Small businesses can't match the likes of Google in budget or branding. But you can steal this search-giant recruiter's best tips on snagging top talent.
With its free meals, company ski trips, and sky-high brand recognition, Google is a magnet for top talent. Your little start-up or small business...not so much. Plus, Sergey Brin & Co. have the deep pockets to employ the finest recruiters. You're still counting pennies and sifting through resumes yourself. It may not seem like a fair fight, but Michael B. Junge, a recruiter for Google and author of Purple Squirrel, is aiming to level the playing field a bit. He trolled through his long experience working with top companies to offer Inc. a handful of recruiting tips tailored to smaller businesses seeking to hire the best and the brightest:
Recognize the inherent strengths of the amateur. "Non-pros make plenty of resume reading and interview mistakes, but they can do some interesting things right as well," says Junge. "Veteran recruiters often get stuck searching for the perfect profile, while the inexperienced are more likely to take action on candidates who don’t fully meet the predefined requirements. Resumes are an imperfect reflection of the people they represent. An off-center candidate can turn out to be a fantastic find, and on-paper perfection doesn’t always translate into a real world fit. Sometimes the only way to figure it all out is take the initiative and have a conversation." Small business owners have the flexibility to listen to their gut and take a leap.
Be a language detective. It's easy to type out an impressive resume, but can a candidate really do what he claims he can? "An experienced eye is far more likely to pick up on the subtle signs of incongruence," says Junge. "Pros are also more likely to recognize language-based clues that may help to predict the performance of a particular applicant." So how can you acquire these advanced resume evaluation skills? Junge reveals one of the pros' techniques:
"An old mentor used to drill home the distinction between 'passive' and 'active' language. He claimed there was a significant difference in the productivity of people who described their work in terms of accomplishments and results compared to those who talked about responsibilities and duties. To this day, I'm much more likely to call someone who has designed, built, delivered, initiated, earned than someone who has been 'tasked with' or 'responsible for.' As an employer, it makes sense to focus on people who want to deliver and perform, not those who feel like they have to."
Make being small work for you. You might be small but you can still compete for talent. How? "Be unique," suggests Junge. "If you don't have an abundance of resources, going head to head with those who do isn't a great idea. They’ll always have deeper pockets and bigger perks. Fortunately, you don’t need a ton of money or a big brand to build a compelling employment story. What you do need is a clear picture of the talent you're hoping to attract, an understanding of what they value, and a willingness to create an environment where their goals and ambitions can be fulfilled in a way that’s not possible elsewhere."
Don't believe the social media hype. "Aside from LinkedIn, I haven’t fully bought into social media as a serious tool for recruiting and hiring. Not yet, anyway," says Junge, pointing to a recent study by CareerXroads that showed only 3.5 percent of total hiring was attributed to social media in 2011 as evidence. So don't stress out about whether you're using social media enough in your hiring process. That being said, Junge concedes that LinkedIn is "an immensely practical resource for employers and job seekers alike," especially HR pros who use it to "seek, identify, validate, and connect with interesting talent, especially for those seeking candidates with hard-to-find and niche skill sets."
Swap keywords for attributes. (Oh, and have fun.) "Every role in a small business comes with a unique set of requirements. You can try and boil these down to key words, but hiring should really be about the attributes and skills that are likely to make someone successful on the job," says Junge. "Taking the time to think about the goals and expectations for each position and how these translate into tangible skills can make a big difference. Once you know what you’re hoping to accomplish it’s much easier to devise strategies for assessing the suitability of individual applicants."
Also, look for signs that, on some level at least, the candidate is enjoying the hiring process, whether it involves logic puzzles for engineers or a creative candidate's explanation of her portfolio. "It's not just objective performance or skills that should be assessed, but also subjective traits like attitude and enthusiasm. Ideally you want to find people who thrive on tackling the sort of challenges the job is likely to bring and find the process enjoyable. If an applicant genuinely has fun being tested or demonstrating their skills, that can tell you a lot about what to expect from them six months or a year down the line."
Is your business playing to its strengths when hiring talent?
JESSICA STILLMAN is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist. @EntryLevelRebel