Q&A: Advice for small businesses struggling with recruitment


A recent study by Arch Apprentices found that almost half (43%) of small businesses struggle to find enthusiastic young candidates to recruit.


When you consider the number of potential employees we have in the UK, this figure seems surprising. We have a generation of educated, hard-working young people keen to build careers, so why are small businesses struggling to reach them?

One likely reason is that many SMEs are finding the recruitment process itself tricky to navigate.

There’s an overwhelming number of different ways to advertise positions and hundreds of responses to each listing. Within this busy jobs market, it is likely that many SMEs are failing to select the right candidates.

To shed some further light on the situation, we caught up with Next Level’s Managing Director, Ian Hargreaves, to discuss the obstacles his clients have consistently come up against in his 8 years as an SME business coach.


Q: In your experience, what common struggles do businesses face while recruiting?

A: The main issue is finding relevant candidates. And many SMEs struggle with this because they haven’t thought clearly enough about who’s right for the role in the first place.

I often seen companies rush into advertising a role based on responsibilities alone. But to find someone who is the right fit, you need to also think carefully about the skills, background and personality traits of your ideal candidate. Many businesses brush past this stage only to find they hire someone not suited to the position or business culture as a whole.

It’s also very common to see businesses begin reviewing applications without creating a clear structure for selecting candidates. Flicking through CVs and tossing them into a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ pile is NOT a structure!


Q: What is the cost of poor recruitment to a business?

A: There’s the obvious cost of advertising a role and working alongside recruiters, but there’s also the cost of disruption caused to the rest of the business. This cost is hard to measure – but certainly significant.

You’ve got the time of the business leaders involved in the recruitment process, the resource required for interviews and induction, plus the time and increased workload of those tasked with training the new recruit.

When it transpires this person isn’t a fit, the whole process starts again and you still have no one to do the work itself. It’s a tricky situation to be in; particularly for small businesses.


Q: What initial steps should a business take when thinking about recruiting new employees?

A: The first step is to clearly define the role and its responsibilities, including the specific skills, traits and attributes required to do the job effectively.


Q: What recruitment methods have you seen work well with clients?

A: Bigger companies always have a consistent, structured recruitment process with multiple interview rounds, whatever role or department they are recruiting for.

SMEs should have exactly the same.

Aim to have at least three stages. Start with stages like CV scoring, online questionnaires and phone interviews, then move onto formal interviews, presentations and scored tasks.

Aptitude and skills tests are an incredibly useful tool. You can set clear margins for scoring and there may even be online tasks available that directly relate to the role. Equally, psychometric tests show an individual’s strengths and weaknesses and can help you decide whether someone is personally suited to the role.


Q: Are there things to avoid?

A: Hiring too quickly is the biggest mistake businesses make. So often I see businesses pick from the initial applicants where they would be better off waiting a while for a more suitable candidate to come along.

Don’t settle for someone because they are the best candidate of the bunch, hire them because they are absolutely right for the role.

Another big thing to avoid is hiring people that you like. It’s nice to be kind, but it’s unkind to hire someone who will be out of their depth – both to you and them. Equally, don’t hire family or friends without following the same process you would with other candidates. It might seem easy at first but it could get messy down the line!

It’s tempting to try and ‘get it over with’ but avoid rushing into anything and don’t settle. Have faith, meet plenty of candidates and be willing to wait for the right person.


Q: What top tips do you have for selecting candidates of interest?

A: Create a systematic scoring structure that applies to all candidates, including a minimum score they need to pass in order to be hired. Consider their experience and qualifications but also score on things like character, attitude and personality fit.

Skills can be taught, but character cannot. Hire on attitude as well as aptitude.


Q: Who needs to be involved in the selection process?

A: Make sure at least two people are involved in the scoring process, even if it’s just for another pair of eyes. The line manager should be involved, as should the business owner. And if the role involves a close working relationship with another employee, then it might be an idea to involve them, where appropriate.


For more recruitment advice, why not chat to our team? You can contact us on 0113 394 4559 or enquiries@nextlevelbd.co.uk.