You’re thinking about making your first new hire in years as you look to grow your small company. Yet the prospect of taking on a risky newcomer and adding to the payroll have either paralyzed you or impelled you to act hastily. Take a deep breath and absorb these recruitment strategies from small-business owners who have made hires in these uncertain times.
Slow down. Don’t short-change your recruiting strategy just because a thousand candidates come knocking every day. “Hiring decisions are among the most important that we make,” says Jeff Adams, president of Balentine, a financial advisory firm in Atlanta. Start recruiting early, perhaps before you’re even certain you want to make a hire.
Don’t assume employee sourcing will be easy. Yes, many millions of Americans are out of work. But talent acquisition crisis means that not all positions will be easy to fill with top people. “There are still a ton of qualified candidates in HR and IT, but sales recruitment is more difficult,” says Rob Wilson, president of HR outsourcing firm Employco in Westmont, Ill.
Hire just in time. Do a cost-benefit analysis as part of your hiring strategy, before you add to your payroll. “Hiring today to be prepared for tomorrow is obsolete,” says Jeff Dudan, CEO of AdvantaClean Systems, a mold-remediation franchisor. “To be competitive, you can’t have extra people around. You have to wait to hire until you’re in pain.”
Cast a wide net, regardless. Yes, there are cheap or free channels for sourcing hundreds of candidates for almost any position. But to make the best hire, you must conduct a broad search. “Employee referrals, Web postings and a placement firm -- together this gets us the best and brightest,” says Adams.
Bring in the grown-ups. Your new hire will have to learn your proprietary systems, but she or he should come in with all the fundamental skills in gear. “In this economic environment we have less time to grow people into their roles,” says Seth Earley, CEO of consulting firm Earley & Associates in Stow, Mass.
To thin the herd, test candidates early. What’s the quickest way to narrow the field of candidates to serious contenders? Put them to work -- on a demanding employment application. “With the job market the way it is, employers can set up hurdles in the hiring process, like a lengthy Q&A,” says Dudan. Write a screening questionnaire that tests candidates’ industry knowledge, energy level, as well as innate reasoning and communications abilities.
Interview hard. Small businesses are putting a lot on the line when they make a new hire. One additional employee can either spark a new wave of growth for your company or send it into a death spiral by losing customers or missing opportunities for new business. So you owe it to your company to put candidates through multiple, demanding interviews with lots of open-ended questions. And bring your current employees into the interview process to boost their buy-in of a new colleague.
Think twice about hiring out of big companies. It’s tempting to recruit large company employees for your small firm. But don’t underestimate the challenge to that corporate warrior when he finds out he has to do all of his own legwork. “People who have been successful at major corporations have a very difficult time adjusting to the small-business environment,” says Dudan.
It’s OK to consider (un)employment status. Is it fair to question the qualifications of a victim who’s been a casualty of massive layoff? It is, if you consider the stakes for your business and your employees. “For every one person out of work, 9 are employed,” says Dudan. “The very best performers typically remain employed.”
Do-it-yourself temp-to-perm. If you can get a top performer to join you as a contract or temp worker, give serious consideration to the arrangement, which reduces some of the risks of bringing on a new worker. “As more projects ramp up, we give the best contractors preference and transition those who want full-time employment into that role,” says Earley.
Check references, really. Criminal and other background checks may be necessary in these litigious times, but you should engage in reference checking the old-fashioned way, with this twist: Leave a voicemail or send an email to the reference, asking them to contact you only if they consider the candidate to be one of the best employees they’ve ever had, and only if they can recommend the candidate without reservation. You’ll have more faith in a positive response; no response will be bad news for the candidate.