News Article

Why is finding the right square peg for the small business so hard?

When you’re in the fortunate position of having more work than you and your freelancers can reasonably do, it’s time to turn your attention to recruitment. Whether that’s a member of staff, an apprentice, or a sales agent, the process is time consuming, probably expensive, and the outcome uncertain. In a small business, this is likely to have a much bigger impact than in a larger organisation, so requires more thinking and planning.

I was once told that there are three questions to ask when embarking on this process; can they do the job, will they do the job, and will they fit? While simplistic, it’s a useful formula to consider.

The first question appears relatively easy, have they got the skills in the areas you need to complement the ones you already have? It’s useful to prepare a job description, so that you can identify what you need, as opposed to thinking you need another person like you, but cheaper! Having been down this path myself, I found that we both wanted to create strategy and run the business, and nobody was looking at the pile of filing that needed to be done. Result – unfortunate, embarrassing, time consuming, and costly.

Looking at your own skill set can give you a chance to not only meet your immediate needs but plan for the future. Review your business plan, to anticipate any moves into new market sectors, geographical areas, or the ability to use new and unfamiliar tools. Do you need a Spanish speaker, or a social media expert? If the ideal candidate satisfies the other criteria, you might want to invest in training to supplement their ability, experience and knowledge.

Determining whether a potential candidate will do the job requires both business experience and understanding of human motivation. We have all heard the horror stories of apparently great interviewees who turn out to be appalling timekeepers, spend more time on coffee breaks/updating their social media/internet shopping than customer contact, or consider the workplace an extension of their social life, to the exclusion of everything else. It’s particularly useful to read between the lines of a reference if you have any doubts, before committing yourself. Explaining that you have a policy to cover such points shows that you take this behaviour seriously and will not tolerate infringements.

Thirdly, will they fit your organisation? Again, asking penetrating questions and seeking examples about how they got on with their previous work colleagues and customers, can shed light on their strengths and weaknesses in this area. If they have an irritating habit at the interview, will you be able to overcome your feelings when they are in the office, or talking to your team, or even your customers, day in and day out? If you have a relaxed and casual atmosphere, will the woman in the severe suit be able to adapt, or the man in jeans and polo shirt smarten up when seeing your most traditional client? Will a 17 year-old trainee fit in easily with your older workforce, or a more experienced worker feel out of place amongst the twentysomethings? All of these situations can be managed, but preferably with forward planning rather than emotional gut reactions.

As human nature is so diverse, so are the pitfalls and opportunities highlighted when recruiting. However if your business is planning to grow, this nettle should be grasped firmly, with plenty of thought, preparation and all spider senses on high alert!