I was asked to appear on The Next 100 Days Podcast where I was interviewed on the topic of SME recruitment by the shows joint hosts, business guru’s Kevin Appleby & Graham Arrowsmith.

Graham and Kevin were keen to learn what strategies and actions owners and Directors of SME businesses could employ to successfully grow their senior team.

I was very happy to chat on this subject as I really enjoy working with SME clients. They are exciting and dynamic and they often have a very interesting story to tell and some unique advantages to sell to potential candidates.

As a retained headhunter I often enjoy a very close and rewarding relationship with my SME clients. By being their advocate in the skills market and spreading the word about their successes I get to play a small part in their development. I become an integral part of their recruitment process and success by attracting and securing the right senior talent to achieve a step change in their business.

You can hear the full interview via: https://lnkd.in/gEwSDzt

Here’s some of the ground we covered:

How does a small business start recruiting key staff?

It is a difficult thing to do well, and without experience of senior recruitment it can be daunting, however, you can do it yourself.

Recruiting should be another robust process that you develop in your business so that you can repeat it again and again.

Here’s how you can create your own talent pipeline:

  1. Clearly define what you are looking for and why. Write a job spec that articulates your businesses service, markets, culture and aspirations along with an outline of the role, responsibilities and expectations.
  2. Use your network and alert your peer group to your needs. Add posts to LinkedIn and present your needs in specific groups.
  3. Look at free advertising sites like Indeed. Write an advert based upon your job spec that explains why your business exists, what it does well and why it’s growing. Speak directly to your target audience, highlight the features and benefits of your opportunity and explain how they can make a difference to the business today and grow with it in the long term.
  4. Develop a candidate interview and assessment process to measure candidates skillset and mindset against your job specification to ensure that you make good hiring decisions.

How do you recruit someone who is a good fit with your business?

I talk a lot about recruiting for candidate Mindset as well as Skill-set . This is particularly important for small businesses.

To achieve this consistently you need a repeatable in-depth interview and assessment process that looks at candidates attitudes and beliefs in addition to their skills and experiences.

Start with a good quality role specification.

Think about the skills, attributes and competency’s you already have in the business and what skills, attributes and competency’s you would like to add to the business and why. What skills and competency’s are missing in the business that if you were able add them to the mix would move your business forward. e.g. Professional Bid Management

You should also identify the core traits and behaviours that you would like to see repeated in your next senior hire in order to build and maintain your culture. e.g. A customer centric focus

As a small business, you should be looking for a person that shares your mindset but also adds to your company skill-set with competency’s that bridge your gap analysis.

Write an job spec that again explains why your business exists, what it does well and why it’s growing.

Highlight the role and responsibilities you want to delegate to your new recruit and articulate the gap they would fill along with your expectations of what the role holder will achieve in the business. This then forms the backbone of your job advert.

In my view, job specs and particularly job adverts should not be a dry shopping list of requirements (WHAT you want) with little or not relation to the WHY and the HOW. They should form part of wider narrative that the reader can buy into and project themselves into.

Crucially, you should also articulate what is in it for the candidate by speaking directly to them. Answer their questions about WHY they should apply, WHAT will be expected of them, WHAT will be their reward, HOW they will fit into the business and HOW they will be supported to achieve success in the role.

Candidate Interview & Assessment

Now you have your role specification and you have alerted your network and the wider world to your job advert you will hopefully have candidates in your pipeline.

As you are making a big decision, you will need to develop a reliable, repeatable and measurable method to assess candidates.

Three Step Interview Process

It seems obvious to say that you should have a defined process to ensure that you can compare apples with apples when recruiting but you would be surprised how often this is not the case.

Perhaps less obvious is the fact that candidates also want and need to go through a process in order to decide whether they want to join your business.

The interview process is a two way sales process designed to end with both parties making a decision to buy into each other or not.

1. First interview

Basic interview technique involves a run through of candidates CV but I would encourage that you go beyond this and ask some competency based questions.

Competency-based interviews are more systematic, with each question targeting a specific skill or competency. Candidates are asked questions relating to their behaviour in specific circumstances, which they then need to back up with concrete examples.

Questions focus upon the key competencies you would like the candidates to demonstrate such as Communication, Decision making, Leadership. business development, and Teamwork.

An example might be: Give me an example of a challenge you faced in the workplace, and how you overcame it.

You should ask each candidate the same 5 questions and grade their responses on a 0-10 scale in order to compare one against the other.

2. Seeing the potential in candidates

I advocate utilising behavioural testing in your process, in between the first and the second interview. These simple online tests only take about 30 minutes to complete and provide real insight into the values, beliefs and attitudes of a candidate.

The assessment highlights what they are good at and how to get the best out of them in the future. It will indicate whether a person has the potential to do grow and develop over time to do more than they are doing in their current role.

3. Final Interview

You should now be down to the last two or three candidates that you have the most confidence in.

Use the information from the behavioural tests in the second meeting to ask additional questions that probe their weaknesses and to establish whether they share the core behaviours which are compatible with your company culture.

If the role is very senior and strategically important, I advocate setting the final interview candidates a presentation topic. I tend to ask them to prepare ten slides that reveal their high-level plan over the first 90 days in the role and their understanding of the market and its opportunities in the longer term.

Gather the senior team to see the candidates present on their feet and ask questions which probe for clarity and challenge. Again, develop a scoring system so that you compare each candidate performance.

What if I can’t find the right candidate? When the role is hard to fill – Use an Expert

The do-it-yourself approach can be successful for most of your general needs, however this approach often fails for specialist, niche in demand skills.

When you do have specialist requirements then use a recruiter. As ever, expert help can save you time and deliver a better result than you can achieve yourself.

A quality Head-hunter should have a rigorous and pro-active process for identifying, approaching and assessing candidates. When you engage a Head-hunter their process becomes an integral part of your process. You should outsource the hard to fill and must fill roles to your Headhunt partner and they do the hard work.

Your Head-hunter should produce information and evidence that gives you a view of what the market has to offer in the form of a Long List. Their process and initial interviews leads to the production of a shortlist of candidates that you can be confident can fulfil your role.

How do you choose the right recruiter?

My advice here is to look to develop a close win-win relationship with one recruitment company. It’s not a great model to talk to lots of recruiters about the same position as this will demotivate quality recruiters and create a race to the bottom amongst those willing to just throw mud at the wall.

When choosing a recruiter – ask them about their process and expertise.

Do they have specialist knowledge?

Does your recruiter have a network of people in the space in which you are recruiting?

What evidence can they provide of working in your niche?

Is there someone that they have recruited that you know. Can you get a reference check from that person?

If you are looking to utilise a Head-hunter and want to know the inside secrets on how to choose well download The Consulting Industry Head-hunt Hiring guide e-book at the bottom of this page.

I am an international head-hunter with a recruitment career spanning over 20 years focussed on the consultancy sector. 

During this time I have recruited across professional services, successfully completing mid to Partner level assignments in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, The Netherlands, France, Germany and the Middle East.

I have particularly strong experience of tackling senior, winner-doer practice building roles and hard to fill problem positions where the pool of potential candidates is small, highly specialist and hard to reach. 

Put simply I help the owners and leaders of Consulting company's hire senior, hard to find, and niche talent.

When you engage Mindset Search you will know exactly who you are dealing with throughout the process.  

I will be your single point of contact and I will deliver your assignment, do the research and interview your candidates.  

If you are striving for growth in your consultancy practice I would be happy to talk through your plans and how I am able to help you.

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