The challenge of attracting the right team members to your small business is the toughest it has been since the internet bubble of the late ’90s. Job openings outnumber candidates nearly two to one, and the unemployment rate is at its lowest in the past 52 years. To attract the best team members, your company needs to become the “employer of choice” for people who are interested in the opportunities you can provide — similarly to attracting customers who will choose to buy your products or services.
Here are five steps you can take to help make your small business a place where everyone wants to work.
1. Post compelling job ads and position descriptions with video interviews
Job ads that consist of a title, a boring list of tasks and “competitive” compensation is unlikely to attract the candidates you need. Prospective employees have a lot of different opportunities to choose from, at a variety of companies. To engage the right candidates, you need to sell “the shot” of working at your company. You need to convey concisely the difference your company makes for its customers, how meaningful it is to work there, what the job responsibilities will be and how this position contributes to the overall mission of the business.
One of the best ways to accomplish this is to produce short one-to-two-minute videos of people doing that job enthusiastically. Prospective applicants can see firsthand what work looks like for people who are already in the role, and visualize themselves at your company. Putting faces to the business also helps humanize your brand so you’re more than just a name. According to video platform Ongig, video job descriptions get a 487 percent increase in engagement compared to similar text ads.
Expect to pay more for everyone you hire this year. While the average raise for employees has been 6 percent in 2022, this increase doesn’t even cover inflation. Well-qualified candidates are looking for 15 to 20 percent higher pay than last year, as well as important perks like the option to work from home, better insurance plans and flexible time off.
2. Articulate a mission that applicants can believe in
In general, people work in teams so they can achieve goals that are bigger than what they can do on their own. Every small business owner needs to tap into this desire by creating a mission that all employees can work together to achieve. These goals can’t be just about making more money, growing the company or selling more products. You need values that make a difference in the lives of your customers. You want every employee to be passionate about this goal and feel fulfilled by accomplishing it.
Starbucks, for example, doesn’t just want to sell coffee. Their stated company goal is to “inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”
My own company’s mission is to get small business owners unstuck. One of the first things these owners often say to me is how they are “stuck and can’t move [their] business forward.” It’s a statement every entrepreneur can relate to and a place they want to move forward from.
Business owners should be ready to articulate this mission during the interviewing process. In today’s labor market, interviews aren’t just about deciding whether you want to hire the candidate; they’re also about the candidate deciding whether they want to work for you. If you can’t sell them on your mission, they might decline your job offer.
3. Look for new employees everywhere, all the time
Most companies use some form of online job service that searches for the target candidate. The price to advertise with services like Craigslist, Indeed and LinkedIn varies drastically — and you may end up with a few matches, or hundreds of unqualified resumes. These investments can get expensive, so it’s important to test different strategies to see where your best candidates come from. My suggestion is to rotate your job ads weekly, since new ads tend to be displayed more prominently.
Some companies aggressively try to take employees from their competitors — which is much easier to do thanks to LinkedIn and social media. Small business owners can send direct messages to potential candidates to try to recruit them. But if you are successful with this tactic, it could backfire, should your competitors call your employees and try to steal them away from you.
Referrals tend to be a strong recruitment source for small businesses, since these candidates have been vetted by your current team. Consider a referral bonus, awarding $250 to $1,000 to any employee who refers a new team member (once the new hire has stayed for 60-90 days). The referring employee then has greater personal investment in the new employee’s success. But don’t limit referrals to employees; ask your vendors and customers for referrals as well (but instead of a referral bonus, send a thank-you gift).
One of my clients creates their own pop-up job fairs. When they’re looking for maintenance technicians for their business, they stand outside their local Home Depot with a big hiring sign and encourage qualified people to sign up for a follow-up interview. They have found several good employees with this strategy.
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In this economy, you need to always be looking for new candidates as part of all aspects of your communication strategy. Create a footer for every company email: “Do you know any talented people that that might be interested in joining our team? Let us know.” This should link to a webpage with all your current job opportunities.
Small business owners should track their employee candidates like sales prospects. You need to build a recruitment pipeline and keep it full; you never know when you’ll have a job opening and need to make a hire.
You also need to act quickly — from identifying candidates to interviewing them and finally presenting a job offer. This process used to happen in a period of weeks to months, but now you need to be able to do it in a few days — or you risk losing candidates to a company that moves faster.
To find more candidates, you need to know where these prospects came from, their interview results and whether they accepted the job. If a candidate turned down your offer, keep track of why. If a pattern emerges, adjust your targeted candidates accordingly, or adjust the position’s compensation structure. You can track this in a simple Excel spreadsheet, but if your company is more than 15 people, consider investing in a part-time HR professional to help with all these tasks.
4. Interview (remotely and in person) with both managers and peers
Too often, candidates interview with just the business owner or the position’s direct manager. Don’t be afraid to interview the same candidate multiple times.
Before a hiring decision is made, every candidate should meet with the position’s peers. These types of interviews can give the candidate a better understanding of your company culture and the work environment. Their peers can also inform management how they think the candidate would work (or not work) on the team. If the candidate is hired with peer support, their peers will act as natural mentors in their first few days at the company.
5. Be diligent in onboarding new employees
At one of my last companies, we were hiring people so quickly that, on their first day, we asked them to put together their own desk and “train themselves.” This turned out to be a very bad strategy for retention, and we lost many new hires in their first week. When we slowed down and properly trained new hires, onboarding became much more successful.
Taking time to onboard new employees with the right processes and tools makes it much more likely they will stay, and that they’ll work productively. This is still necessary if your new hire has prior experience in a similar role. They may know how to do the job at another company, but they won’t instinctually understand your specific processes, goals or customers.
Begin with a warm welcome on their first day to show them how glad you are that they’re joining the team. Personally introduce them to as many people on the team as is practical. Make sure they have the productivity tools they need for their job. This includes a comfortable, dedicated workspace (if they’re coming into the office), a company laptop and smartphone — set up and ready to go — and all necessary login information. Regardless of their level of expertise, have them train alongside other people in similar roles for their first week or two. Personally take them to lunch, or let someone on their team take them to lunch and expense it. Establish weekly checkpoints for their first month with the company. As you assess their progress, ask them if the role is meeting their expectations.
For some companies, attracting employees this year will be harder than attracting customers. Focus on creating a workplace where people are eager to work. Run a serious and sustained process, just like when you’re looking for the best customers. Candidates will feel the difference — and you will have many more people saying yes.
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