Stop Fishing for Employees

Features - Cover Story

Tips to hook better candidates and ease your burden to reel in the best employees.

August 22, 2017

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As a small business owner, you're beyond busy, and that isn't likely to change. One moment, you're serving as a salesperson, trying to close a big snow and ice management contract with a new client. The next, you're playing service rep and managing an existing client's complaints, or doing executive tasks like running to the bank to sign small business loan documents.

Add to these roles more networking, more service, and more managing. Suddenly, your best employee gives notice that their striking out on their own – meet your newest competitor.

So, as busy as you are, how will you find time to recruit, interview, hire, and train the employees you need for the next snow season?

Small business owners are competing with one another for quality employees. The Internet leveled the playing field, and now your company and all others – big and small – are able to reach out to top talent. This is straining an already tapped-out talent pool and has left many small business owners searching far and wide for talented and resourceful job candidates.

As a small business owner, you have to find great talent quickly in order to perform at full capacity.

When you're operating with a small crew, you have to find smart, resourceful talent capable of keeping up with the fast-paced dynamics that come along with a small company. Luckily, fitting hiring into your already busy day isn't that complicated. It just requires a few easy adjustments."

Here are four steps you can take to make your hiring more efficient than ever.

Leverage productive talent streams

Asking for referrals and networking with other business people has long been a highly effective way to locate talent. In fact, business owners who carve out time each week for networking and referral generation discover a secret: The labor pool isn't as tapped out as they originally thought. They simply weren't taking a disciplined approach to recruiting.

Share with other business owners

Keep in mind that you're not going to be able to hire every great candidate you meet. Sometimes talented candidates just aren't the right fit for your company, and other times, all of your positions are filled. When this happens, be sure to share candidates with other business owners to help them solve their own hiring challenges; they will also be happy to reciprocate.

Business owners who share talent in this manner with at least eight or more businesses report greater success in hiring faster and making better hires.

Conduct hands-on interviews

The standard approach to hiring is to conduct interviews where candidates talk about work. Not only is this a huge drain on time, it's also an inaccurate way to assess whether a candidate fits your job. That's why many small business owners have turned to doing hands-on interviews.

In a hands-on interview, you experience the candidate doing sample work. If it's for a sales role, the candidate joins you on a sales call. If you're hiring for a customer service role, he can help solve a customer's problem. By watching the candidate in action, you save time while also making a more accurate assessment of whether or not someone is a good fit.

Line up key people before you need them

Some roles are more vital than others, and when these roles are left unfilled, they can harm your business. Plus, the extra work usually falls on your already overflowing plate.

Instead of waiting until an employee in an essential job quits or gives notice to start recruiting, do yourself a favor and recruit ahead of time. Dedicating 30 minutes to recruiting each week pays off by creating a pipeline of potential talent ready to be hired the moment that vital job becomes open or you need new talent to expand your market footprint.

Hiring cycles don't always happen at the best time, but when they do, you must dive right in and locate talent that will keep your company thriving. If you've maintained viable contacts through networking and referral generation, you'll be able to locate and hire exceptional talent faster than you might expect – even in an overtapped labor pool. Then you can get back to your regular tasks and help your company stay strong.

Scott Wintrip is head of the Wintrip Consulting Group, which helps find and select employees, as well as designs and implements processes to hire top talent.

Referrals 101

Five Tips to Network and Discover Top Talent

Word of mouth is a powerful and often overlooked way to find great talent and fill open positions in your business. If you don’t have one in place yet, here’s how a referral system helps you find the perfect job candidates and keep your company going strong.

Ask for help

If there's a "magic bullet" for effective networking and getting quality referrals, it's this: Ask for help. Just telling someone you need help creates an important dynamic. It's human nature to help one another. When you use the word “help,” you're reminding the person you're asking of your shared humanity. This simple approach paves the way for people to point you in the right direction.

Realize a little goes a long way

Investing a few minutes each day in referral recon pays off in dividends. And it's so easy it doesn't even feel like work. When a vendor stops by, ask for their help with referrals; at the local office supply store or that restaurant where you're having lunch, network with the employees you meet; a phone call to a friend could turn into two or three candidate referrals. Small, quick inquiries such as these can turn into big wins when you find a great person to hire.

