Finding the needle in the haystack

Editor Luke Garner takes a look at three ways in which SMEs and start-ups can find new staff efficiently and cost-effectively.

For many start-ups and SMEs, the fledgling years as you expand can be an exciting time. But one issue that many will face – especially one-man-bands – is that as the workload increases, you need to invest in new staff. However, many will not have the experience in hiring additional workers and it can seem like a daunting task. So what can you do to help make the process more efficient and keep costs (and your time) to a minimum? Editor Luke Garner takes a look, with a little help from industry experts.


1. Make use of available technology

There are a whole host of technologies available out there to make your life easier, and many from the upcoming generation will be familiar with them, so why not utilise them? Traditionally, the initial interview stage would involve scheduling a number of candidates to visit your offices at allocated time-slots and partake in a sit-down interview process. But this not only takes time to arrange (everyone has different schedules to adhere to after all and they may have current employment or family to fit in around), it is also costly for both you, in terms of time, and the candidate, in terms of transport costs. The best way around this is to conduct your interviews using video conferencing technology.

This can be done easily through free-to-use software such as Skype (which most people will be familiar with) or even Facebook video-calling (though some candidates may be less than inclined to share their innermost Facebook thoughts and ramblings with a potential employer). This allows you to not only cut down on the time it takes to interview each candidate, as well as not have to wait around for candidates who “just can’t seem to find your office”, but it also saves the potential employee money in transport costs.

“Technology in the modern age is changing not only the way we work but also the way we get to work. Businesses across multiple industries and sectors are using Skype as a means to interview candidates; whether it is that the person is unable to travel to meet in person as they are based abroad, or simply that a Skype call is a more efficient solution,” explains Gavin Russell, global programme manager at Microsoft.

Whilst not everyone will be able to attend such an interview, it should help to minimise the number of face-to-face interview slots required, freeing up your time and also allowing greater flexibility for those with busy schedules.

2. Don’t expect a prince for a paupers pay

Unfortunately, and very frustratingly for candidates, many companies seem to have used “the economic downturn” as an excuse to squeeze pay for skilled and educated employees. There is nothing more annoying for a candidate to find a job that they are suited for, that they have the necessary skills and qualifications for, only to find it pays too little and doesn’t appreciate those very skills they have.

Whilst it is natural to want to pay as little as possible for the work you need doing, you need to remember you have a human at the other end of the transaction. By paying an unfair amount for a job that isn’t in line with market norms, you will turn away the very people you are trying to attract in the first place, leaving you with a handful of unskilled, unsuitable applicants. I’ve seen this happen very often and you get the old line thrown out by employers that “there just aren’t qualified people out there” or “there is a skills shortage”, when actually the problem is they are trying to get something on the cheap and are alienating potential employees. What’s worse is that if someone miraculously does take up the job offer, they aren’t likely to stick around for long as they head for greener pastures, thereby increasing your costs as you need to look for someone to fill the vacancy once again. I’m not advocating that you should throw just money at a vacancy and overpay, but there is such a thing as fair pay for a fair day’s work, and a happy employee is a productive one.

3. Reduce the haystack early

With more than two million people looking for work in the UK right now, it is no wonder that some people are getting desperate, to the extent that some will apply for any available job in the hope of snagging something, anything. This can be frustrating for employers to receive stacks of unsuitable applications, but there is a way to sift through the pile. Using online software that scans for keywords relevant to the role can help to identify a shortlist of candidates suitable for interviews without having to read every last word. Using free software such as ikrut ( will help to keep everything in one place and pre-scan any applications.

Additionally, knowing the exact criteria you are looking for before you send out a request for applicants is vital. You’ll only waste your own time if you entertain interviewees that turn out to be wholly incompatible because you’ve cast the net too wide.

“The most effective interview processes should begin well before the prospective employee is sitting in front of you, starting with a well thought out job specification,” says Jodie Finn, associate director, Venn Group. “Many job specifications focus on ideal experience requirements and a list of duties and responsibilities. However, by including expected performance outcomes for the role, job specifications can become an effective tool for the interview itself and a useful basis for benchmarks by which to compare multiple candidates.”

So there you have it. Follow these three tips and you’ll have a great foundation with which to find your perfect employee to help you grow your company.

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