The SME company guide to attracting big talent

Bill Gates, once said, “The key for us, number one, has always been hiring very smart people.”

That’s easy when you’re a globally recognised household name, but does the same hold true if you’re a startup or a small agency or a company in an industry not known for its glamour? 

Yes, it does.

So how do you attract the best people to your organisation?


Define your ideal candidate (if you aim at nothing you’re bound to hit it)

• Will people apply for this job because it pays the bills or because they can see a career ahead? Set realistic expectations

• Take input from each of the departments this role will impact to get an idea of their wants and needs

• Understand what existing employees value most about your company and promote accordingly

• Use channels (social media, local press, events, website, forums) that you know potential candidates are already using to increase visibility

• Look at how similar positions are being marketed by other industries

• Design your job spec, advertising and interview process to appeal to the candidates you’re trying to attract, but make sure it authentically represents your company and brand

• Steer clear of business jargon unless that’s part of the job remit

Play to your strengths

Small companies often worry that the best talent goes to the highest bidder and yet employees who add most value generally don’t list salary as their main motivation. Instead, they are interested in the soft, often intangible benefits an organisation offers.

• Reputation – when I tell my friends I work for you, will they be jealous, impressed or sorry for me? Word of mouth can make you the “employer of choice”. There are real benefits in being regarded as the experts in your field

• Culture – equates to how happy and motivated your staff are, as well as how they share ideas and handle problems. It generally reflects your brand and will be a big deciding factor for candidates as they consider what it’s really like to work for you

• Benefits – flexible working, holiday entitlement, maternity leave, opportunities to travel, training, health club memberships and even being able to take your dog to work, each will tick a box in your candidate’s mind. Make sure you know what matters to them and reflect their priorities throughout your hiring process

• Job security – is this role like a revolving door or is there a career path ahead? Here you can also highlight areas such as training opportunities or the chance to move between departments

Honesty really is the best policy

Small and mid-sized companies are generally perceived as more friendly and accountable to their staff than corporate giants. Reinforcing these assumptions throughout the recruitment process can often create the emotional link that candidates seek.

• People don’t leave companies, they leave managers and colleagues. Prospective employees might want to know how this role arose, as much as you want to understand why they’re looking for a change. Be prepared and focus on the positives

• Show how your lack of hierarchy can work to your candidates' advantage, in making roles and career progression more fluid

• Highlight your hopes for this position. Top talent will be eager to make a difference and will relish the challenge if you can share your vision.

• Consider offering rewards for internal candidate referrals. Those who have been forwarded are more likely to have a realistic picture of your company and a genuine interest in joining the ranks because there’s already an element of trust built into a recommendation.

It can cost the same as a new hire's salary just to recruit them, so make sure you do all that you can to get it right first time. Of course, you could always use Denholm’s BrandBox to build your employer brand.

Talk to Denholm

We are a search, recruitment and employer brand consultancy that specialises in commercial marketing, sales & digital opportunities. If you'd like to find out more, call us on 0131 554 6191 or email