massive, so getting recruitment right is a critical first step.  Never forget also to be on the look-out for a left field candidate – one who doesn’t meet all the criteria but you know is outstanding.  I will always remember a candidate who didn’t fit the defined mould in several areas, but became the top sales person consistently, year after year.
In a smaller more dynamic business you have the benefit of not having to religiously follow process, so use your own judgement to break the mould from time to time. 

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Paul is Zonata's founder and MD. He has a true passion for business and is massively excited by the opportunities that Zonata provides for its clients and partners. He loves helping owner-managed businesses be exceptionally successful, and enjoys the phenomenal quality of the people who work with him.

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