People & Human Resources

There are five applicants for every entry-level job in Australia: Here’s how your SME can find the best candidate

Emma Koehn /

Five young job seekers are competing for every entry-level role that is advertised in Australia, but when it comes to separating out a large volume of beginner job seekers, recruitment experts say small businesses are uniquely placed to find top talent among the masses.

Anglicare’s 2017 Job Availability Snapshot reveals despite a strong period of full-time employment numbers, there are still challenges when it comes to getting a range of Australians into the roles that best suit them.

Of particular concern is the availability of entry-level positions, which comprised 15% of all jobs advertised. More than 124,000 entry-level job seekers were vying for 26,000 positions when Anglicare reviewed the stats in May 2017, its report suggesting many younger job seekers are not benefiting as they could be from a boom in full-time jobs.

Tasmania, Western Australia and South Australia are the toughest markets for competing for entry-level positions: there are 10.7 applicants for every one role advertised in South Australia.

For small businesses with limited HR departments, the sheer volume of job seekers can be intimidating when it comes to finding the right hire. Human resources experts say separating out hundreds of similar CVs to find the candidate that will be the best for match for both the employee and employer is the most time-consuming element of recruitment.

So how should an SME think about finding someone who will grow with the business for the long term? Recruitment professionals say there are a few key strategies to get the best staff possible.

Be clever when crafting your ads

Director of HR Staff ‘n Stuff Deborah Peppard says the simple act of including specific instructions in a job ad will ensure businesses have an easy way of weeding out inappropriate candidates.

“I can tell you that about 10% of job applicants actually follow instructions, which is scary,” Peppard says.

However, businesses can leverage this by including details in their initial callouts that ask for specific, but straightforward, details from the job seeker.

“We get really creative with applications, asking young job seekers to tell us things like their favourite magazine, who inspires you,” she suggests.

Founder of DARE Group Australia Sue Parker agrees that businesses can get the most out of candidates by giving them an opportunity to succeed by showing knowledge, even if they’re not experienced.

“Put something in ads that is a little quirky that people need to respond to. If you’re a retailer and put up an ad, maybe ask for a recent example of an retail experience that was valuable to you.”

Recruitment expert and HR consultant Tabitha West says businesses can also look to the very basics of the application for an indication of the candidate’s quality.

“The best piece of advice I can give you when you have many similar CV’s in your shortlist is look at how much effort has been put into the application and resume itself. Is it well formatted and free from errors?” she says.

“The detail and presentation tells you a lot about a person and their future behaviours.”

Communicate with job seekers

When receiving a large volume of communications for entry-level roles, getting back to each one can be a challenge — but Parker says small businesses must think hard about how they are going to respond to everyone who comes to them seeking employment.

“For young people, and particularly in regional areas, it’s a really tough time,” Parker observes.

The young people who are applying for your job have families and they have connections. An SME might have no idea that the young person applying might be the son or an uncle of a client,” she says. 

The value of communicating promptly with all candidates, even via a standard response, can do wonders for the brand of a small business, because the experience of candidates applying for entry-level positions tends to stay with people for a long time, Parker says.

She says the value of keeping job seekers in the loop is that you can create a community around your business and an expectation people are treated well.

“It’s well known that businesses often don’t respond to applicants, but you can respond to every person with respect.”

Ask about lives, not job experiences

Peppard says small businesses need to adjust their expectations when dealing with younger employees, because the basics of job applications and professional life are not taught the same way through our education system in the same way many company founders might have learned about them.

She suggests businesses be more lenient on applicants about the perfection of job applications and instead focus on getting job seekers to show their passions and values.

“Don’t focus on their lack of experience. Look for things like them playing sports, and people who have held jobs through school, because anybody who has is more likely to have work ethic,” she suggests.

Parker says that despite the often hectic nature of the recruitment process, the only way to truly get to know candidates is by speaking with them.

She suggests talking to a shortlist of people for a few minutes each on the phone, while letting go of the idea that “age predicates maturity”.

“Don’t just assume someone’s age is relevant to their maturity and personality. You have to make the assessment by talking to them — don’t pre-judge.”

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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