Recruitment: finding the ideal candidate

Let’s say you’re a small business owner or manager, and things are going well – too well, in a sense. Your current customers are giving you so much work that it’s harder than ever to keep all those plates spinning. Administration and sales in particular are starting to suffer because you and your dedicated crew are too busy on core business activities. Things are all right for now, but only just.

You decide that you want to bring in extra help (let’s assume outsourcing isn’t an option). But do you look for someone who can cover both admin and sales, or focus on one of these areas first?

This is a classic recruitment conundrum for small business owners and managers.

In my experience, many people facing this challenge try to fill the gaps with one person. This is totally understandable, and may indeed work in some instances, but you may be asking too much to find an individual who can do both things well. Or you may end up with someone who isn’t as high calibre as you would like, which is a missed opportunity.

What’s in it for you

Recruitment is one of the most important processes in any organisation, regardless of its size. Yes, I know, a recruitment manager would say that. But think about it: in small businesses, where a new person may increase headcount by 100%, getting it right can have a profound positive impact from day one.

Hiring new people is a straightforward way to raise the capacity and quality of your team and improve the combined skill set in your organisation. It’s a far easier and cheaper way to do these things than training and development programmes (which are worthwhile too in certain circumstances, but that’s another blog topic).

In other words, recruitment is a golden opportunity for small business owners and managers to change their businesses for the better. So investing time, and potentially money, in the process is worthwhile.

What’s in it for them?

It’s easy, however, to fall into the trap of thinking too much about what you need somebody to do, rather than what potential candidates might want to do. Thinking about what’s in it for them is critical to attracting the right person.

It’s important to remember this: recruitment is a two-way street. I have found that many people who haven’t been involved in the recruitment process think that the employer holds all the power. The truth is that good candidates have options.

Taking the scenario above a bit further, you may have enough revenue to support only one new person. But admin and sales are usually two distinct roles. High quality candidates who are building careers in either area might be put off by a job that combines them. So instead of getting candidates with strong skills and good experience, you’re more likely to get novices, generalists or people who are looking for interim jobs.

Of course, a jack-of-all-trades or someone straight out of school may be perfectly competent and fine for your specific needs at that time. Make sure that you hire them for these reasons, though, rather than to fill the role quickly because it’s causing so much pain.

Generally speaking, finding someone who at least comes close to being the ideal candidate will mean accepting a bit more short-term pain for greater long-term gain. But they are worth it.

Focus your search

So, in the situation described above, I’d suggest you make a call. If the most severe grief is in admin, and the most potential benefit would come from having someone lift this burden from your shoulders, then focus on hiring an admin person. If you do that, then you are more likely to get high quality admin candidates. People like this tend to deliver more value to an organisation over time.

Even if you haven’t got enough admin work to fill a full-time position initially, but are keen to grow, it can be better in the long run to get a high calibre person in for that role rather than aim for a generalist. For one thing, once they are on board, they may be willing to try their hand at other things as part of their development.

Whichever way you go – for broad or focused roles – it’s important to create a clear image of the ideal candidate before you start looking.

The ideal candidate

Once you know the kind of role you want filled, and what it involves, take time to flesh out the ideal candidate. Building a profile has many benefits, including defining key attributes and skills, ideal experience and desired or required training. It also helps you to determine:

  • What they might be looking for in a new job, what might trigger them to move, and how your job might be tailored to suit them.  For a basic example, people pursuing an IT career tend to want more in-demand technologies on their CV. This isn’t often the case for salespeople
  • What the target pool of candidates looks like, as well as what media they consume and where they meet up, in person or online. This enables you to plan how you might get your job ad in front of them
  • How you can best position your business and describe the role when you market the opportunity. There are lots of job ads out there saying similar things, so being focused and creative will help yours to cut through. It can also help reduce the number of unsuitable applicants, as they self-select out based on your precise information

Profile builders

To help you with this process there are tools to help with building a candidate profile. When filling out a candidate profile, remember that you don’t need to know all the details. Use the tool to help clarify what you are looking for in a candidate and guide your search. Complete what you can, making things as accurate and realistic as possible.

You may not find someone who fits the profile perfectly, but if you end up with a few candidates who come close, then you’re in a good position.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that recruitment agencies are an option. They can help you with building a profile and other parts of the process, and give you a shortlist of candidates. But their fees are significant, especially for a small business, so you’ll have to weigh that against the potential benefits.

In any case, there is admin associated with recruitment that you can’t avoid. This includes managing responses and sorting out employment agreements. In the coming months, we’ll be providing further ideas, advice and tools on these and other important topics related to recruitment. Meanwhile, if you’re searching for a new employee, or are considering doing so, I hope this article and our tool are useful and wish you the best of luck.