When It Comes to Hiring, Can Small Biz Compete With the Big Boys?

By Toddi GutnerBusiness on Main

Google and Apple were named the most desired employers in the U.S. What, then, can small businesses offer to recruit the best and the brightest?

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Google. Apple. Walt Disney Company. The U.S. Department of State. These organizations, and large corporate and governmental establishments like them, lead the hit parade of most attractive American employers for young professionals, according to a survey by employer branding firm Universum.

No doubt there are certain perks that often come with working at a larger company, be it a competitive salary and benefits, the ability for employees to move fluidly between different business units and geographic locations, or the opportunity to learn an industry’s best practices. In those cases and many more, big companies do hold an appeal.

So then how can a small business effectively compete with the big brand-name corporations for top-tier talent?

The best thing is to “think small but mighty when you’re wooing candidates,” says Matthew Rothenberg, editor-in-chief of TheLadders, a job listing firm for professionals. “Some of the best workers in this country feel underappreciated and underpowered in a large corporate environment.” In this way, small companies can use their size to their advantage and offer a number of benefits that larger companies are unable to provide.

Access to the top

Perhaps most appealing is the intimate nature of a small organization. “Each employee has exposure to the senior management team, and individual contributions can be easily recognized and even complimented,” says Scott Ragusa, president of recruiting firm Winter, Wyman. “There can be a real advantage to sitting 50 feet from the CEO.” That close proximity can offer the employee the opportunity to help develop and influence the company strategy and bottom line.

Nimble and quick decision-makers

It’s no surprise that huge corporations are often extremely bureaucratic and slow to make decisions. It can often take six to nine months — or longer — to hire a senior leader, roll out a new policy, or consider a new vendor. That can mean ongoing frustration for a team that operates without a leader or requires the approval of a specific supplier.

“Our decision tree is condensed,” says Helene De Vries, chief talent officer at New York City-based social marketing agency Mr. Youth. “There aren’t a lot of layers of approval, and decisions are made very quickly.”

Room for new ideas

Often in smaller companies, employees are encouraged to be innovative and pitch new ideas. “If they have a bright idea … it gets ratcheted up very quickly,” says De Vries. This appeals to millennial workers, in particular. “They expect to exert influence within an organization quickly,” says Rothenberg.

Possibility of quick advancement

Many professionals are comfortable in larger companies that have well-documented steps to promotion. But “the corporate ladder may be easier to ascend in a smaller company, so advancement can be quicker and more varied,” says Ragusa.

Adaptable work responsibilities

Smaller companies offer the opportunity for employees to wear many hats at once. “Working for a dynamic small company can jump-start careers and offer employees influence and experience that they might never get at a larger outfit,” says Rothenberg. One employee can assist with training, contribute to marketing strategy and help develop new business.

Work-life flexibility

To compete with the schedules of big, more inflexible corporations, small companies offer their own set of perks, like flexible work hours, telecommuting and company outings, among other advantages.

The ability to pick and choose team members

In many large organizations, managers inherit teams — whether they like them or not. A smaller company often offers the opportunity for managers to build their own teams. They “can come and build out an entire team and not pick up where someone left off,” says De Vries.

So the next time you see a roundup of most-attractive employers, realize that there’s a much broader universe of companies and opportunities for prospective hires to explore — and while smaller firms may not always make ”most popular” lists, they’re certainly serious contenders when it comes to offering growth opportunities to the best and brightest job seekers.

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