10 things SMBs can do to recruit top IT talent

Small and midsize businesses may not be able to offer big paychecks, but market players say factors such as job flexibility and clear career path help put them ahead of larger, more renown companies.

Salary packages and brand prestige are usually the reasons why top IT talent decides to join larger organizations over small and midsize businesses (SMBs), but the latter can be more competitive in the labor market by playing up job advancement prospects and flexible working arrangements, market insiders say.

Singapore startup iTwin's co-founder and COO Kal Takru highlighted the difficulties SMBs here face when he said it was "definitely hard" for them to attract top IT talent due to their limited resources and lack of a recognizable brand name. iTwin currently has 27 employees on its books, he revealed.

This sentiment was echoed by Ryan Lim, business director of Blugrapes, which has 20 employees. He said the small manpower size of these companies is often perceived by potential hires as representing limited future prospects and career paths.

"This perception hinders the acceptance of a job offer made by SMBs when compared to bigger companies where there seems to be more room and opportunities for career growth by virtue of its size," he elaborated.

Michelle Lim, COO of jobs portal JobsCentral, added that big companies, particularly global multinational corporations (MNCs), generally have an advantage in terms of branding because most people would already know what they do. Some job seekers would also find it more prestigious to work for a bigger name.

Furthermore, these larger companies have more resources in terms of bigger recruitment, training, and welfare budgets that help with staff retention, she added.

Advantages to exploit
Despite these hurdles in recruitment, the market players highlighted that other work-related attributes such as ownership and career progression opportunities and flexible work arrangements can help sway the situation in SMBs' favor.

Citing a JobsCentral Work Happiness Indicator survey, COO Lim said for the 218 IT respondents among the 2,385 professionals polled advancement opportunities and acceptable work demands were the top two factors identified. Salary came in at third place.

Lim said: "It is not all just about pay. SMBs have a shot at hiring top talent, even if they find it hard to match the higher salaries offered by larger companies."

Peter Noblet, senior regional director of Hays Information Technology, concurred. He observed that SMBs and job candidates both rate cultural and fitting in with the team as the most important criteria when it comes to hiring or joining a company over salary.

"We've seen cases of candidates turning down jobs when they didn't think there was a cultural link between them and the company, be it an entrepreneurial attitude, proper work-life balance, creativity, or how they communicate with others," he explained.

"We've also seen many cases where a SMB will train a candidate in the necessary technical skills if they deem the person a right cultural fit for the business. These candidates usually go on to enjoy long-term tenure with the employer."

With these positives in mind, these market players offer up 10 ways smaller companies can make themselves more attractive to top IT professionals without breaking the bank.

1. Speed up recruitment process
One major advantage an SMB has over bigger corporations is that the latter usually has several layers of approvals to go through in their recruitment process, Noblet pointed out. "IT candidates work in a fast-paced industry and expect a quick response, otherwise they'll look elsewhere."

As such, smaller companies should implement a succinct hiring process and reduce the interview-to-job-offer timeframe. This could be done by limiting interview to no more than two, for example, he said.

2. Tailor job offers
The Hays executive added that flexibility is another plus. Tailoring a job offer to suit the candidate's needs and wants, such as flexible work options, can help secure the hire ahead of offers from other potential employers, he noted.

3. Use social media
In terms of widening their recruitment network, Noblet said SMBs can use social media to enhance and expand their manpower search.

Blugrapes, for example, sources for relevant talent using targeted ads and connections via social media networks such as LinkedIn, its business director revealed.

4. Career path needs clarity, articulation
Pri Sandhu, manager of the IT division at Robert Walters, pointed out that IT professionals feel motivated when they can see they have a good career plan marked out for them. "If the employee can provide a clear career map of where they can expect to be within the next few years, there will be something to look forward to and staff often feel more engaged," he explained.

JobsCentral's Lim added that articulated plans or goals help candidates know exactly what is expected of them if they join the company and, from the SMB's point of view, it helps build a manpower structure that can grow in tandem with the company.

"If you hire the right type of people who want to achieve certain things in their life, giving them a target to work toward and aligning their interests with that target [may result in] a lot of great things being done," she said.

5. Build a strong core
iTwin's Takru noted that likeminded talent enjoy working with each other, and this can be another pull factor for SMBs.

"Good engineers enjoy working with other good engineers, so getting a great core team together can attract better staff," he said. "It takes time and effort, but this is the best leverage a small company has."

6. Branding matters
Similarly, Takru pointed out that if the SMB's work is interesting or the product it is developing is innovative and unique, it will attract good talent.

Blugrapes' Lim said this is what the company has done, as it positions itself as a high-growth entity playing in the exciting social media industry.

7. Have flexible work schemes
Given that IT professionals are generally quite connected, these workers should be allowed to participate in flexible work schemes rather than be chained at their desks all the time, said Sandhu.

Noblet also noted that by embracing flexibility, an organization can not only retain critical skills but widen the pool of potential talent to include candidates that expect such flexibility to remain in their jobs.

8. Telecommuting for family-oriented workers
As an extension of flexible work arrangements, JobsCentral's Lim said many aspects of IT work can be done remotely anyway. So, as long as clear deliverables can be measured and achieved by workers, schemes such as telecommuting should be actively promoted, she suggested.

This also gives a chance for employees, particular for those with families, to better manage their time and this is a strong incentive for them, the COO added.

9. Build a fun, positive workplace
Ultimately, creating a positive work environment "makes all the difference" for any employee. This is because people would be drawn to and stay with a company that cares for their wellbeing, Sadhu stated.

10. Don't burn bridges
Should an existing employee decide to resign, Noblet urged SMBs not to view the act as a personal rejection of the company. He said the "sensible strategic move" would be to maintain contact with these ex-workers, particularly those they value, as they remain potential "boomerang employees".

This can be done through setting an online alumni forum on platforms such as Facebook, he suggested.

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