Get specific

Don't just ask for referrals to people who are looking for a job. Ask for referrals to the specific type of person you want to hire. For example, if you're looking for a manager, you might say, "Who do you know who has good managing skills? I'm looking especially for someone who listens more than they speak." This precision helps the person you're asking thoroughly "search" their mental Rolodex for the right person amongst the hundreds of people they know.

Don't forget obvious networks for referrals

How often do you ask employees for their help with candidate referrals? What about previous employees who left on good terms? Have you asked your family and friends to put you in touch with referrals they know? It's easy to overlook obvious resources for strong referrals, but when we do this, we're missing out on the insight of the very people who are most likely to want to help us.

Remember the Golden Rule

The best attractor of top talent isn't high salaries or fancy titles; it's being a great place to work. Make sure your business has a positive and engaging environment, and you'll develop a reputation as an enjoyable place to work. Then when you network and request referrals, the people you ask will go out of their way to refer their friends and colleagues to you. Reaching out to the people you meet – as well as those you already know – can connect you with impressive talent.

Make referral generation a regular part of your managerial tasks, and before you know it, you'll realize that good help is easy to find.

Identify superior talent

Use experiential interviews to pick the best candidate for the job every time.

© Dmitry Rogatnev | Dreamstime

Interviewing is a vital part of the staffing process, so to select the best talent for your company’s needs, the interview must be done right. Conventional interviews don't work, and hiring managers across the globe are turning to experiential interviews – the kind where the candidate does real work to demonstrate his skills – to fill vacant positions.

Why? Because conventional interviews give only the smallest glimpse of the candidate, and an inaccurate one at that.

During conventional interviews job candidates are always on their best behavior. They say what you want to hear and share only the best parts of their backgrounds. This is why the person interviewed isn't always the same person who shows up for work on the first day. But experiential interviews allow employers to base their hiring choices on facts instead of guesses."

During experiential interviews, you get to see candidates doing sample work rather than speaking conceptually about the job. During experiential interviews, computer programmers can be given specs to write computer code, accounting candidates can analyze financials, and marketing staffers can design a promotional campaign.

Regardless of industry, embracing experiential interviews can help you find better talent faster. When you get to witness candidates doing the job firsthand, you can automatically assess their skills and instantly have a complete image of the person you've just met. This way, there are no surprises or disappointments. Here are the four stages of experiential interviews.

Stage 1

Compare the candidate's written materials to your company's hiring profile.

Your hiring profile – the specific standards, skills, and qualifications you require job candidates to meet – gives you a point of reference when viewing each candidate's qualifications. Compare all candidates to your hiring profile by viewing their résumés, job applications, plus, if needed, a few written questions. Any candidate who matches the most important skills, experience, and education level moves on to Stage 2.

Stage 2

Conduct a brief phone interview.

For most roles, a 20-minute (or less) phone conversation allows you to hear how the candidate communicates as you review their background and discuss the job. This stage also provides an opportunity to discover how their values, helpful behaviors, and personality features may or may not fit into your company culture.

Effective phone interviews can cover lots of ground using short and simple questions. For example: Why us? Motives are important. Knowing whether your candidate is inspired by your company's mission or just looking for a job will help you pick the best people.

Why now? Knowing what's driving a candidate's decision to job search is vital in choosing the right people for your company. Is the candidate desperate to make a change and ready to leap at the first offer? Or, is she happy and simply open to a new opportunity that could make life even better?

What job suits you best? Too often, interviewers ask candidates about their perfect job. Such a question sets up the candidate and the employer for failure since jobs and companies are rarely perfect. Instead of asking about perfection, ask about personal fit.

If the candidate matches these additional requirements, they move to Stage 3.

Stage 3

Hold an in-person hands-on interview.

Here, you'll have the candidate do sample work – both alone and with others – while interviewers observe. The interviewers can use this time to assess how well the candidate performs. If the candidate demonstrates an ability to do quality work, they move on to Stage 4.

Stage 4

Complete reference checks.

Reference checks (and background checks, in certain roles) are used to confirm the candidate fits all of the required criteria for the job. If they pass this last stage, they're offered a job immediately, or the next time a seat opens.

Hiring managers are challenged to find the very best talent available. Experiential interviews are key in this process, and help you really get to know the talent and see how they will perform in real work scenarios. Allowing them to show not only who they are but what they can do helps them shine, and helps you make the best decision for your business easier, faster, and more accurately than ever before.