Business management

How growth businesses find their top recruits

Building a team for success is a key step for entrepreneurs. Here, we reveal the strategies and techniques recommended by recruitment experts, and those who have continued to increase their headcount in 2020.

Fast growth businesses depend on finding the right people to help them succeed. But competition is intense, and skilled people are highly sought after, so it’s essential that measures are put in place to select talent, and that businesses themselves come across as appealing. Here, we talk to growing businesses and experts about what you should know about hiring staff in 2020 and beyond.

Culture and values

Carlene Jackson is the CEO of Brighton-based tech company Cloud9 Insight, which provides CRM software systems. The business has grown its headcount to 35 to keep up with demand in 2020. Jackson has been hiring senior roles and bolstering her marketing team. She says the key to good recruitment for her small business is “cultural fit”.

“I want staff to align well with our company values, which means we are looking for people who are fun and positive, want to learn new things and have a growth mindset,” she says.

“I am seeking ambitious people who are happy to go outside their comfort zone, are highly motivated and keen to try new things, which means they will be easy to coach. I also want to work with those with initiative, people who are team players who will look out for others and support the success of their colleagues.”

After an exceptionally challenging year, where people have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions, Jackson and other entrepreneurs say they are receiving applications from very capable people who often have impressive CVs. However, matching this talent with the roles available can be a challenge for small business owners.

With technology doing so much of the work, the people we hire are going to be the problem solvers. What businesses really need are those who can think differently, communicate ideas and learn new things

Carlene Jackson, CEO, Cloud9 Insight

“We have had more senior-level talent applying for roles, some of whose expectations on salaries are unrealistic for the likely more junior role,” she says. “We like the idea of working with corporate-experienced talent, especially at the senior level, and it’s great that they are considering working for an SME, though it could be a cultural shock.”

Get to know people

Simon Paine is the CEO and co-founder of the PopUp Business School and works with entrepreneurs, helping them start up and grow. He believes there are more effective recruitment methods than CVs and interviews.

“People can learn to say the right things at interviews and create attractive CVs, but it doesn’t really tell you that much about the person. They might have years of experience, be the best qualified but, if they can’t work collaboratively or connect with the team, it will never work.”

Paine recommends working with people on a short-term basis before bringing them into your team full-time. “I’m a big fan of ‘try before you fully buy’. Some of our best hires started with us either ad hoc or on a three-month project. You never really know if this is going to work until you’re thrown together on a live project. For example, we hired a videographer who stayed with the business; while we hired him for film he adds terrific value in all areas and now leads on logistics and brand.”


Getting to know people before you hire them is a great idea. But, for some fast growth businesses, this might sound like a luxury. Lockdown restrictions have hardly made matters easier, but some businesses have still managed to recruit successfully by putting robust measures in place, which can work even when face-to-face meetings are not an option.

Luke Mead is CEO of IT company LMS Group and has seen demand from existing and new clients surge as businesses adapt to working from home and the associated cyber-security issues. Mead thinks attitude trumps skills and offers all of his employees 10 days of fully paid training programmes each year.

The LMS recruiting process starts with CVs and applications. Candidates then receive a written questionnaire with a four-day deadline, which is followed by a telephone interview. Next comes an online skills test, designed to reveal how they think and what types of roles they might be best suited to. Then it’s the first face-to-face interview.

“This interview is a follow-up, with more detail about their experience. It also helps us assess the alignment between them and us, their personality and our gut feeling about them,” explains Mead.

If the candidate still looks like a good fit at this point, a final meeting is arranged where they get to meet other team members.

“This is a two-way interview with the relevant people and those that may be working with the applicant. They are given questions to answer through a presentation, the applicant can also send in five questions in advance for the team. After this stage, we are ready to make a decision.”

What the business needs

Before a business starts hiring, it is key that the founder or management team thinks hard about requirements. Great businesses are teams of people with a range of talents, says Emma Robinson, founder of Red Diamond Executive Headhunters.

“The list will differ slightly from business to business but, in general, every team needs a good leader, MD or general manager, a very good salesperson and someone behind the scenes making it all happen,” she says.

“In the early days, this tends to be reactive; you bring in people as you need them, once you start having the working capital that enables you to do more. Usually, companies start with the commercial teams.

She suggests a flexible approach at the outset, working with people on a short or part-time basis and hiring consultants. However, she also recommends business owners keep their ear to the ground for chances to hire top talent.

“Gaps in the market and opportunities are what we should be looking for – the opportunity to snap up a sales manager of one of your competitors, for example. Covid has changed lots of things – smaller, agile, entrepreneurial businesses are being seen and getting the airtime. They are also winning contracts from those who have let customer services slip.”

With so much talent coming on to the market, now might be a great time to find new people. But, as we move into an entirely new phase for the global economy, fast growth businesses need to think carefully about their hires. Interestingly, while much is made of tech skills, often recruiters speak of the need for soft skills.

As Jackson concludes: “With technology doing so much of the work, the people we hire are going to be the problem solvers. What businesses really need are those who can think differently, communicate ideas and learn new things. These are the people growth businesses really need.”

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