three people taking a selfie at work
PHOTO: Jopwell

For small and midsize businesses (SMB), competing with large brands to recruit new hires can feel like a climb to the top of Kilimanjaro. 

If you think your brand is too small to attract top talent entering the workforce, consider the words of recruitment marketing consultant Cathy Taylor, who said, “Small businesses may not know they have an employment brand, but they do.”

How does a small business compete with brands with the budgets and resources to launch multichannel campaigns? Focus on what makes you stand out, like the ease of agility.

For instance, it doesn’t take a committee, months of planning and an extensive budget to create an innovation space within a small business. It can be as simple as redefining the current layout, buying a few Cooper lounge chairs from Urban Outfitters, and painting a wall with dry erase paint. Voilà! You have a space that fosters collaboration, creativity and community — features that young people with entrepreneurial mindsets have come to expect in their work environments.

However, if you believe the “Field of Dreams” quote, “If you build it, he will come,” you may be waiting a while. You must do more than build it. Driving people to your door requires spreading the word about your perks and programs through compelling brand stories.

Related Article: Building a Culture That Attracts Gen Z

SMBs Deliver the 'Me' Experience

Before you start crafting a narrative, there are a few things you need to know about the candidate pool. The job market is filled with diverse, talented, highly-skilled candidates. Knowing who’s best for a particular position helps a company tailor stories that connect those people to the brand.

With graduation season upon us, let’s use what we know about millennials as the example. Here’s an insider view of the audience and what appeals to them. The good news? What millennials want in a workplace is right in the SMB sweet spot.

millennials smb

SMBs have a lot to offer newly minted graduates. A 2016 survey by Future Workplace and Beyond (now Nexxt)  found “58 percent of millennials want to work for a small or medium-size company.” They’re looking for the “me” experience which is something SMBs have the capacity to give.

3 Tips to Attract the Right Candidates

Here are three ways small businesses can get the most bang out of their efforts to reach millennial job seekers.

Brand Reviews

It’s common for consumers to read product reviews prior to making a buying decision. Many job seekers do the same for potential employers, according to, which reports (pdf) the number three reason people apply to work at a company is based on a brand’s reputation. Millennials label companies by what they discover when they research companies, and that research only takes seconds.

Here's why it matters: Brands with low review scores are less likely to attract top talent. A 2012 Allegis Group Services study for Corporate Responsibility Magazine found 69 percent of job seekers said they wouldn’t take a position at a company with a bad reputation — even if they were unemployed.

Transparency and a stellar reputation are two vital components of brand management. Responding quickly to questions and concerns while closely monitoring social channels can help reduce negative ratings. 

Small businesses don’t need a social media village to manage their reputations. Find an employee with social media savvy and give that individual tools and guidelines to monitor social channels. Make sure to include a plan of attack to deal with negative information.

Showing you care about an audience goes a long way toward developing your brand’s story.

Related Article: How to Build a Company Worthy of the Next Generation

Employee Advocacy

Building a brand story can be as easy as capturing viewpoints of the happy people within your company. Ron Piccolo, chair of the department of management at the College of Business at the University of Central Florida, said, “Millennials will happily amplify the great things your business is doing through their own social media platforms.”

Potential candidates want firsthand perspectives on a company’s work-life balance prior to making a commitment. These days, workplace culture takes center stage in recruitment. Employees’ authentic stories offer job hunters insight on a level that lists of perks and benefits just can’t.

Cultivating employee stories requires planning. Most importantly, make it easy for employees to contribute their stories. First, create a collaborative infrastructure — like Trello — for them to document (and build on) their stories.

Next, get their creative genius flowing by generating a list of questions to spark ideas, define values and touch on topics that appeal to the type of candidates you’re trying to reach. has a list of “10 Employee Survey Questions to Use in Your Employment Branding Campaign” to help you get started.

Finally, build a multichannel strategy for deployment. This is where you get to steal like an artist. SMBs may not have the resources to build the type of campaigns large companies do, but they can learn from their bigger competitors and borrow their successful ideas. Here’s an example: Microsoft’s “Microsoft Life” page on Instagram. It’s a creative, fun look at the life and team behind a mega brand.

Related Article: Tech Talent Wars: Retain Talent By Doling Out Your Trust

Mobile Presence

A 2011 study by McCann Worldgroup found over half of millennials surveyed would rather lose their sense of smell than one of their devices. Moreover, a 2017 comScore report found users spend on average 69 percent of their digital media time on mobile devices, and 80 percent of social media time is spent there too. What that means is you better have a strong mobile presence.

A mobile strategy is twofold: You have to understand how an audience consumes information and offer an engaging mobile experience.

For example, prior to leaving for college, my niece expanded her social presence to include Snapchat. Her rationale was that her school, Bowling Green State University, communicates important messages through the app. Kudos to the college for understanding the importance of knowing where an audience navigates for information. BGSU’s Snap game is so strong, it offers students the opportunity to #TakeOverTuesday as a way of cultivating fresh stories and “showcasing campus life through a unique student perspective” once a week.

And don’t forget about your website. Millennials are looking for quick and easy interactivity across all of your brand’s platforms — which includes a responsive mobile experience on your website. Have you been to lately? The jobs link on the mobile site transports users to stories and stats any job seeker would be interested in reading.

With a little research, you can uncover a lot about the social habits and goals of people actively looking for a new opportunity. Match those to the defined qualities of your desired candidate and create a compelling story to highlight what makes your brand unique to attract the right candidate for the job.

Do you have a great brand story to tell? Don’t be shy, share!