New LinkedIn Data Shows That Job Seeker Interest Is Shifting to Small Businesses

October 7, 2020

Nick Mastronardi needed to hire a software engineer for Polco, his small but thriving company in Middleton, Wisconsin. Polco offers a civic engagement platform on which community leaders can take the pulse of their constituents — and citizens can raise their concerns to City Hall.

Talented software engineers are, of course, hard to come by, particularly if you’re a tiny startup competing with the deep-pocketed Amazons, Facebooks, and Googles of the world. But Nick was nonetheless able to find candidates who valued the fast pace of a startup and the social impact focus of Polco. Nick ended up hiring several top  engineers, including two who have previously worked at Google.

And he’s not alone. Small business owners have discovered that many job seekers are increasingly turning to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) as employers of choice — making this an excellent time for plucky SMBs to hire blue-chip talent. LinkedIn data shows that while SMBs have seen their share of all jobs posted drop by 22% since March, their share of all job applications has, in the same time frame, risen 25%.

The numbers in the second graph may seem surprising if not jarring. In times of economic uncertainty, wouldn’t job seekers be looking for the stability and financial buoyancy of a large enterprise? Not necessarily.

For starters, SMBs can often move more nimbly and pivot their business model and product suite more quickly in response to a crisis. (For some compelling examples of this, scan the list of LinkedIn’s recent Top Startups of 2020.)

SMB applicants are more likely to be focused on purposeful mission, challenging work, and rapid promotion

While most SMBs won’t be able to match salaries and benefits with their larger, well-heeled rivals, they often have other things that candidates are seeking. And knowing these differences may help SMBs attract and land candidates who can drive them forward.

Here are three factors that SMB candidates rate more highly than do those seeking jobs at larger companies: Finding a company with a purposeful mission, being given challenging work, and having an opportunity for rapid advancement.

In the latest LinkedIn Talent Drivers Survey, 25% of SMB applicants said that “a company with a purposeful mission” was one of the most important factors when they were looking for a job, which is higher than for non-SMB applicants.

That finding jibes with what Nick has found as Polco has grown from 11 FTEs last December to 29 today. “COVID-19 has definitely played a role in people’s availability,” Nick says. “But a lot of people are also drawn to our clear purpose and mission — to help communities make more informed decisions.”

It also aligns with an employee value proposition (EVP) survey LinkedIn did two years ago of SMB and non-SMB employees. In that survey, 25% of SMB employees said a purposeful mission was one of the most important EVPs, which was also higher than the number of large enterprise employees who said it was a top EVP.

Employees moving from large enterprises to SMBs are often getting promoted or becoming a people manager

Nearly a quarter (24%) of SMB candidates listed the opportunity for rapid advancement as one of the most important factors they were looking for in a new position. And this aspiration plays out in behavioral data.

According to LinkedIn data, employees who’ve made a recent career transition from a non-SMB to an SMB have been 34% more likely to be getting a promotion (starting a new role at a more senior level than before) than employees transitioning from an SMB to a non-SMB. Employees making a transition from a non-SMB to an SMB were also 74% more likely to be taking on a role managing people than employees transitioning in the other direction.

People really are looking to SMBs as places for more challenging work.

Now is a pivotal time for SMBs to be looking for talent

Abe Kamarck is the founder of True Made Foods, which makes award-winning ketchup and other condiments — “We’ve added nutrition and removed the sugar,” he says — that are sold at Walmart, Safeway, Kroger, and Whole Foods, among other outlets. Earlier this year, True Made landed a contract to be the condiment provider for the Boston Red Sox baseball team. The countless thousands of Fenway Franks consumed in any given season will require a lot of ketchup. “Our operation is getting more complex,” Abe says.

So, he decided to hire a director of operations rather than continue to outsource that work. Though he is headquartered in Virginia, Abe found interested candidates as far afield as California. “We’re benefiting right now,” he says, “from the companies that failed early in the pandemic. There’s so much more talent available than before. I decided to move on it because that talent may not be around much longer.”

Small businesses that don’t capitalize on the current talent market will find themselves, as Abe might say, playing ketchup.

Co-authored by Murat Erer

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