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5 best ways to recruit top talent

Brand Position

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If you’re reading this article,  I don’t have to tell you how difficult it is to recruit top talent and keep it.  A lot of new and small businesses find themselves sucked into this black hole of searching, hiring, training, and losing. Granted, all businesses go through a recruitment cycle, however small businesses seem to fly through it before they’ve even had a chance to file the paperwork. While losing an employee here and there is hardly felt by the big guys, it could represent 25% of a small company’s labor force! And like most small businesses, you are your entire HR department, so the situation can get a little desperate.

I’ve been there, done that, and was too broke to buy the t-shirt! When I first started my business, I vividly remember walking out of a terrible interview…..TERRIBLE interview, after 3 days of terrible interviews. My husband casually asked how it went and bursting into tears into tears I said, “I don’t even care, I just need a warm body at this point”.  It seems important to point out at this juncture,  that if people walked around with descriptive bubbles hovering over their heads, mine would definitely have the words “OCD” and “perfectionist” floating around up there. I knew better, but I felt like I was out of options and time.

I’m here to tell you there is a solution.  There’s a way to recruit top talent even though you can’t offer platinum health benefits, fully funded 401k, stock options, or even own an on-site company gym. By implementing these 5 practices, you can make your small business a major recruiting contender.


1. Build a Culture

Most entrepreneurs spend a lifetime planning the products and services they will offer.  Even as early on as the “dream phase”, you know down to the color of the tile, what your business will look and feel like for your clients. Understanding how important it is to constantly re-evaluate your products and services to stay relevant and competitive is a huge part of success. However, I’m willing to bet that other than knowing you’d have the best staff ever, you didn’t really think about branding your company to potential employees.  But the fact is, recruitment is a form of sales. I’ll say it again for dramatic effect, in all caps. RECRUITMENT IS SALES.

If recruitment is sales, then your staff positions are the product.  Take the time to sit in your staff’s chair (literally, if it helps) and think of the company you would want to work for and also the company you want to lead.  Paint the picture in your head and then get it down on paper.  Do some research on what people in your respective industry find appealing.

I’ll use a little company called Google as an example.  They were looking to recruit the most inventive millennial talent.  So they built an atmosphere that appealed to that demographic.  They didn’t restrict cell phone usage and implement strict break schedules, but rather built “think tank” rooms and decked it out with the coolest technological gadgets.  While this approach has paid off for Google, I doubt an assisted living facility would experience as much success with these offerings.

Customize the culture to fit your business needs:

Find what works for your business and plan it.  How will staff meetings look? Will you use a traditional agenda, or will it be more of an open forum with a few bullet points?  How often will you have them and how long will they last? What will your company events look like? What will work space look like? You get the picture.

Plan it with as much detail as you do your products/services as they are just as important.   This is work, but as a business owner that is par for the course. This investment of time will pay off.  And remember, think outside the box.  You don’t have to book an expensive hotel downtown for your Christmas Party.  Maybe the company outing is a potluck picnic with employees and their families at a nearby park.  Just do something small until you can afford something bigger.  The important thing is that you do something, and you do it consistently.  Consistency is paramount to establishing and maintaining your workplace culture. There’s a great book, The Method Method, that’s an easy read and has some great insight on this topic.

2. Get Organized

Tell me if this sounds familiar? You started your business as a one man show. There was no need/time to write things down or explain them, because it was all you. Fast forward, and your business is doing great and picking up steam. It’s time to hire an assistant to handle some of the housekeeping tasks and give you a little breathing room to get after those big projects.  You know, the ones that will continue to grow your business.

Here’s the trouble, the assistant you hired stinks.  He’s constantly bothering you with questions like, “what’s the password”, “a customer wants to know if we can do this”, “someone called for a quote. What do I do?”.  This usually goes one of two ways.  One: You just have them shadow you so they can “pick it up” as you go along. After all, who has the time to explain every little detail that comes up.  Soon you begin to feel like this was a colossal waste of money since you have to do all the work anyways. Bye bye assistant.   Two: Your new assistant is frustrated because they feel like they are messing everything up, have no idea what to do or expect from day to day, and are embarrassed to interact with clients because they feel incompetent. Bye bye assistant.

Writing down your continuity plan, a training manual, on-boarding schedule, job description, etc is so important.  Not only will this save you time and energy, in the long haul it’s a big money saver.  Think of all the time your staff spends, on the clock, waiting for your instructions or to ask you a question.

Having a manual is like having another person around to help you train.  It answers basic questions like “what do I have to work on today?” “Where do I find that file again?” “Who do we order the toner from?” A piece of advice I’d offer here is to get help.  Chances are, writing this kind of material is not your forte and that’s okay.  It also takes a lot of time. Find a professional business writer…ehem Thebusinessauthor who can help get it all organized and on paper. This is a great way to get started and give you a customized template to work from as it will need updating from time to time as your business grows.

Put the plan on paper.

3. Make a Benefit Package

With all the recent changes to healthcare over the last several years, a lot of companies have had to get creative with their benefits packages.  Some of the biggest companies out there are having to reduce benefit contributions in order to meet new federal requirements.  This is great news for small businesses as it closes the gap between what you can offer and what big companies can.

Offering Traditional Health Benefits:

If you have less than 50 employees, the pricing can get steep, but there are several ways to make it work.  Although some states require 50% contribution at least, there are others that have no minimum requirements. Find out what your state’s requirements are.  If you can afford the 50% then definitely do it, as studies show across the board that retention is high with companies that can offer this.  If you’re in a state that has no requirements, then contribute what you can.  Look for ways to save money by adding inexpensive wellness programs or offering a managed care option.

