If you’re an SME, how can you compete with the larger graduate employers for the attention of graduates?

It’s time to get armed with some small biz graduate recruitment ammunition.

Look beyond the pay packet

Increasingly, graduates are attracted to organisations which share their values. A recent survey of graduates found that a company’s people and culture and work-life balance were both rated higher than salary size.

This is good news if you’re unable to match the salaries and benefits of your larger rivals. Think about what you can offer, whether it’s the opportunity to work flexibly, scope for progression or the chance for employees to give back to the community through a local charity partnership.

Work is more now than a place to sit for 8.5 hours a day. Instead, graduates want to become a part of something – an innovative new project, a product that makes a difference, a team that feels more like a family than colleagues. If you can communicate this, you could find yourself streaks ahead of some of the larger, more traditional grad scheme providers.

Perfect your employer brand

Leading tidily on from the above, it’s essential for you to pin down a strong employer brand. Your employer brand is how you portray your business and values. It’s the way you write about your opportunities, how you communicate your ethos and how you can demonstrate what life is like at your organisation. It should help forge a connection between you and your candidates.

There are lots of ways you can promote your employer brand, and your website and social media channels are two of the most cost-effective and visible ways. Perhaps your company culture is boutique and cosy, driven and ambitious or creative and quirky. Whatever your style, it is vital that you communicate this consistently.

Every candidate touchpoint needs to reflect your employer brand, from your job descriptions to your candidate communications. This will help to foster trust during a candidate’s application experience, and if your employer brand suits their own values and beliefs, it may put you a step ahead of your competitors.

Shrug off your invisibility cloak

As a small business it can often feel as if you’re less visible than your bigger counterparts. With lower brand awareness and a limited recruitment budget, it’s likely that the larger careers fairs and jobs boards are out of reach.

So instead, get creative. If you want to attract talented graduates, reach out to your professional network with requests to spread word of your vacancies. Consider an employee-referral scheme to encourage your existing team members to recommend recent graduates from their circles.

Tweet, share and do whatever folks do on Google+ to increase your vacancies’ reach. Head to local networking events and build links with local schools, colleges and universities to develop your own talent pipeline through work experience placements and internships. Being small is no reason not to shout.

Looking to recruit graduates?

Celebrate your size, and position your flat management structure or varied roles as of huge benefit to a graduate’s burgeoning career. Communicate your values and build a consistent employer brand to showcase what life at your organisation is really like. And get out in your wider business community and beyond to spread the word of your opportunities.

Being a small business shouldn’t stand in the way of top graduate talent.

You might just have to work a little harder to be heard above the noise!

Find out more

How SMEs can kickstart a graduate career

Insider insight: The changing face of graduate recruitment

What company culture really means

And how we can help you your employer branding


About the author

Tristan Potter

Tristan has a decade's worth of experience writing content and copy for organisations across Bristol and the Southwest of England. He has written on a diverse range of topics, including technology, philosophy, politics, and recruitment. His writing has appeared in The Drum, HR Grapevine, and The Guardian, among other publications. He joined Hireserve in March 2022.