Goliath lost. How smaller employers can beat the big players to the best talent.

One of the biggest misconceptions in talent acquisition is that the big companies will always win. It’s understandable. They’re often better known, better resourced and can look impressive on a resume. In some industries, they may also offer higher remuneration and more attractive benefits.

Does that make them better employers, by default? Of course not.

The truth is that the giants would win a lot less if smaller players started fighting smarter - and if they chose their weapons more carefully. If you’re a David in an arena of Goliaths, here’s how you can punch above your weight.

5 common attraction factors of smaller employers

Let’s not get carried away. There are fantastic organisations of all sizes. However, when helping smaller companies shape their employer brands, we’ve consistently seen 5 factors which can set them apart from their larger rivals.

1. More involvement and ownership

A smaller team often means getting stuck in and a greater need to step up and take ownership to make things happen. Many people crave this and it is a classic point of frustration for people working in larger, more bureaucratic organisations.

2. Greater personal impact and visibility

If you want to make things happen, see the results and stamp your name on them, try a smaller organisation. There’s often more distance to travel and a bigger opportunity to make your mark. There are also fewer places for under-performers to hide... or indeed for superstars to be put in the shade by glory-grabbing managers.

3. Accelerated growth and a stronger resume story

If you’re more involved and achieving more, you probably have the chance to test and push yourself further. So while smaller companies don’t always offer as much formal training, you may well find more space for growth. Importantly, you could also build a better career achievement story. What’s more impressive:

"At Big Fish Ltd, our team of six (supported by our agency) grew our social media reach by 3.7%."
"At Underdog Enterprises, I was the social media team. My work grew our social media reach by 25%. Here’s how I did it..."

4. Better, more authentic communications

This one can go either way. I’ve seen growing companies struggle to get comms right as they employ more people and create additional levels of management. However, when the right people and processes are in place, employees of smaller firms consistently tell us they feel more informed and that communications are more likely to be open and ‘two-way’. An employee of one of my brilliant clients, Young Henrys, recently said of the business leaders: "They ask us what we think. We tell them the truth." Can’t say fairer than that.

5. Connected people, closer relationships, joint purpose

This is a big one. As everyone knows, respecting and liking the people you work with is a major factor in employee retention, engagement and performance. And so is connecting with your collective purpose. This can be tricky in very small teams, as one ‘problem relationship’ can have a huge impact. But overwhelmingly in my experience, it is easier to breed more cohesive cultures and stronger employee relationships in smaller organisations. I believe this comes from two things:

  1. feeling that you belong in a place ‘where everyone knows your name’; and
  2. the natural sense of purpose and identity that comes from collectively striving for something ‘against the odds’.

Is there any better feeling that when you win with a small team?

Want some more good news?

Research consistently indicates that the above ‘selling points’ matter very much to millennials. By 2020, this group will make up over 50% of the global workforce. So this could be the golden age of the underdog, if you play your cards right.

So finally, here are three things you can do right now to turn the tables on the giants around you:

1. Get creative about your talent offer and keep it real

If you’re fighting against well-known employers, you need to get clear and sharp about the alternative choice you offer. So craft a powerful, unique Employee Value Proposition. Avoid platitudes like ‘great people’, ‘make a difference’ and ‘supportive team’ - they won’t cut through the noise. Be bold and say something different to surprise people and show your difference. Importantly though, tell the truth. Authenticity matters most in employer branding so if there are elephants in the room, hang neon lights on them - the challenges you face are part of the package.

2. Get busier, louder and prouder in market!

Be proactive about showcasing your talent offer and your people stories to prospective candidates. Strengthening your advertising, optimise your website careers pages and enhance your social media activity. Many of your bigger rivals are actually doing very little in this space. They’re too busy resting on their laurels. It’s also likely that they move more slowly than you. So while they’re putting the business case through twelve committees and 58 leaders, get out there and start selling.

3. Prioritise employee advocacy

Your current people are the secret to your employer brand. Their experiences and achievements are the best possible source of insight for candidates, who, trust employees three times more than the employer to provide information on working at the company. Many SME / SMB employees are proud of what they do and who they work for, and are often more willing to share this publicly. So engage and empower your people to tell your story through theirs. These stories will cut through in a way that generic corporate messaging won’t. Get this storytelling right and you’re in business.

Mark Puncher

About the Author

Mark Puncher is Employer Branding Australia’s Founder and Chief Energy Officer. Having spent much of the last 22 years with one foot in recruitment and the other in marketing, Mark loves helping fantastic, imperfect organisations bring their stories to life to engage their future superstars.

About Employer Branding Australia

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