Also, consider offering an HSA and IRA/401K plan with the bank your company does business with.  It’s relatively easy to do and you can limit your contributions early on.  You can offer a 50% match up to a certain dollar amount that increases every year they are with the company.  It’s a bit of leg work, but just imagine the benefits of being able to advertise your position as having “great benefits package”.

Offering Non Traditional Health Benefits:

If you’re not there yet (and your state has no minimum requirements), at least offer the insurance. Even if you’re not able to contribute, it’s better than nothing at all. There are even free prescription discount cards you can find online and distribute.  Maybe offer a local gym membership.  There are several inexpensive gyms out there for as little as $10 a month.  You can even design your own wellness program with weight loss challenges offering cash prizes.  Again, I will urge you to skim some money off the salary in order to have a benefits package of some sort to offer.

4. Feel It

This is a big one that is often overlooked.  Today’s workforce needs a job where they feel like they are making a difference.  This trend is so pronounced that many companies are allowing employees to use up to 10% of their billable time to volunteer.  While that’s certainly an admirable goal, you may not be able to afford to do so just yet.

In the meantime, get creative.  Use your mission to show how your business impacts the world in a positive way.  Whether you offer a service that makes a difference in people’s lives, or make your products with 50% recyclable material, find something that will resonate and highlight it.  If you have a good marketing firm that has helped with your mission, it should already be embedded there.  Also, work with a charity or volunteer as a business organization.  Sponsor a company charity drive, join a 5k walk/run as a group, take a Saturday every quarter and volunteer somewhere together (off the clock if need be).  Incidentally, this is also a great way to build company loyalty and friendships between employees.  People are likely to stick around if they like the people they work with and the company they work for.

Create a sense of community

5. Recruit top Talent

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: RECRUITING IS SALES!  It’s not enough for you to know you have the best company in town and anyone would be lucky to work with you.  Job seekers need to feel it too.  They don’t want to pass up another opportunity for a business that appears frazzled or unstable and might leave them unemployed in a few months. Recruiting will always be a huge part of your business, so bite the bullet and spend a little more to post on professional websites.  I’m not saying that you’ll never find a good applicant from Craigslist or Facebook, but I am saying that percentage wise you’ll get a much better pool of applicants from a website that requires job seekers to do a little bit of legwork by setting up their own account profiles and uploading a resume.

The Pitch:

Like with any sale, you need a great pitch.  Your job posting is your pitch.  It should be upbeat, confident, clear, concise, eye-catching, and give just the right amount of information. Avoid negative language like: “only serious applicants”, “don’t bother if you are not punctual”.  Use positive trade-offs like “looking for eager, punctual team members ready to join a new and thriving ad agency”.  Also, you want to give them enough information on the job so it’s not a waste of either of your time.  Have you ever seen a job posting that doesn’t include the name of the company, salary range, or even whether it’s full time or part time? And what do you do? Scroll right past.

Let them know off the bat what you can offer that big business can’t. Fast opportunity for growth.  There is usually quite a wait for a good position to open up within a huge company, and once it does there are hundreds of peers ready to compete for the position.  Huge Corporations rarely see Administrative assistant turn office manager in a matter of 6 months.  Yet this is completely normal for small businesses.

Don’t discount the fact that because you are not a huge corporation, you have the luxury of assigning any title you like to a position. Often, young adults just starting out will forgo better pay for a better title.  They understand if they can get the title and stick out the pay for a few years, they have the option to either grow with the company, or at the very least have a huge resume builder. Again, if you’re not sure how to do this, I recommend outsourcing to a business author, freelance copywriter or you can even ask your marketing firm to do it.

Stick to a timeline:

People in the market for a job often don’t have months to sit around and wait for you to get to the stack of resumes on your desk.  It’s a waste of time to review month old applicants that have probably since found work.  The good ones don’t stay on the shelves too long. Have a short window of time where you will accept and review resumes to set up interviews.  Otherwise, you run the risk of waiting too long and missing out on some potentially great hires.

Look the Part:

Why do real estate agents drive ridiculously nice cars? I’ll tell you. It’s to look successful. A nice car means this real estate agent has probably sold a lot of houses, which is how she can afford said car. This means she must be very good at what she does.  Take a page out of their book.

I know as entrepreneurs it’s not unusual to look a little ragged.  Trust me, brush your hair and put on some slacks for these interviews.  What would you think of an applicant that showed up to an interview in flip flops and a stained shirt, 10 minutes late, with a crumpled resume and no pen? Remember, you are selling them as much as they are selling you.  Be on time, look the part, have prepared interview questions, information on your company and posted position, a clean interview space, a beverage to offer, and someone to greet them as they come in.

Close the Sale

Another sales tactic you can utilize is creating a sense of scarcity.  “This sale won’t last” or “Only while supplies last” are tried and true sales techniques.  Schedule your interviews back to back, so potential hires can see you’ve got options. You can also implement a two round interview process where you select top 3 candidates for second interview.  This lets candidates know you have some good options, and often creates a sense of excitement and competitiveness to get the job they might not have originally had.

Most importantly, show them what you have to offer that big business doesn’t.  You are your biggest asset.  Show them how working for you means being treated as a person, not a number.  Introduce them to a few folks as you pass them on the way to the interview space and be mindful of how you interact with your staff. No amount of benefits will atone for a bad interaction you might have with staff in front of your interviewee.  Maybe even have staff photos proudly displayed in a break room or back office.