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Nick Mortimer


Talent Acquisition Manager

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Recruitment: four hiring challenges for small businesses


Being the first HR person in a small and growing business can mean many things – excitement, for sure, as there will many things to put your stamp on. It can, however, be daunting and challenging too, particularly if recruitment is part of your brief.

Here’s a snapshot of some of the key challenges you’ll face.

The process

How has your business hired beforehand? Knowing this is high priority.

Understanding how hiring managers do things is a big part of that, as is bringing them round to your way of thinking. For example, are all hires going to go through your process? Does a hiring manager have carte blanche to do as they see fit? Getting this nailed down early will avoid future obstacles.

Another key component is the recruitment process. Each role will naturally have different selection criteria. A software engineer will face some kind of technical assessment, whereas a marketing executive will not.

It needs to be established early on who will make decisions on candidates and what part of the hiring process they are responsible for (role fit, culture fit, team fit etc.). You then need to work backwards to create a process that is robust and consistent, yet as streamlined as possible.

Whilst a great job description/advert is not going to guarantee top class applications, they are often the first thing a prospective employee sees about your company.

A streamlined process goes a long way to ensuring a positive candidate journey too. We cannot stress enough how important it is to get this right.

Research suggests that bad news travels faster than good news. A bad candidate experience can create a negative employer perception and could be impossible to overcome in the longer term.

Having a diverse team is not just a ‘nice to have’; studies show a mixed group of people can improve morale and productivity too. Removing unconscious bias is a big challenge, as is encouraging applications from different backgrounds.

We partner with MeVitae – a tech business that removes unconscious bias from the hiring process and it is best practice to run job descriptions through a gender decoder too.


Money makes the world go round, right? It is a big consideration here.

You need to ensure that salaries are realistic for the skills you need, hiring a software engineer when you’re 20/25% below market rate is going to tricky (at best) or hiring a top salesperson with limited OTE potential isn’t going to work either.

It is important to benchmark and compare your salaries to other similar-sized businesses and the wider market. Salary benchmarking tools are by no means perfect but can be useful (Totaljobs have one for example).

Budget isn’t just about salaries, it’s also about having the right resources to hire, whether that’s to pay agency fees, buy sourcing tools or advertising in the most relevant places.

It is difficult to quantify this, after all each business has different needs and pressures.

While a junior operations position might be filled using a more general job board or search function, a DevOps Engineer may need to be found somewhere more tech specific (e.g. GitHub or Stackoverflow) or using an agency/third party.

Be realistic about what you need to make your hires, whether that is your time, skillset or financial considerations.

Using good applicant tracking software (ATS) makes the hiring process easier, but only if you pick the right one. As with everything designed to make life easier, it comes at a cost. The main advice here would to be clear what you want an ATS to do.

There are a plethora of options available with different product focuses. This includes employer branding, workflow and hiring manager interaction, and integrations with other related systems or access to third party advertisers.

Be sure you know what you want before you buy because you’re normally locked into an annual contract.


Employment is at a record high in the UK and the demand from businesses for highly skilled professionals has never been higher. Getting the employer message right is therefore imperative.

We advise our clients to tell their story, to talk about their mission and their environment. Do not fall into the trap of making it all about you – remember to sell your story to a potential candidate.

Plan and be aware of what your short, medium and long term hiring needs will be in order to put a proper action plan in place.

Avoid gimmicks, and be sure to talk about things that make a discernible difference to people’s lives (e.g. flexible/remote working and career progression structure).

Ensure that you share your message on platforms that people will see such as LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Twitter and places relevant to your industry.

Whilst a great job description/advert is not going to guarantee top class applications, they are often the first thing a prospective employee sees about your company.

Tell your story so that the candidate sees what your organisation does and what the role entails.

Try to avoid shopping lists of requirements, and instead talk about how the candidate benefits from the role. Avoid jargon, buzzwords, clichés and stereotypes – it puts people off applying.

How do you hire?

In an ideal world (financially), you will be able to source, screen and arrange interviews for potential hires – i.e. the whole lifecycle.

This will not always be possible – after all, you already have a wide remit and there are only so many hours in a day.

Using recruitment agencies for niche or difficult roles is a common way to go. They tend to have the network of candidates and often focus on a particular specialism and you only pay on success (if using them on a contingency basis).

They are expensive, however, and you cannot control how well they tell your story. This is before you get to the wider reputation of the agency.

Hiring your own internal recruiter enables you to control costs and your message but there are other factors to consider too. Can you justify the additional headcount? You also need to be sure there are enough vacancies to fill over a long-term period.

You could hire a freelance internal recruiter, but you also need to pay for recruiter tools and this can be prohibitive. You nearly always need to commit to an annual contract too. It is not always the most effective option.

There is of course another way, using an in-house monthly subscription model. This way you get the cost-saving, control of message and internal focus that your own recruiter would bring. You get the benefit of an agency-style database and flexibility of using an agency too.

The main takeaway is to plan and be aware of what your short, medium and long term hiring needs will be in order to put a proper action plan in place.

This article was co-authored by Nick Mortimer, talent acquisition manager at Troi, and Meighan Farley, who is responsible for talent strategy and recruitment at Clear Review.

Interested in this topic? Read How best to support small businesses with their HR challenges.

Author Profile Picture
Nick Mortimer

Talent Acquisition Manager

Read more from Nick Mortimer

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