Only one in six small and medium-sized firms are planning to hire new staff in 2010, according to a survey by QBE.

Of those businesses questioned 72% placed a great deal of importance on first impressions at the first meeting, with speaking skills and body language following closely behind at 69% and 68% respectively.

Just over half valued references from current or past employers, 48% a well presented CV and 14% listed in-service training courses as being of great importance.
Business owners listed networking as most effective means of finding new members of staff

Business owners listed networking as most the effective means of finding new members of staff, with nearly half of respondents citing this as the best method. The second most effective method was advertising in the local paper or trade journals, with only 13% listing recruitment or executive search agencies as the preferred means of finding the best people.

In the current marketplace, many companies have seen working as an unpaid intern as a useful way of gaining experience. However, only 18% of respondents described this as a win-win arrangement and over a third said it was exploitative.

"In the current climate, small to medium-sized enterprises have a key role to play in the UK's economy. As a specialist business insurer, QBE is always looking for ways to support the SME community and to help them develop," said Terry Whittaker, managing director distribution at QBE European Operations.