When it comes to hiring top talent, businesses are feeling the crunch. Sixty percent of small business owners and managers say finding skilled workers is their company’s greatest challenge when it comes to hiring and managing staff, according to one our firm’s recent polls.

Howarth offers a number of suggestions to help small business owners recruit against larger competitors. (Daniel Acker/BLOOMBERG)

But, with unemployment still relatively high, why should employers have to work so hard to find and attract the professionals they need?

The answer may lie in the emerging specialist economy. Our high rate of unemployment is obscuring the fact that specialized talent — those individuals with the niche knowledge and the skills to do a specific job — is in short supply. This is especially true in high-demand fields that require both a college education and specialization, such as healthcare, information technology, and accounting and finance.

Reflective of this trend, the unemployment rate for workers over the age of 24 who have a college degrees was only 3.8 percent last month.

So, how can small employers compete with the bigger guys in this employment environment? Use some of the following ideas to take advantage of your strengths as a small business and strengthen your recruitment efforts.

Accentuate your assets

To create a pipeline of specialized, skilled candidates you can draw from, you’ll need to make your small firm visible and top-of-mind in your market — even when you aren’t hiring.

Assess the special qualities of your business. They can range from the operational to the cultural. You want to identify the unique “personality” that will make people want to work for you. What are you known for? Outstanding customer service, cutting-edge software applications, a successful telecommuting program, or some other asset?

Make “small” a selling point

Don’t forget a key attribute that every small business can leverage: your size. Many talented professionals don’t want to work for a huge corporation. Why not cast your size as a benefit of joining your company? For instance, point out that new hires have:

• More chances to develop professionally. On a small team, your employees must often perform functions beyond their stated job descriptions. This sort of “forced development” can be a good thing. It means your teams can acquire new skills and develop a broad range of abilities sooner in their careers than their counterparts at large firms.

• Greater visibility. Think of the analogy about fish and the size of the pond they occupy. It’s harder for people’s contributions to be overlooked when they’re not continually lost in the crowd. In a small firm, employees can have more of a visible impact and the satisfaction of knowing they’re doing important work.

• Innovative voices not drowned out. With fewer layers of approval to navigate, your small business may be quicker than a large company to recognize great employee proposals and move on them. This can be important to someone brimming with new ideas. There are simply fewer obstacles in the path of suggestions becoming a reality.

• Access to leadership. When the head of the company is just down the hall rather than on the 30th floor or in a faraway city, talking to him or her is a simple matter. The management structure usually isn’t as layered as at larger firms, so employees can interact with and learn from a small-business owner or president on a more regular basis.

Get the word out

Once you’ve decided on the aspects of your firm you think may be most attractive to the talent you need, it’s time to get the word out. Find creative ways of letting people in your target recruitment demographic know what makes you unique as an employer, like:

• Use your website to post details about your company’s culture, history, successes, community involvement and current activities.

• Create a presence on social media sites and regularly engage followers with relevant content.

• Sponsor forums or workshops for professionals in your industry

• Encourage your current employees to tap their own professional networks for potential candidates and perhaps awarding cash bonuses for referrals that result in a new hire.

• Make sure your job postings convey the appealing qualities of joining your team so the best and brightest are motivated to apply.

Josh Howarth is regional cice president for Robert Half, a staffing firm located in Washington, D.C.