Little companies may not have the brand, the benefits or the big bucks, but when it comes to competing for the brightest lights, they can have what matters most
Remember the days when you'd post a position and just wait for the resumés to pour in, when job-hunters had to sell themselves to you? Well, those days are long gone. According to Manpower, 40% of companies worldwide are having trouble hiring talent. In Canada, that number jumps to 66%. Everybody's vying for the same pool of workers, and that means it's up to you to sell your organization to them, not the other way around.
If you're running a smaller shop, you might feel at a disadvantage, going up against huge multinationals with all-inclusive benefits packages, stock options and countless of career opportunities. And if money were all that mattered, sure, maybe you'd be out of luck. But the reality these days is that most job seekers are looking for more than just a fatter paycheque.
We talked to two executive search consultants-Michael Stern, head of Michael Stern Associates in Toronto, and Lisa Kershaw, a partner with Ray and Berndtson in Vancouver-about the big selling points of small companies.
And you are … who?
Communication-or lack thereof-consistently rates as one of the top complaints in employee surveys. The people in sales have no clue what's happening over in finance or IT. Information circulates via e-mail, if at all. That's not an issue at a shop with 10 or 20 employees, where the boss can gather everyone in the boardroom for regular updates. "Small companies tend to be more closely knit," says Stern, "so there's more communication and more chance to get involved in the decision-making process." You can knock on the boss's door to talk over your latest project or pop onto the plant floor to run something by the foreman. "You're not 40 managers removed from the action," says Kershaw. "It seems more real-time. The manufacturing floor is right outside your door."
You know how it is at a big company-you have to get signatures from five higher-ups just to order office supplies. That kind of red tape disappears at a small shop, where there are fewer layers of management to wade through, if any at all. "Decisions get made a lot more quickly at smaller companies," says Stern. "The people who are responsible for making them are usually two doors down, rather than across the ocean."
Back in the 1960s, work-life balance didn't exist. Nowadays, it ranks right up there with salary and benefits-particularly among younger workers who think "9 to 5" is nothing more than a Dolly Parton flick. Flex-time arrangements-say, allowing them to work from home one day or week or come in to the office at 9:30 every morning, after dropping the kids at daycare-are cheap (or free) and can really pay off in terms of loyalty and increased productivity. Bonus for you: They can be very tricky to negotiate at large organizations with strict HR guidelines or unions. There are a whole host of other cheap or free perks you can dangle in front of potential hires if stock options aren't an option (yet). If the team pulls a few all-nighters on a project, give them a couple of extra days off with pay. Bring in a massage therapist every couple of weeks for mini-massages. Take everyone out for drinks when you complete a crucial project or land a big new client.
A bigger part of the picture
If you're a sales guy at a large company, you work in sales, period-no dabbling in product development or finance. "The larger the organization, the more you become a specialist by default," says Kershaw. At a place with, say, 25 employees, everyone pitches in. "Smaller companies are better known for drawing on talent where it exists," says Stern. "So if a guy in finance has a great idea for the marketing department, a small company is more likely to draw on those ideas." The big bonus for employees is that they get to broaden the scope of their experience-which can give them a big leg up on their resumé. "You are better equipped to move to different cultures when you come from a smaller organization," says Stern, "because you're generally able to do a lot more."
Movin' on up
It also means you have a better shot at running your own show, says Kershaw. "With a broader scope and fewer people, there's more of a chance that you're in charge." If not, you can move up the ladder a lot faster. A while back, Stern's company conducted an executive search for a small organization. "One of the questions the candidate wanted us to ask was, 'When is it likely I'll get promoted?'" says Stern. "The answer was, 'Whenever we get busy. If we have someone who looks like they can handle it, boom-it's done. You can move up as the business requirements change and as abilities dictate, not because that guy's been there for six years and you've been there for five." (Mind you, if the founder is running the place, there may be fewer places to go.)