In a recent survey of over 42,000 employers, a full 40 percent reported difficulties in filling open job positions. Bridging the skills gap is not a new challenge, of course, but it may be a growing one; that's the highest number in a decade.

For small and medium-sized businesses, this problem can be exacerbated by having to recruit against industry Goliaths that seemingly grow more powerful by the day -- or even against rivals that simply enjoy stronger name recognition. It's not just that job applicants are drawn by the prospect of putting a prestigious name on their resume -- although that's certainly a factor.

The established players are perceived as more stable choices for employment. They tend to pay competitively, and, especially in the case of the younger giants, often offer progressive perks.

What's a small company to do? Here are five ways to gain an edge when competing for your star talent of tomorrow:

1. Proactively identify opportunities for growth.

One of the primary reasons that employees leave one company for another is to pursue a more defined path for growth. Building out your employee development program can help you win and, critically, retain top talent.

While smaller companies are generally more nimble than industry behemoths, a flatter org chart can also be prohibitive for candidates looking to climb the job title ladder. Growth shouldn't just be about title, though; identify the opportunities that motivate your prized candidates -- and also examine the current arc of your employees.

Are they leaving with expanded skill sets? Why are they leaving?

While you may or may not have the resources for perks like tuition reimbursement or extensive conferences and certifications, a smaller company likely offers more opportunity to learn new skills on the fly, and to take on new responsibilities and wear different hats out of necessity.

2. Focus on candidate experience.

For all their perks, Goliaths sometimes grind candidates through the gears of a grueling application process -- repetitive data entry, needlessly relentless questions, sometimes even requests for sensitive information like Social Security numbers. Then, when candidates jump through all the hopes, they are often met with silence.

When the hiring process feels like an obstacle course, talented candidates will drop off at each cumbersome step. Workpop data suggests, for example, that candidates are 28 percent less likely to remain active candidates if they don't receive a personal response from the prospective employer within 24 hours of application. Smaller companies may be able to take advantage by offering a more personalized candidate experience, from application to onboarding.

3. Offer access to mentors.

Your competitors may have more star power at the top of the org chart, whether it's a "star" who's only known in certain industry circles or a genuine global celebrity like Elon Musk. But how much access will a new hire really have to the C-suite?

Offering the prospect of learning from a legend is a powerful recruiting tool, but not every new hire can be a protege. In many larger companies, interactions between top-level executives and the rank-and-file may be limited to company-alls in cavernous conference halls, or chance encounters in the elevator.

Smaller companies should have an easier time smashing silos and ensuring that new hires and younger employees have opportunities to forge mentorships and benefit from the guidance and experience of the executive team. 93 percent of startup leaders cite mentorships as a factor in driving success.

Even if you don't have a renowned titan of industry presiding over your boardroom, you can get job candidates excited about mentorship opportunities by highlighting the unique expertise and experiences of your executive team.

4. Tell a better story.

Don't stop at the top. Use your careers page to the story of your whole company, and paint a picture of what it's like to work there day in and day out. Candidates want to know about company culture, but fewer than half feel like companies adequately communicate this information.

The candidate spends most of the hiring process in the hot seat; this is your chance to pitch your company to them. What makes your company unique? Go beyond surface perks like free snacks, and get into why your team is excited to come to work in the morning.

5. Be extra-flexible.

Even some traditionally slow-to-change industries and corporations are catching on to the importance of flexibility in recruiting and retention. But it remains a low- or no-cost way to even the playing field against a deeper-pocketed competitor.

Yes, employees want great insurance and great insurance is cost-prohibitive, but most of the other most-sought benefits are related to flexibility -- and some of these perks, like unlimited vacation time, can even wind up saving employers money.

Published on: Sep 6, 2017
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