Maybe you have that sixth sense, or maybe you’re just lucky. If you’ve managed to find good employees, you’re doing a lot right. But for many small business owners, finding and hiring the “right” employees can be a real challenge. Instinct and luck play a role, sure, but how you approach the recruiting and hiring process will determine a lot of your success.
Small businesses have a reputation for poor hiring practices. For instance, it can make sense—at the time—to hire friends and family members. They’re known entities, you trust them and know they’ll be loyal to you. But in exchange, you can find yourself with people who lack the skills you need or who just aren’t a fit. And then there’s the biggie: How do fire your brother-in-law or your best friend’s son?
So listen up, small business owners. You don’t have the luxury of a lot of trial and error. Finding the right employees is one of the most important things you’ll do for your business. It requires thought, planning and diligence, starting with the basics:
- What do you really need? Don’t react; take a step back. Look at trends. Do you really need another sales person? Or is the real need in customer service?
- Be specific. Whether you need to build the new position from scratch or fill an existing one, few small business jobs fit a neat, narrow, more corporate profile. And yet, you still need to be able to articulate a job description. Writing (or rewriting) one will help focus your thoughts and set expectations.
- Look around. Can you describe your corporate culture? What does your business stand for? If you haven’t done this before, this is a good time to commit your brand values to paper, along with your customer service philosophy. Describe the corporate culture based on what you see around you: Is this a casual and fun but productive atmosphere? Or is it more subdued and formal? Would you say the pace is frenetic or about average? Most importantly, what types of people are thriving in this environment?
- Put the word out. Tap professional groups and associations, as well as friends and colleagues. Word of mouth works amazingly well, as do referral bonuses for employees. Still, be prepared to weed out 80-90 percent of the resumes you get.
- Take time to pre-screen. Resist the temptation to jump to the interviews as quickly as possible. Take a critical eye to the resumes—eliminate obvious non-matches, but also any with typos or misspellings. Think about the cover letters: How does this person think? How does he refer to himself and your company? Did he or she put care and thought into the letter? Pick your top five, and schedule preliminary interviews. (Keep your next five closeby).You can do this by phone; Skype is great. From here, move to in-person interviews.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare. While you want a relaxed, productive conversation, you still need to have questions prepared. Allow enough time for real discussion. Talk about the company and the present opportunity in specific and honest terms. But be sure to let the candidate do most of the talking! Ask others to spend some time with your candidates; their insights will be invaluable.
- Be creative in your offer. Don’t be stymied by the “we-can’t-compete-with-the-big-guys” syndrome. You want salaries to be as competitive as possible, but you’ve also got creative and attractive options for fleshing out employment packages: Think flex-time, telecommuting, pets in the office. Quality of life at work matters a lot.
- Onboard for longevity. Recruiting and hiring the right employees doesn’t end when your new hire accepts the job offer. In many ways, the real work is just beginning. Onboarding—how you bring someone on, introduce them to their job and the company and integrate them into the culture—can be a big determinant in job satisfaction and longevity.
But those who’ve mastered the basics will tell you that the recruiting/hiring process is really an art. In fact, writing on yfsentrepreneur.com, contributor and global services CEO Liz Elting says that if you struggle with hiring the right people, you’re probably going about the evaluation process all wrong. Instead, she says, you shouldn’t be afraid to “go off the grid” of conventional practice to look for the unexpected, like experience or skills others might miss or dismiss. And then there are the intangibles—attitude and interpersonal skills— that you can only spot in an interview, really, along with a sense of integrity and leadership potential.
More good advice comes from contributor Jeff Haden’s How to Hire the Best Small Business Employees on cbsnews.com. Haden also focuses on the intangibles that can’t be taught but that are critical. For example, the best small business employees, he says, “are a little bit off,” (in a good way), meaning that quirkiness and irreverence can indicate those willing to stretch and challenge. And what about the person who wants to learn something and then just takes it over? Grab him or her immediately! Give serious consideration to the person who approaches you, unsolicited, with an understanding of your business and some good ideas. Click the link above for more on Haden’s perspective on hiring.
Image courtesy of 89studio/FreeDigitalPhotos.net