Small Business, Big Talent: Recruiting Strategies to Close the Skills Gap

Business.com / HR Solutions / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Small businesses continue to struggle to grab the best job candidates on the market. Here some strategies for hiring the right people.

The June 2015 NFIB (National Federation of Independent Business) Report on small business trends didn’t have a lot of good news.

In addition to a declining optimism index, more than half of SMBs surveyed reported hiring or trying to hire, but most of them were unable to find qualified applicants.

According to "The Wall Street Journal," the inability to fill job openings is stifling small business growth. The problem may not be a lack of qualified candidates, however. Potential workers may view smaller ventures and startups as riskier, less stable places to work. On top of that, most SMBs lack the infrastructure to effectively recruit. Consequently, they struggle as larger firms take their pick of the best available candidates.

Here are some strategies for finding the right people for the jobs you need to get done.

Related Article: 6 Small Business Perks That Will Recruit Big Talent

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Employ Your Best Assets

There’s no better recruiting tool than your own employees. Assuming, of course, that they feel challenged by their work, appropriately compensated and happy working for you. Chances are, they know people like themselves who’d fit both your corporate culture and your skill needs.

As one employer describes in "The Guardian," “Everybody is fighting for that employee pool—But your happy employees are telling their friends.” A small financial incentive will encourage them to spread the word about what a great place your business is to work—offer a $250 bounty or some similar reward for each successful new recruit an employee brings in.

Boost Your Brand

Think of potential employees as customers. You’ve got to sell them on why they’d want to work for you as opposed to some bland, impersonal conglomerate that lacks the camaraderie, flexible work schedules, access to your entrepreneurial brain or whatever it is that defines your corporate culture.

You do this through your website, your social media and your job descriptions. If that sounds like a lot of extra work, it’s really not. It’s just an extension of what you are already doing—promoting your brand to the general world so you can stand out.

Look to LinkedIn

People no longer look for jobs the way they used to. They rely on sites such as LinkedIn for employers to find them. If you’re not active on LinkedIn—by which we don’t mean just trolling profiles, but actively posting news about your company and employment opportunities and (see above) your brand—you’re missing out on a potentially valuable talent pool that pays minimal attention to conventional job ads.

Related Article: Does LinkedIn’s Acquisition of Lynda Signal the New Age of HR?

Small is Your Selling Point

Talent recruiter Robert Half advises highlighting the benefits of working for a small company, such as:

  • Flexible job descriptions that provide opportunities to perform functions that expand skill sets and offer interesting challenges.
  • Lack of hierarchical and bureaucratic management structures that inhibit creativity and individual initiative.
  • Ability to see how one's efforts directly contribute to the company’s success and bottom-line performance.
  • Ability to quickly assume extensive responsibilities that contribute to greater job satisfaction and professional growth.

Develop Sector Partnerships

Sector partnerships are training collaborations between employers and community colleges, trade and technical schools, workforce agencies, labor unions and other stakeholders. They are frequently supported by federal and state government initiatives designed to, “support the creation and maintenance of these partnerships and empower them to target education and training dollars from a variety of sources to the changing needs of local industries.” The advantage to employers is twofold:

  • Direct access to a developing labor pool trained in the specific skill sets required by your business.
  • A more cost-effective way to train and develop your people. Instead of investing in the resources to create in-house training, you share the expenses among multiple partners.

Don’t Be So Particular

While certain jobs absolutely can’t be done without certain skill sets, don’t be so quick to reject potential applicants that aren’t a 100 percent fit for your needs. Look for other characteristics, such as an eagerness to learn or an ability to think on one’s feet. Sure, you’ll have to invest some time in training and developing these people, but you need to be doing that anyway if want to retain and maintain a quality workforce.

quote about hiring and skill sets

And, in most cases, it’s going to cost you less to train someone with potential than it is to leave an important job function empty that forces you to turn down work or, worse, fall short of customer expectations. Promotion of a “can-do” attitude among existing and potential employees often pays off better than having one or two people with narrow ranges of expertise.

Outsource Recruiting

If you can’t afford your own dedicated recruitment staff, you can probably afford to outsource it. In fact, you probably can’t afford to not outsource it. As recruitment specialist Andrew Greenberg notes, “It’s difficult for many organizations to find qualified candidates or improve their recruiting effectiveness with in-house recruiting…When (you) outsource recruiting, (you) benefit from recruiting firms’ ability to reach more candidate, access passive candidates that [you] may not otherwise be able to engage, and realize more efficient use of recruiting resources.”

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