How to Hire Heroes

Play up your small business's strengths and you too can secure superstar talent

Written by Roger Pierce
Special Report: Hiring Superstar TalentThis Editorial Report is brought to you by
West Jet

The marketplace for talented employees is highly competitive. How can you hire the right person without the shiny (and expensive) perks dangled by larger employers? Play to your small business strengths. You’ve got a lot more to offer talented potential employees than mere money. In fact, your newish business may offer the rocket ride that a superstar recruit seeks.

It’s surprising how often the in-demand, accomplished, educated, write-their-own-cheque job hunters will choose to work for a small business over a big one. After all, a big employer offers everything an employee would ever want: job stability, competitive income, benefits, advancement opportunities, education bursaries, escalating vacation time and plenty of other employees to hide behind when things go wrong.

So, if they can work anywhere they choose, and demand as much money as they want, why would a stellar recruit choose to work for your messy startup?

You don’t offer job security. Heck, you’re not even sure you’ll get a paycheque next month—and you’re the business owner.

Your office is, well, casual. The desks are from IKEA. The fake plants are a little dusty. The communal printer needs a kick now and then. One employee leaves his bicycle in the hall. Another brings her golden retriever to work every Friday.

Employee salaries are third-world. Workload is unpredictable, full of midnight-oil burning moments involving aspirin and take-out food.

Despite these seemingly negative features, your small business has more to offer the right employee than any big corporation.

Many potential recruits may be attracted to your company mission, culture, promotional opportunities, business network, location, working hours, benefits package or organizational chart. The secret is to communicate these features as benefits.

Load up responsibilities

Large companies tend to be compartmentalized, preventing eager superstars from tasting the action of career-advancing projects. As a small business, your organization is likely more flat-lined and less hierarchal. That’s attractive to employees who crave participation in projects that are both important and exciting.

Pile on more work than you’d expect any reasonable job candidate to accept. Present a few Big Hairy Audacious Goals to lure in top talent. Give them a wild ride assignment, like opening up a foreign market or getting a new product off the ground. Promise long hours, stress, challenge and excitement. The right person will step up.


No one will notice that Employee of the Month award hanging in a big business cubicle. Play up your ability to shout the accomplishments of your employees to future employers, made possible by your robust professional network and personal pledge to talk up performers.

Special Report: Hiring Superstar TalentThis Editorial Report is brought to you by
West Jet

Amplify your unique rewards program (which compensates for low pay). Rewards don’t need to be in the form of cash—give a day off, or share perks you’ve received from vendors (superstar employees love a free golf game or a three-martini lunch).

Recognition can include giving special assignments to high-performers (yes, more work! They’ll love it). Give them autonomy and command over decisions or the chance to be “intrapreneurial” within your entrepreneurial organization.

Access to you

In a big business most employees don’t know the name of the boss’ boss. The pyramid must be respected, where level-jumping communications are discouraged if not downright prohibited. It’s therefore very difficult for an ambitious employee to gain access to potentially career-boosting superiors.

Play up direct access to you and your management team. This is very attractive to because future superstars crave opportunities to learn. Promise to share what you know.

Involvement in decisions

Large employers, because they are large, simply cannot involve everyone in everything. There are departments and organization charts and lines-of-authority, after all. So employees get relegated to their cubicles and never asked for input in key decisions affecting the business.

No so in your small business. You involve your team. In fact, their thoughts and comments and challenges make your business stronger (and your job easier). You welcome and encourage employee input and involvement in the decision-making process.

So promise your recruit a voice and deliver opportunities for him or her to be heard.

Play up your purpose

Chances are that your small business mission is more purposeful than “maximizing shareholder value.” Perhaps your mission is to change the world, build a better mousetrap or improve lives. To your potential employee, focus on those core values. Highlight your objectives. Play up your purpose.

Every hero is attracted to a worthy cause.

Stay tuned for Roger’s advice on how to secure startup cash on July 19.

Read the rest of Roger’s series on starting up a business for can’t miss advice.

Back to the HIRING SUPERSTAR TALENT Special Report  •Download the PDF

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