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Under normal circumstances, finding the boss swiping through pictures on the Tinder app could be embarrassing.

But at Beringer Tame, a small but fast-growing recruitment agency specialising in finding ecommerce and online operations executives, Patrick Tame, the founder, is using the dating app as a way of headhunting potential employees. “My best people are, like me, people who somehow stumbled into recruitment,” the former soldier turned entrepreneur explains. He has a former barrister, an ex-estate agent and a retired naval officer on the payroll.

A creative approach to hiring staff is a necessity for many early-stage entrepreneurs because resources are tight. But companies such as Mr Tame’s also find that breaking with convention can often lead to hiring more suitable employees. He is looking for independent and resourceful types who might be interested in becoming headhunters themselves. The Tinder profiles of prospective candidates may offer better clues about a potential employee’s suitability than a conventional CV submitted in response to a recruitment advertisement.

Others stick with traditional job adverts but adopt a more creative approach.

Gareth Lofthouse, managing director of Longitude, which helps client companies convert their internal data and ideas into reports, articles and infographics, advertises for people looking to change what they do as well as who they work for, something not usually on offer in the traditional job advert.

“These days people don’t just stay in one career, so we try to tap into people’s desire to develop a new skill set or area of experience,” Mr Lofthouse says. “We hire seasoned journalists and train them in how to mine data to tell good stories. We might also mix and match different skill sets from the worlds of publishing, marketing and digital design to develop new types of research and content for our clients.”

Longitude pledges to look after its recruits. The business has only been trading since 2011 but it has offered a pension scheme, private healthcare and other “blue-chip” benefits from the day it hired its first employee.

“It’s a hefty investment for a start-up but it’s helped us attract some of the best talent out there,” Mr Lofthouse says, adding that incentives have been designed so staff boost their pay by making a bigger contribution to the business’s growth.

Such actions would be a struggle for most small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), notes Duncan Cheatle, a serial entrepreneur who founded The Supper Club, a private networking group for established company founders. He recently launched Rise To, a matchmaking service for young people looking to work for entrepreneurial ventures. “Often, but not always, SMEs are able to sell the passion and purpose of the founders where corporates fail.” This is “appealing to Generation Y”, Mr Cheatle says.

“SMEs can offer flexibility, faster advancement, great sense of making a real impact . . . and often have quirky, low cost benefits that work.”

SMEs tend to make the task of hiring more difficult for themselves because they recruit in a one-off way, placing job adverts when vacancies arise and paying scant attention to the wider perception of the organisation as an employer, Mr Cheatle adds.

“Just as customers expect an ongoing, authentic dialogue with a business or brand, [employees] prefer an employer they know and believe in,” he says. “Corporates have understood this for a while and so often attract the best talent.”

Rise To was designed in part to solve this problem because the website encourages job hunters to return to it, like LinkedIn, by offering a social network, Mr Cheatle says.

He adds that there are other low-cost ways for SMEs to improve their chances of attracting the best talent that do not involve signing up to a website.

Entrepreneurs who are members of the Supper Club have run open days at their company offices, accepted guest speaker invitations at local universities and run competitions to attract talented individuals to their businesses.

For Charlie Mowat, managing director of The Clean Space, which has 300 cleaning staff on its books, the priority is treating people with respect. The Clean Space pays £1.35 an hour more than the UK Living Wage, which outside of London is £7.85 an hour, but there are also policies in place to ensure personal matters, such as an employee’s birthday, are remembered.

Mr Mowat writes in person to cleaners whenever the company gets a compliment from a client.

Happy: employees at The Clean Space are often thanked

“It’s the basics of good human resources,” he says. “The tangible results have been in lower staff turnover, but also better team morale, team development and better recruitment of people that suit the business better.”

Too few small businesses invest in HR advice, according to Mr Mowat.

“We have a dedicated HR manager, who we decided to [hire] two years ago and has been massively helpful. This is something I regret not having in place sooner.”

Mr Mowat believes one of the most important hiring lessons he has learnt is that people tend to divide between those who are happiest in large corporates and those who prefer small businesses, and it is no good trying to convert people to what they are not.

“I’ve had a string of failed appointments where I’ve recruited corporate people who I thought had great experience, who turned out to be terrible at thinking for themselves,” he says.

“Small-business people who end up in corporates feel constrained in how little freedom they get. Of course, they get paid a bit more, which may be good news and that is a fact of life. But I’d take freedom over pay any day of the week.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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