Top 10 Tips for SMEs on Finding the Right Talent

As part of our Breakthrough Programme, Santander recently hosted an ‘HR Best Practice’ masterclass, to bring together thought leaders to share best practices on how to successfully recruit, reward, retain and build talent.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the speakers at ‘HR Best Practice’ masterclass.

  1. Always be on the lookout for future talent. As an SME your needs and size will evolve and you don’t want to stop operations during those crucial moments just because you may not have the right skills within your business. It’s important that when you network you consider how each person you meet may play a role in your company in the next 5 months or 5 years. Adopt a forward-looking talent management plan. The key is to never stop recruiting or looking for talent – even when you’ve filled up all your open positions.
  2. Keep all interview experiences positive. Make sure interviews are a positive process, even for candidates that don’t get hired. An unqualified candidate now may be a qualified candidate in six months’ time. If an applicant is unsuccessful but had a positive experience, then perhaps when asked about the interview, they may reply ‘You know, I wasn’t qualified but it’s a great company to work for – you should apply’. From the moment an applicant enters your office, remember you too are trying to sell your company’s values, brand and culture.
  3. Wait for the right person. Don’t be afraid to leave a position vacant if you feel that you haven’t interviewed the right candidate. Often, SMEs interview many people and pick the best out of the bunch due to pressure to fill the vacancy. Picking the right candidate is important - don’t risk having to let a candidate go or having a candidate quit after the first six months. Waiting for the right person can save you resources, hours of training, productivity and affects your bottom-line.
  4. Don’t be afraid to create vacancies for outstanding candidates. Imagine that you’ve interviewed a great candidate who understands your company’s vision, but due to their skill-set isn’t qualified for the role you were looking for. Don’t dismiss the opportunity. How else could they improve your operations or add value? As an SME you have the flexibility to create a role for outstanding talent.
  5. Remind successful candidates what skills you liked about them and engage them early. When you tell a candidate why you chose them and you point out the skills and value you think they can add, you’re more clearly defining the role and expectations.
  6. SMEs have the opportunity to be flexible. This is a characteristic that can help you recruit like-minded candidates. Be flexible and invite a promising candidate to spend a day in the office. This way your team can get to meet the candidate and it gives you the opportunity to collect feedback about how  the candidate works with the team. SMEs have unique work cultures, this is a chance to show it and at the same time make sure that candidates work well within your culture. You may also want to show flexibility by conducting a video interview via a Google hang-out. Perhaps because of your office locations, this is something your employees already do on a day-to-day basis. Let the employee know about your flexible work options – it’s a benefit.
  7. Use social media to reach candidates. Gone are the days of job adverts. Think about how you can use social media to engage the right people. For example, use your company YouTube page to create a behind the scenes video of your graduate scheme programme. If you’re in the manufacturing industry you may create a ‘how to get a job in manufacturing’ segment and encourage people to learn more about your company. Your senior management could create a thought leadership piece and explain what sets your company apart in your industry. Or through LinkedIn you could invite good candidates to a meet and greet of your senior leadership.
  8. Make learning a part of your culture. Learning increases employee job satisfaction and keeps them engaged. As an SME, how can you make learning part of the process and not an item on a to-do list? When upwards promotion isn’t possible due to the size of your organisation, it’s important to keep your employees engaged and learning. One way to do this is by encouraging them to work in different parts of the business or have them try working in a different location.
  9. Find your brand and recruitment ambassadors. In every organisation, there are key employees who are the voice of the larger workforce and champion your business. Find these people and nurture them so that they continue to be great company ambassadors both externally and internally.
  10. Train people how to manage others. People often leave organisations due to poor management. An effective manager sets clear goals and engages employees. Apart from training your leaders to be good managers, it’s important that when you’re interviewing candidates you also look for good managers. All interviews should focus on real-life management and behaviours – don’t just focus on the skills-based interviews.

Speakers at the Breakthrough HR masterclass: Jon Taylor, Principal EMW LLP; Rob Ashcroft, People & Talent Learning and Development, Santander; Francis Goss, Commercial Director, Grass Roots; Theresa Westcott, Specialist Resourcing Manager, Santander and Roxana Siebert, Attraction & Strategy Manager, Santander.


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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK