Attracting Great Employees . . . Without Perks

Yesterday I received my latest issue of the local metro business magazine, featuring their annual list of ‘Great Places to Work’ for 2008.  The spread was full of the metro area’s highest profile retailers, consulting firms, technology companies, manufacturers, coffee chains and law firms, along with a handful of smaller up-and-coming organizations readers were told to watch out for.  Each listed company was graced with a small article outlining the various reasons it was a ‘great’ place to work—flexible hours, onsite day care, state-of-the-art campus facilities, generous vacation allowances, free education, paid sabbaticals and various other uber-trendy perks that consistently attract resumes from the best and brightest people in the area.

As owners and managers of small companies, many of us often wonder how we can compete for employees with companies like this.  How can our small, conservatively-run company possibly win a hiring competition against a firm with a 16-team volleyball league, discounted country club memberships and pinball machines in the break room?  It’s actually easier than you think—especially today—becase there was something missing in this ’great places to work’ article.  Of the 50 or so companies represented, over a dozen were in serious financial trouble, and had been for a number of months.  Each had appeared in the business section over the last half of 2008 announcing slowing sales, declining profits, and in some cases restructuring.  In fact, one of the most featured companies in the article is currently in the process of dismissing 25% of its employees (nearly 1,000 people) from its corporate offices due to declining sales.

Understanding your company may never be a ‘great’ place to work in the traditional, media-driven sense of the word, the fact is most small companies have MUCH more to offer than their larger counterparts where it counts the most—stability and job security.  While members of the Fortune 1000 are slashing employees and contracting business units in an effort to hold their stock prices, small company owners are making sacrifices to ensure that no one loses their job.  The average small company operates on minimal (or no) credit, invests its money in logical extensions of the business, and rarely makes a hire without a strong revenue justification.  This makes many small companies (and hopefully yours) inherently stable, even in tough economic times. If you work for one of these companies, there is NO REASON you can’t use these things to your advantage during a competitive recruiting process.  Are these things clearly listed in your job postings?  Are they a standard part of your company introduction during a job interview?  If not, they need to be.

The economic landscape changed drastically in 2008.  Although we’re not out of the woods yet, companies will eventually re-start their hiring, and we will again find ourselves competing with large organizations within our markets for talent.  But this time, I predict the outcome will be much different.  For the first time since the early 1990s, stability and job security are going to outrank things like wellness programs and onsite dry cleaning.  People who were indiscriminately laid off by ‘great’ places to work will come into interviews asking questions about business models and working capital—and will listen intently to your answer.  Working for a small company will become trendy again, and this time I believe the trend will hang around for awhile.

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