4 tips for small business hiring

December 13, 2011

Owning a small business means that you wear a lot of hats — from the CEO to the marketing manager, and from the bookkeeper to the sales force.

Finding time to wear the human resources hat can be challenging, but it is one of the most critical priorities in growing your small business. Adding the right talent to your team is especially important when those one or two new employees will make up a significant percentage of your staff. Finding great people — the ones who fit with your culture, who share your vision, who can make immediate and lasting contributions — can be very difficult, but it is the most important thing that you can do to ensure success.

Here are four ways that small business owners can better source and hire truly great people:

Make time to hire

Many small businesses don’t have a formal human resources department — or even one dedicated HR professional who is available to manage their recruiting and hiring. As painful as it may be, the most important factor in hiring great people is devoting time to the process. Schedule it into your day just like you would a client meeting or a business transaction.

For example: The first week after posting a job advertisement, take 30 minutes each morning to download and compile resumes and cover letters; at the end of each day, review them and put aside potential interviewees for follow-up. Then, at the end of the week, review your selections and short-list a group of candidates to phone screen.

For those candidates who pass the phone screen, take an hour at the end of the day to e-mail and invite them to a face-to-face job interview. It’s important to meet potential employees in person, but understand that interviews can vary in length depending on the position you’re trying to fill; plan accordingly for high-level candidates who may require a longer interview. If you have quite a few candidates for an open position and need to save time, consider using a free video chat program like Skype to conduct a remote interview.

Additionally, as a small business, you might have the unique opportunity to introduce job candidates to a majority of your other staff members. The first impression a candidate makes on your staff serves as a barometer for his or her ability to fit with your corporate culture. Factor in the availability of the rest of your staff to get the most out of your time with the candidate when he or she comes in to interview.

Fish for candidates

The secret to successful recruiting is all about networking — and maintaining an active network. It’s a tall order for a small business owner with so many other responsibilities, so it’s important to leverage every resource available to you.

But don’t limit yourself to active job seekers. Take a moment to think, even if you’re not hiring for a specific position right now, who are three people you know that you’d hire in a heartbeat, regardless of their current availability? What is it about these people and their skills that are so valuable? Now ask your colleagues, family members, friends, business suppliers and partners the same question.

Make a list of these talented people and compile their contact information. Are any looking to find a new position, change industries or know of anyone else who would be a good fit for your company? Mine your personal and professional relationships when looking for new employees; you need to find great people that fit in with your small business’s culture and are passionate at what they do. Don’t wait for candidates to come to you.

Try before you buy

For small businesses with limited resources, employing contract workers can be a cost-effective way of searching for ideal employees. Working with contractors allows you to staff up when you need it — whether you’re introducing a new product or entering your busy season — and then immediately downsize when you’re finished. Even better, it’s easy to convert a contractor to full-time employee if both you and the contractor feel that there’s a mutual fit.

If you can’t afford to hire contract workers, or just have an assignment or two to complete, consider project-based hiring sites like oDesk or Elance where the talent places bids on your project. You can review their credentials and choose a contractor whose bid and experience best match your budget.

Never compromise

While you may be desperate to fill that IT programmer or outside sales slot and have a decent — but not impressive — candidate, resist the temptation to believe that someone in the position beats having no one. As a small business owner this is the time to be the most careful about whom you hire. And, in the long run, you’ll lose more in productivity and morale by hiring and firing workers than you will by waiting to make an offer to the right candidate.

Apple’s Steve Jobs once famously said, “My number one job here at Apple is to make sure that the top 100 people are A+ players . . . everything else will take care of itself. If the top 50 people are right, it just cascades down throughout the whole organization.”

The truth is that “A-players” bring in other “A-players,” and in keeping your standards high you are showing that your business refuses to settle. Taking the time to determine the type of people you want to hire, and looking for them in strategic places, quickly identifying mismatches and developing interim and contract staffing strategies as needed, can help you hire the best to ensure your company’s ongoing success.

Last words

Remember: A company can only grow as fast as it can hire great people. Your success as a business depends upon your commitment to the hiring process. The benefits of finding great people who fit with your company culture, share your vision and make an immediate and lasting impact cannot be understated.

Carolyn Hughes is vice president of people at SimplyHired.com.

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