Small businesses and startups may be sitting on an untapped talent goldmine. A staggering 87% of the more than 26,000 professionals we surveyed earlier this year here at LinkedIn said they wanted to work at a company of 200 employees or less. And few in that cohort see themselves sticking around at their current employers; 58% think they’ll leave within two years, and 21% expect to be out the door within one. Those with aspirations to work at a small company are less satisfied with what they’re doing (66% versus 75% for those who aren’t interested in joining a small business), more open to hearing about a new job opportunity (94% versus 74%), and more active in the job market overall (40% versus 20%).
All this is great news if you’re a startup or small business looking for talent. And it makes sense for job seekers: Whatever small businesses may lack in brand recognition, celebrity leadership, or lavish benefits, they tend to make up for by offering employees close proximity to senior leaders and opportunities to get involved in more things than they might in a large corporation. That may give employees a clearer vision of their career growth.
With this in mind, here’s what it takes to connect with those job seekers, based on LinkedIn’s latest research.
Job seekers want to hear about what it’s like to work at your company, but a big reason why is to learn what that can do for their own careers. The people we surveyed who recently changed jobs told us the top reason they left was a lack of career opportunities and advancement (43%). The second biggest reason they left was for more challenging work (35%). As a small business, you can offer new hires the ability to touch many projects, wear several hats, work alongside top managers, and collect valuable experience they can take with them–or that you can put to good use if you entice them to stay.
Right now, “skills” is the name of the game. We’re constantly hearing about the “skills gap,” “emerging skills,” “skilling up,” and “soft skills.” That isn’t just hot air–it points to real demand in the labor market. People want to know they can build capabilities that will enrich their work lives and set them apart. So make sure you explain not just what it’s like to work with you, but what new hires can learn when they do–and how that can move their careers forward.
In LinkedIn’s survey, 39% of new hires said they were referred by someone they knew at the company. As a small company, you don’t have thousands of employees or the referring economy of scale that comes along with it, but that doesn’t have to be a liability. Take a page from Opower, a custom engagement platform for utilities (and, in full disclosure, a LinkedIn client). With the lure of free pizza and a $1,000 reward, the company instituted weekly lunches for employees and encouraged everyone to scour their contacts in search of a match for open jobs. Of the more than 160 jobs the company filled last year, only one was hired without an in-house referrer.
The great thing about this approach is that it can be consistent, informal, and fun at the same time. Don’t just send out an email periodically asking employees to refer their friends and contacts for open positions. Make asking for referrals part of your culture. Talk continuously about your open roles and the skills you’re looking to add to the business. Your employees might know people who aren’t a direct match but have transferrable skills.
Dissatisfaction with pay and benefits is one of the top three reasons people leave their jobs. If you’re looking to attract employees from bigger companies, your first step is to use widely available tools to do a little homework on how they’re paid for their skills, experience, and credentials. Then use those benchmarks to contextualize the offers you’re making.
Tammy Han, who helps find talent for companies funded by First Round Capital, a seed-stage investment firm, recommends being open about money from the start. Speaking to LinkedIn’s Talent Blog this month, Han suggests taking a systematic approach by offering market rates (in most cases) and explaining that to candidates explicitly.
This can help smaller companies avoid overpaying for talent they’re trying to lure from big corporations rather than going in blind. But it can also steer small employers toward more creative approaches to compensation. Naturally, you can’t match what every big player is paying, but you can think of other ways to incentivize top talent to make the jump–especially since so many professionals seem eager to do so in the first place.
Once you’ve shown you can offer a fair salary (even if it isn’t a lavish one), you can boost your offer with other things to put a candidate over the edge–like faster career progression, more hands-on experience, a bonus program tied to the company’s performance, or a flexible work schedule.
It’s expensive to hire new people–and even more expensive to hire and train them–then watch them leave after a year or two. If you can afford to hire great people who are simply looking for a stepping stone in their career, great. If not, you need to do more.
Ask your seasoned employees to explain exactly what they love about the company and what’s keeping them around. (And survey them repeatedly–answers may change over time.) Then make sure you communicate those reasons to potential new hires, or you use them as a barometer when you’re evaluating someone. Balsam Brands, for instance (also a client of ours), found out this way that employees who prioritize the company’s special team-plus-family getaways over a bonus are the type of people who do well there.
Small businesses typically worry they’re living in bigger companies’ shadows in the talent market, but our research suggests they may have a hidden edge. It turns out that small companies and startups can find driven professionals out there right now who want to work for them, and they’re ready to make a move soon–as long as it’s for the right reasons.
Wade Burgess is VP of talent solutions at LinkedIn.